The founder of InXile Entertainment, Brian Fargo, kicked off the presentation for Hunted: The Demon's Forge at the Bethesda Gamers Day by talking about how he wanted to bring back the old-school dungeon-crawling experience that initially began with Dungeons & Dragons. He noticed that the genre had evolved into something more action oriented by the '90s and said that, "dungeon crawling is about getting lost." With that in mind, InXile has been working on Hunted for the past two years, which is a cooperative dungeon crawler that encourages exploration fused with third-person combat.
The game's story follows two mercenaries, E'lara and Caddoc, who are off on an adventure primarily for fortune. When we learned that Caddoc had a vision of an ancient artifact, our first goal was to see about that artifact. You can play as either character, swapping between the two checkpoints that come up in between areas. Because the two character's fighting styles are very different--E'lara is more of a ranged fighter with her bow, whereas Caddoc melees with an assortment of large weapons--the experience will be unique for each character. Our demo began by leading us through decaying ruins, overrun with weeds and rotting corpses. The view was spectacular, though, as E'lara paused to take a closer look at the majestic waterfall that was cascading in the distance. They soon stumbled upon a death stone--an ancient artifact that gave them to power to communicate with the dead. This started a series of events that involves running as fast as they could to avoid being crushed by crumbling columns while fending off undead skeletons that were being revived by stone gargoyles.
Hunted is a cooperative experience (no split-screen unfortunately), so we followed E'lara in the first half of the presentation to see how she handled the undead with her bow. As the silver-haired elf, the game is like a third-person shooter, where you zoom in over the shoulder and aim with the target reticle that appears onscreen. E'lara can handle smaller melee weapons as well, but her strength is in the bow, and it's more efficient to just stick with her realm of expertise. Caddoc, on the other hand, is better with any kind of sword, mace, or club, so playing through the game wielding a sword is more like a third-person button masher. Whether you play with another human or the AI, though, your partner is there to back you up when you need it by charging you with spells, helping you get through heavy doors, or lighting the way ahead. The game's cooperative experience was described as "co-op at a distance" where you don't necessarily have to be holding hands throughout the game, but you can help one another from across the area.
The two companions have access to spells and can help each other by battle charging the other to imbue him or her with magic. Working together also has its advantages, as E'lara can use her ice bow and freeze enemies while Caddoc can destroy them with a single swipe of his mace. On the flip side, Caddoc can use levitation with his sword and suspend enemies in the air, allowing E'lara a chance at target practice. The pair will banter on and off to give you a sense of their relationship, which was described as "a brother-sister relationship with sexual tension but not incestuous." Their chitchat will also give you an idea of what to do next. If you find an area where you'll need Caddoc's strength to get through, E'lara will make it known that she needs his help to continue, and vice versa. Using the death stone, you can learn more about your environment through the voices of the deceased. In our demo, one spirit told us about an axe of a fallen king that was hidden somewhere nearby. We were given some vague instructions, as well as a riddle, but that was enough to get us to wander off the main path in search of a better weapon for Caddoc. There will be puzzles to solve as you continue to explore the interesting environments, ranging from a cluttered battlefield to an underground cavern. The areas looked fairly large, but we were told that the paths can be narrow, so even if you do break off and wander away from each other, chances are you'll easily find one another again. In one area, a key was lighting the braziers in a particular order with E'lara's fire arrows, and in the next underground dungeon, it was a matter of finding the right switch to clear a path. At any point, you can listen to the dead spirit's voice again, in case you've lost track of what you were supposed to do.
When playing with friends, you can have them import their own characters or play as one of yours. The crystals that you earn, regardless of whose character you play as, are yours to keep when you return to your own game. The host keeps the crystals for that character as well. Crystals are the currency in the game that is used to upgrade your spells and abilities. The developers wanted to encourage people to play together, as well as reward those who play cooperatively.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge looks to have a good mix of exploration (much of which is optional) and combat to encourage teamwork with a friend or even an AI counterpart. The game has been compared to Gears of War before, and at some points, it feels that way when you're taking cover to fire at waves upon waves of enemies. The music picks up and the mood becomes more intense to correlate with the action onscreen, but it dies down as soon as the rush is over. The enemies that we came across primarily consisted of skeletons that sounded like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, but at the end of the demo, we came across this giant spiderlike rock creature, so we're curious to see what other strange beasts exist in this fantasy world.
Stay tuned to GameSpot for more coverage on Hunted: The Demon's Forge as the game is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2011 on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.