The 15th annual QuakeCon event is under way at the fabulous Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas, and id Software's parent company, Zenimax Media, has brought several of its other games to the event to show to the press. One of these new games is none other than Hunted: The Demon's Forge, the next game from InXile--a studio that created the 2004 hack-and-slash remake of the classic role-playing game The Bard's Tale, and one that includes developers who worked on the original The Bard's Tale from the 1980s. So although the third-person action game, which pits you against armies of ugly "wargar" (which resemble the ugly orcs of the Lord of the Rings motion pictures) in open fields with various levels of cover, it will also attempt to bring back the classic exploration elements of games like the original Bard's Tale and Wizardry.
In our hands-on session, we played through the second level of the game's fourth chapter (there will be six chapters in all), "Aquifer" in the Xbox 360 version of the game. The level took place in the smoldering ruin of a town assaulted by wargar and minotaurs, and in it, we played only as Caddoc, the male half of Hunted's two-character team. The other half of the team, the elf archer E'lara, acted solely as a computer-controlled companion to provide us with backup. As it turns out, both characters can do battle in one of three ways--in melee, with ranged weapons, and with magic spells.
However, E'lara specializes in archery and can zoom in on her targets at a distance but is a poor melee combatant. Caddoc has no zooming ability on his crossbow, but with a boost from one of E'lara's magic spells to "charge" his weapon with electricity, he can fire powerful charged bolts. More importantly, Caddoc is a melee specialist who is best at hacking his foes to bits up-close by using a weak attack and a strong attack to deliver strings of different attacks. While Caddoc's mighty swings can put away most normal enemies, he can also incapacitate others, and then use a bloody, brutal execution attack to finish them off.
In our session, we arrived at the town to find one of the last surviving guards finishing off an incapacitated minotaur before angrily declaring the invaded town as good as lost. Undeterred, our stout adventurers ventured forth into the flaming ruins to find small pockets of wargar charging out to attack us. Without a decent zoom function usable from a distance, Caddoc's crossbow didn't seem nearly as useful as his sword and shield, so we rushed headfirst into battle and chopped up our foes while E'lara hid behind cover to feather our enemies with arrows.
Melee combat is pretty straightforward and seems to work best when opened with a few weak attacks ended with a strong attack or two. Most standard wargar can't take a great deal of punishment, though there are larger variants that carry giant tower shields that can soak up a great deal of punishment. Caddoc also carries his own shield, though it can be destroyed if it soaks up enough damage. Fortunately, he can snag a new one from the corpses of his foes, and he can also snatch up fallen enemies' weapons, such as the giant wargar's mace, which isn't as effective against armored opponents but works great against enemies with shields.
After murdering our enemies in brutal fashion, we encountered a highlighted corpse on which we could use our "deathstone" item--a bauble that lets the heroes speak with the dead and will open the path to many of the game's secrets and side quests. In this case, the corpse belonged to a dead wizard who entreated us to seek out a cursed fireplace, from which we'd find clues about the locations of his scattered bones. Side quests like these will be completely optional but will lead to rewards that are far better than those you'll find playing through the game's main story.