Day 3 with Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

According to Raptr*, I’ve logged 7 hours into Hunted now. I’m going to assume what I’ve seen is what the game has to offer, so this will probably be my last post on it, unless for some strange reason I finish it.

Last night was really more of the same. Frustrations with 1-way doors in level design (even if sometimes the “door” is a ledge you jump off of and can’t climb back up) and logic inconsistencies (I needing a flaming arrow in a room with several burning lamps sitting in holders about 5 feet tall, but I can only set an arrow alight from a fire burning on the ground), but combat that’s actually pretty fun, and (the highlight of the game for me) puzzle crypts to explore (found 3 of these so far, of 8 in the game).

The “Secret Areas” piss me off the most. So far I’ve found 1 (of 32) and I need to find 6 to unlock the 2nd weapon slot. And when I said “found” I mean “get access to so the game gives me credit.” I’ve seen a lot of them but apparently suck at figuring out how to get access. Generally it seems to involved shooting something with a flaming arrow, and see above re: finding a place to set an arrow alight. I’ve also left some behind via hitting a 1-way level chokepoint and losing access to the secret area before I’ve even started trying to solve it. I guess I could “Reload from last checkpoint” but that’s not really my style.

Last night I had to quit because I was getting queasy in a motion-sickness kind of way, just from all the constant camera spinning I’m doing as I look for ways into these secret bits. I’m not a really big puzzle person to begin with, and in an action game I just want to keep the action going, not stop and ponder a puzzle for 10 minutes (this seems like a really odd design decision given that co-op play is such a big emphasis for the game).

I’ve also decided that while having dungeons and crypts that have no light sources is much more realistic than what you encounter in most games (where you discover ancient burial chambers with merrily burning torches waiting), it really isn’t very much fun. I spend more time squinting into the darkness in this game… often I’ll get E’lara to light a flaming arrow just so it’ll act as a feeble light source. There will sometimes be an unlit torch in these areas, but in order to pick it up I’d have to drop my shiny magic sword, and fight with the torch. Again, realistic, sure. Fun? Not so much.

Anyway, so that’s my Hunted: The Demon’s Forge story so far. And that may be the end of things for me. I’m not feeling particularly compelled to go back to the game. It’s just not very good. At least not for me. It could have been, I think. It just feels like a game that needed another 6 months of development for level design (and other) polish.

*Editor’s note: This URL is shady. Go there at your own risk. [5 Dec 2018]

Day 2 with Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

So last night I went back to Hunted: The Demon’s Forge with modified expectations and much to my surprise, found myself having some fun.

Now don’t jump to conclusions: I still don’t think anyone should be paying $60 for the game, but I since I was foolish enough to do so, I may as well make the best of it, right?

The first main chapter of the game takes place in an often-burning city under attack by wargers (??…essentially goblins) that is a complete and total maze, and I still find it annoying and poorly put together. The problem is the designers gave us no tells. So you’ll encounter many passageways blocked by a few boards. Despite how they look, these are absolutely solid walls. Except every once in a while, they’re breakable. But there’s nothing to indicate why one is breakable and others are not. So you spend a lot of time swinging your weapon at zone walls in the hopes they may actually be a breakable door.

It’s also still crazy frustrating to look down an alleyway and see something sparkling down there, but being blocked by, say, a wheelbarrow. You can’t move it or step over it. It may as well be a wall of solid rock (well, except sometimes Caddoc can shift a wall of solid rock…but never a wheelbarrow).

Oh and when you leave an area, there’s no way to backtrack. So if you left a heap of shields behind, head to the next area and break your shield, there’s no way to go back and get a new one. Ever onwards! Don’t look back!

But I pressed on, and started finding some puzzles and mysterious passageways that led to the bowels of the earth and hidden treasure. That was fun! And I’m at times amazed by my AI co-op partner… she’s got a buff that she throws on me every so often, and generally when I really need it. During my first night I hadn’t notice her constantly running off to replenish her arrows or potions; it turns out she’s even collecting her own Crystals (to skill up, but I decide how she spends them). On the other hand, sometimes she stands in the way and won’t budge. When I try to push past she quips “That better be your sword you’re poking me with.” Classy broad.

Anyway eventually I got out of town and down into some dungeons. The designers do a lot better with corridors and rooms than they do with open areas. There were spots that gave almost a tomb raider vibe down there, and the endless maybe-breakable, maybe-not doorways were left behind. There was a place where I had to shift a stone wall that gave no indication it was shiftable until you were standing right next to it, though…

Fighting is actually pretty challenging as Caddoc. I die a lot, but E’lara is pretty good about reviving me after I fall. (If “I” whine loudly enough.) The dude goes through shields like I got through Cheetos. I finally learned some combat magic for those times when a magic weapon runs out of charges and leaves me holding a glorified letter opener. I took Brimstone which is essentially grenades. You click once to toss them and a 2nd time to detonate them. If I hold the button, though, instead of throwing a Brimstone Grenade I hit E’lara with a buff…so that’s how she’s been buffing me.

I also discovered why I’m collecting Gold. Gold unlocks items for using in Crucible, which is the map editor that comes with the game. I can’t see ever making maps so that’s a bit disappointing, but maybe I’ll get an achievement if I collect enough. I’m also getting accustomed to the health potion situation, though given the limit of carrying 1 health potion, I always want to punch Caddoc when he grabs one and yells “You can never have too many health potions!” Grrrr.

Anyway, so progress is being made. Still a bit of buyer’s remorse, to be sure, but I’m glad I’m at least having some fun now. If nXile throws a handful of patches at the game (presumably that’d be the PC version) and it goes on sale, it might be worth buying at some future point.

The First Hour: Hunted: The Demon Forge

Apologies to Chris for stealing his titling convention!

