Hunted: The Demon's Forge

[GDC 2010] Co-Op, InXile-Style

Hunted: The Demon's Forge brings the dungeon crawl back with an interesting take in online co-op. We take our first peek.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 15, 2010
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It didn't have to be this way, you know. We didn't have to wave good-bye to the classic pursuit of almighty loot, nor to a high fantasy setting filled with orcs and trolls and massive, lumbering beasts. Nor to elves, barbarians, puzzles or endless hordes to plow through. Not spells, not enchantments, treasure chests or epic fights against strange new creatures. None of these things are gone, of course, but their prominence in games has taken a back seat to bald space marines and endless military shooters -- fun games in their own right, certainly, but not the stuff the industry was founded on to be sure.

Perhaps it's ironic, then, that the very same engine that powers all those chunky, burly shooters has been tapped by the folks that helped establish the modern western role-playing game on PCs with Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Crafted by the tenured hands of InXile, former Interplay CEO Brian Fargo's new development house, Hunted wants nothing more than to revel in all that goofy fantasy stuff, and to do it with equal parts humor (something the studio is known for after their Bard's Tale remake a few years back) and orc stabbin'. Or shooting, for that matter.

Hunted was designed from the very start to be a cooperative experience. Acrophobic elf archer E'lara and barbarian-with-a-brain Caddoc are a team, y'see -- one that wasn't formed at the start of the events that make up The Demon's Forge. Over the years, the treasure hunting duo has learned plenty about each other, and it's the source of a surprising amount of banter between the two, as we noticed last week while checking out the just-announced title at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco.

Personality is at the crux of fleshing out the two characters, but it's by no means the defining means of telling the two apart (well, beyond the 30 inch neck and generous pair of jubblies, of course). Though designed to be a co-op game, the two have vastly different ways of handling the same situation. Caddoc is a brute, and as such is uniquely focused on applying as much hurt as possible from as close as possible while E'lara prefers to keep plenty of distance between her and her targets. As such, both characters' innate magical powers are situated around this idea of distance, and as they discover various crystals and cash them in for upgrades to their powers, those powers are bolstered according to the different play styles.

There's a bigger reason for the two to play so differently (though you can't swap between them when playing by your lonesome at any time, checkpoint crystals are plentiful and enable the switcheroo between major areas): the whole of Hunted revolves around the idea of "co-op at a distance" -- meaning there's no leash between the two characters and the level design will regularly play with the idea of different, criss-crossing paths and elevations that allow the pair to attack the same objectives from very different perspectives and strategies.

While they both have access to "class-specific" (for lack of a better term) spells and boosts -- things like fireballs or freeze spells -- that can be used in sort of tag-team combinations (E'lara freezes an enemy while Caddoc runs in and shatters them), there's also a kind of super-charge (dubbed, fittingly, Battle Charging in Hunted parlance) move if the spells are used on the other character, wreathing them in flame to add elemental damage to attacks against enemies that are weak against fire, for instance. Enemies, however, can and will happily do the same thing, so prioritizing targets like spellcasters becomes paramount when encountering packs of enemies.

The return to a sprawling labyrinth hasn't happened without a focus on the game's story, though. What starts as a bit of simple treasure hunting (the mayor of a town sends out a call for help, but when the pair arrive, the entire down has been deserted and seems to be falling apart) will quickly turn into something far more epic, InXile is promising.

We didn't see a whole lot of this in the brief trip through the hands-off demo, but there was plenty of chit-chat between the two characters that promised to add not only personality, but a bit of backstory to each of them, introducing phobias and added wrinkles that will hopefully help define them as more than just a bruiser and his buxom buddy.
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