If you didn’t know much about Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and just went on appearances you’d probably figure it for an outdated RPG. But that misleading assumption is quickly replaced by the realization that this is a hack ‘n’ slash game, layered with adventure puzzles, third-person shooter mechanics, and only the slightest of RPG elements. It’s because of the supplementary genre components that Hunted: The Demon’s Forge feels fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, it fails to connect on some very fundamental levels, holding it back from ever being really great.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a third-person action game, set in a dark fantasy world, which follows two mercenaries, E’lara and Caddoc, as they reluctantly uncover the secrets of the Demon’s Forge. That’s more or less the description the game gives you in the manual but it’s not really what comes through on the screen. When you’re introduced to Caddoc, a gruff looking swordsman, and E’lara 5.7 green tip, a scantily clad marksman, you’re given only the barest of details. By the time you’ve gained control you’re off running through a forest, with Caddoc lamenting his fear of spiders, but you have no idea where you’re going or what the relationship of these two is.
It’s not until you’re much later in the game that it’s explained that these two are mercenaries with no stake in the events, save for the hope of a little extra coin. The delayed info and the reluctance to the action are both handled poorly, it takes awhile to overcome and some players won’t want to wait that long. Keeping you in the dark about events at the outset prevents you from investing in these characters and caring about the story. It’s not until the third chapter, of only six, that you finally come to learn where this journey is headed and, predictably, everything becomes much more thrilling. E’lara and Caddoc have a funny and natural friendship, it’s actually really easy to like them. It’s too bad the developer, inXile Entertainment, takes too long to show the endearing and heroic side of our heroes.
The relationship portion is important in a much bigger way than just story and characterization. Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a co-op game that excels when played as such, but only gets by okay if you’re alone. Playing once as Caddoc and once as E’lara I found the two to be both fun to play as characters but lopsided as partners. As E’lara I never once had to revive Caddoc or worry about him getting swarmed by enemies. As Caddoc I found myself having to protect and revive the AI much more, while certain battles became harder. One fight in particular requires Caddoc to use his brute strength to topple some towers, but I kept getting interrupted every time I tried. For whatever reason E’lara seems to have more of a problem clearing enemies than Caddoc does. Of course, it’s a moot point if you play online with someone.
If you are lone wolfing it the game gives you chances to switch up characters at certain points throughout the levels. It’s a less than ideal way to switch. I’d have much preferred being able to swap on the fly as I saw fit, especially since you can’t know whether a melee or ranged based character will be best in the upcoming sections your first time through the game. Even if that wasn’t an option, having commands would have made things better and more enjoyable. The characters have some specific powers that are best implemented together but with no way to tell the AI what to do you’re left at their mercy.
What surprised me the most about Hunter: The Demon’s Forge was just how fun the gameplay is. It doesn’t always look the best, it’s not very deep and the aforementioned AI problems hold it back some, but even still I loved chopping through skeletons and picking off monsters from across battle fields. I’m almost always a melee first player but in this case I found myself wanting to use E’lara’s deadly archery skills. This, more than any other element in the game, draws a big comparison to the third-person shooter Gears of War. You can move around the battlefield by Roadie Running, jump into cover and lean out to fire at enemies. While both characters can perform long and short range attacks, each of them has their strength. E’lara can hold two bows and a sword while Caddoc can carry two melee weapons (sword, axe, and club) and a crossbow. His ranged attack isn’t much fun so I stuck to the sword and shield most of the time, utilizing his fury attacks which are devastating to enemies. But nothing quite compares to E’lara and her ability to snipe enemies quickly and efficiently. Do you remember the first time you watched Legolas in the first Lord of the Rings film? That’s what playing E’lara feels like.
But like I said, it’s not all great. Each character has three weapon powers that are specific to each of them while they both share the same three types of magic spells. Those spells are important, acting as powerful buffers for yourself and your partner that can help you clear hoards of enemies far quicker than normal. The game divvies these powers out as you progress and eventually you get to a point where you can link them, making both characters incredibly strong for a short duration. Though the AI is good about buffing you regularly, it’s not always when you want or need them to, making this feature more frustrating than it should be. Again, it’s another area where playing online with a friends is far more enjoyable.