Gauntlet: You Haven't Needed Food This Badly Since the '80s
Return of the fearsome foursome.
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The elf, the wizard, the warrior, and the valkyrie--a group of heroes joined by a common purpose. In my mind, Atari's 1985 arcade classic Gauntlet looms as the game that spawned the multiplayer, class-based fantasy hack-and-slash, a genre that has evolved over the years to give us games like Diablo and Path of Exile. At an event that took place during the Game Developers Conference, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment revealed a new Gauntlet, being made by Magicka developer Arrowhead Game Studios. Rather than incorporating elements like loot and inventory management that are common in the genre today, Arrowhead is trying to create a game reminiscent of the original Gauntlet, with a focus on speedy arcade action.
For my playthrough of the brief demo, I selected the elf, whose standard arrow attack could be aimed and fired with the right stick. I could also fire an explosive arrow that damaged the target and other nearby enemies, and a precision-aimed arrow that took time to line up but presumably did increased damage, though these abilities were on a cooldown timer. The other classes similarly had standard attacks and special attacks; the warrior could spin around wildly for a short time, slicing enemies around him with his axe, and the valkyrie could thrust forward with her spear, piercing through enemies standing in her path.
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The gameplay moves fast and takes plenty of cues from the original Gauntlet. Keys need to be collected to open doors. Monster generators often appear that need to be destroyed to stop the enemy onslaught. You can't carry health items, though you can gobble up platters of food you find in the environment. However, you do have inventory slots for two relics, magical items you find in the dungeon that give you special abilities which, like your special attacks, are also on cooldown timers. I snagged the boots of speed at one point, which let me move and attack significantly faster for a short time, and another player grabbed a relic that let him freeze enemies around him.
The section I played involved a bit of light puzzle-solving, requiring my fellow adventurers and me to find and carry items to a trio of pedestals to open a door, but the focus was squarely on movement and combat, and I made liberal use of my elf's evasive roll to try to stay away from enemy attacks and pick foes off from a distance. The finished game will combine prebuilt dungeon floors with procedurally generated floors, which game director Axel Lindberg said would help with pacing, shifting the emphasis between exploration, puzzle-solving, and action.
When my fellow adventurers and I encountered a towering boss who appeared to be an undead warrior king, the demo came to an end, and although my fellow players and I had been cooperating all along, I took some pleasure in being acknowledged as the winner, the party's most valuable member. Gauntlet doesn't appear to be trying to reinvent the genre, but it may serve up some enjoyable, old-fashioned hack-and-slash action when it launches on Steam this summer.