Let’s get this right out on the table: Hunted: The Demon Forge does not make a good first impression.

You might be put off by the ridiculous outfits the main female characters wear. But me, I grew up with The Vargas Girl so I’m comfortable with the overt sexualization of fictitious characters.

You might be put off by the banter between the main characters. Joystiq called them ‘grating’ but I have to admit I find them amusing. I’m easy like that. Having Lucy Lawless purring in my ear doesn’t hurt, either. I’m easy like that, too. Call me, Lucy!

You might be put off by the oddly muddy textures on the character’s faces. If they’d put the same care into the faces that they did on E’lara’s frequently glimpsed butt cheeks the game would look a lot better.

Or you might be put off, as I was, by the fact the Hunted isn’t the game you might have thought it was.

Me, I thought it was a hack and slash RPG (see prior post about Dungeon Siege III to hear about my love for that genre) but it turns out it’s kind of a fantasy shooter. I shouldn’t have read the Joystiq review before writing this post because now I can’t get their comparisons to Gears of War out of my head.

Assuming you get past all that, the “Prologue” (aka Tutorial Level) is glitchy as hell. I kept doing things the game didn’t expect, which then failed to trigger a tutorial pop-up, which in turn caused my partner to stop moving forward. Example: at one point you’re playing E’lara, the elven naked huntress. Big brawny guy Caddoc runs ahead, jumps down off a ledge and starts whinging about bugs. So I, being a vaguely smart gamer, decide to keep E’lara up on the ledge to snipe down and take out said bugs. Once they’re gone I jump down, but Caddoc ain’t moving. I can’t find anyway to move forward. Huh.

Eventually I restart and when I get to that spot, I dutifully jump down, at which point a tutorial pop up teaches me about crouching behind cover. Ahhh. And then we move forward. That kind of thing happened a few times.

That aside, let’s pull back a bit for the 1000 foot view. You’ve got two active characters and can switch between them at certain checkpoints along the way. Both have melee and ranged weapons, but E’lara has skills based around the bow and Caddoc has skills based around melee. They both can learn magic, too.

There’s no inventory. You carry 1 of each type of weapon, and when you find something better you have to drop the old one. This drives me batshit crazy, leaving loot behind! LOL. But that’s just me being crazy. What’s really annoying is that if you find a magic weapon, it has a set number of charges on it. You seem to fire off these charges by doing a multi-hit combo (I’m still figuring some of this out) so if you want to conserve these powerful magical attacks you have to be careful to single hit enemies. I kept expending precious magic axe attacks on the equivalent of rats. Once a magical weapon uses up its charges it just becomes a piece of crap mundane weapon and you’ll want to replace it ASAP.

According to my research you can eventually unlock a 2nd weapon slot, so you’ll be able to carry a solid mundane weapon for regular fights, and conserve your magical weapon for epic battles. I can’t wait to get that second slot.

Aside from the odd piece of gear, enemies and chests drop various geegaws and potions. There are health orbs that immediately add to your hit points. There are health potions that, when you trigger a ‘pick up’ action, will either fill your health bar or go into a reserve for later use. You seem to be able to carry only 1 extra health potion though. I left a lot behind. There are revive potions that let you revive your companion when he or she falls (and the AI does a good job of reviving you when you fall). There are crystals that you spend to develop your character at certain points. There’s gold that…I dunno what it does. There are no stores, but there’s a big gold meter that slowly is filling up. Oh, and mana orbs and potions too.

A lot of this stuff looks really similar and too often I found myself trying to pick something up over and over and not being able to, and not really understanding why.

Oh, and finally we get to actual gameplay. Combat as Caddoc is basic button mashing stuff, with an active shield button. E’lara’s bow feels much more like a fantasy shooter (Caddoc’s crossbow does too but again, he gets no skills with it). There’s the cover system I mentioned and battlefields so far have been quite chaotic. I’ve mostly played Caddoc and generally I’ll hear whistling arrows and be turning back and forth frantically looking to find the enemy. It’s both annoying and kind of realistic, in a way. Your AI pal isn’t ineffective. In fact at one point Caddoc was near death with a single enemy left, and I decided to just block/block/block and sure enough E’lara took the bastard out with arrows while I ‘tanked.’

At certain points you can nudge your friend into doing something, such as shooting a burning arrow at a distant brazier. These instances are scripted; ie you can only do them when the game knows there’s a specific action you need to accomplish in order to proceed.

There’s no jump button, and to get over a wall you first have to take cover behind it, then vault over it. Dumb.

So E’lara shoots burning arrows (which often triggers a door or hidden room). Caddoc can push stuff. To do this you hit B to activate the “Push system” and them pump the A button endlessly. Caddoc grunts and groans and struggles against the object until you’ve blistered your thumb pumping A…and then he stands up and effortlessly moves the object. Dumb. From both an animation point of view and a gameplay point of view. Who ever decided pumping a button is fun?

The first ‘real’ level is a total maze. Over and over I’d see stuff I wanted to collect, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it. I still don’t know if I was missing a means of entry or if I’ll be coming back to these areas, or what.

So that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I think there’s an interesting game hidden in there somewhere. Notice I said “interesting” and not “good.” If you were thinking of running out and picking up Hunted at full price, I’d urge you not to do that. It just feels wonky and rushed in a lot of places. Maybe it gets better; I barely got into the post tutorial bits. But my instincts say it won’t.

This is the first game we’ve seen from InXile and Brian Fargo in quite a while. Was “The Bard’s Tale” (the bawdy, silly remake, not the original) their last game? I can’t help but think they would’ve had more success sticking to the formula for hack and slash RPGs rather than trying to make (thanks Joystiq) a Gears of War fantasy shooter with lite RPG elements.

My rating so far: Buyer’s Remorse