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inXile Back From, Uh, Exile With Hunted: The Demon's Forge
by Brad Shoemaker on
How come there aren't more third-person fantasy action games, anyway?
It's been about five years since we heard anything out of inXile Entertainment. That's the Southern California developer started by Interplay founder Brian Fargo, a guy whose resume is impressive enough that anything he does for the rest of his career will probably warrant some level of attention from sites like ours, even if his company gets into web-based casual games or something (which it has). But I've been curious for a while when the company would follow up its sole traditional release to date, The Bard's Tale (the remake, not the hallowed original) with a proper disc-based game for consoles.
Fargo and new publisher Bethesda came through GDC last week with the answer, Hunted: The Demon's Forge. The pitch prior to the demo I saw referred to Hunted as a "reimagined dungeon crawler," a concept that about five minutes later I assumed must include "Gears of War-style cover-based action in a dark fantasy milieu." Because there was a whole lot of that in the 20 or so minutes I got to see. Your characters can snap to cover and fire over it. When your partner is hurt, they hit the dirt and have to crawl around while they slowly bleed out until you revive them. The game even makes a "bwooong!" sort of sound when you've cleared all the enemies from an area. The general Gears framework is in full effect here.
Hunted looks like it's being built even more with co-op play in mind than Gears, though. Unlike in that game--where Marcus and Dom play identically to each other and are only differentiated by the ways they growl "Aw, c'mon"--Hunted's hero and heroine Caddoc and Elara will offer significantly different sorts of action. He's a burly barbarian type with a predilection for melee combat, and she's an elven mynx who prefers to use the bow at range. Neither one wears a lot of clothing, but they're certainly armed to the teeth. As a primarily ranged fighter, Elara will take cover and attack from a distance, though Caddoc breaks from the stop-and-pop tradition by charging in and cutting up skeletons, ghouls, orcs, and whatever else directly with his blade.
When I hear "dungeon crawler" I think oodles of loot, but as a third-person action game, Hunted doesn't look like it will provide mountains of weapons and armor from the green-blue-purple school of RPG gear. There is room for developing your characters, though. Each one focuses on their specific area of combat expertise (Caddoc on the sword, Elara on the bow), but each one also has some form of ranged and melee combat as backup, and they can both use magic spells. I'm hoping the complimentary nature of the melee/ranged options will lead to to some interesting tandem combat scenarios, but of course that's up to the game's designers to assemble the levels in a way that provides for complex enemy encounters.
One of the ways Hunted looks like it's layering complexity on top of the Gears formula is by offering you a branching skill tree that lets you unlock abilities related to both forms of combat and various types of magic as you build experience throughout the game. And there will be a defensive aspect to your skill choices as well, since you can use the magic you've unlocked on the other character to buff them for combat. For instance, Elara could use a flame spell on Caddoc to give him a fire sword for a short period of time. The game has open drop-in-drop-out co-op play online, and you'll be able to take the experience you earn as the second player in a co-op game back into your own campaign to develop your characters further. When you're playing alone, you can swap characters at checkpoints when you want to change up your play style.
To be clear, I don't mean all these Gears comparisons to sound derisive. That franchise has carved a formula out of the gaming bedrock that plenty of other developers have been more than willing to crib from. Hunted may pull from the Gears playbook a little more strongly than some, but there aren't any other recent games I can think of that do this kind of action in a traditional fantasy setting. You can't help wondering why nobody has done it before now, and consequently you can't fault inXile for doing it first.
Since Hunted is still pre-alpha and I didn't get to play it myself, I'll reserve making any qualitative judgements--some aspects like the character animation visibly have a ways to go before they're finalized--but the game's unique take on this genre looks like it could fill the cooperative shooter void in the offseason while Gears fans wait for Epic to cough up a third game.
Hey, watch an interview!