Hunted: The Demon’s Forge (PS3)

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge pits a calm, level-headed swordsman and a quick-tempered, scantily clad Elvin(yes they spell it Elvin) archer against an ever-growing army of “Wargar”(although they not surprisingly resemble ‘Orcs’), Minotaur, and demons as they seek to rescue a King’s daughter for money. Yes, we know it’s an overused premise, but we’ll get to all of that later.

It slices, it dices, it makes julienne Wargar!

The game is an interesting mix of third-person cover-based shooter, fantasy action rpg, and diablo style loot-fest. The combat controls are largely the same for each character, with the exception that Elara has more going on involving aiming, and Caddoc has a rage attack he can use after using several weaker attacks; essentially a finishing move. The two share the ‘Battle Magic’ category of spells, containing 3 general use spells, but they each have their own unique magic category containing 3 spells that are specific to each character’s fighting style. For example, Caddoc has the ability to go into a berserker rage increasing all damage he deals; and E’lara has a spell allowing her to fire an exploding arrow dealing area of effect fire damage and knocking enemies over.

Overall the combat is very satisfying, and although it is quite repetitive, due to the challenge of aiming and using cover well, rarely feels so. On hard, some of the enemies can be brutally difficult, and quite often you’ll find yourself getting chain-hit if you even let yourself get hit once, resulting in you losing almost your full bar of life in a matter of seconds. Some enemies are nearly invulnerable short of one weakness, which definitely adds to the strategic element of things. Even the weak enemies are nearly your characters’ equals, resulting in a very healthy level of challenge. Although certain aspects can be excessive, such as the enemies who throw fireballs at you – the fireballs can be very difficult to dodge unless you have a ton of room to work with.

Preventing the combat from becoming stale can be difficult when most of the combat is the same from start to finish in a game. Spell choices and using combo techniques(such as freezing enemies to be crushed or levitating them to make them easy targets for E’lara) definitely help to mitigate this, as do a pretty solid variety of enemies. But the main thing that really helps prevent it from being stale is the ‘Battle Charge’ ability. It is a technique you use on your partner, or vice versa, which gives you a massive boost of damage and defense for a short time, making you a 1 man or woman wrecking crew.

Also breaking up the pace of the game are two different types of non-standard combat sequences. In some places you get to man stationary battlements such as catapults or ballistae, which is a lot of fun because you get to wreak havoc on things while still having to be somewhat careful as if enemies sneak around behind you they can quite easily kill you while you’re using these weapons. The other interesting mechanic is ‘Sleg’ which is a silver liquid that you’ll find at certain points(which you later in the story find out was put there for a reason but I won’t spoil it) that turns you into practically a demi-god. You get unlimited mana, arrows, and you take almost no damage. These sequences are incredibly fun because you get that feeling of power and invulnerability without really taking away from the game since it’s for very planned sequences only. A truly enjoyable mechanic.

Now the game certainly isn’t perfect. The biggest problem with the gameplay itself is that the game would quite often take your vision off the gamefield to watch some large action taking place without pausing the game. So you can very easily die immediately after these segments as enemies surround you while you can’t see them doing so. A pretty major flaw, and one that could’ve been easily avoided.

Built for 2?

This game was built with coop in mind at every turn. Abilities synergize, doors require two to open, puzzles usually use both characters and every element of the story plays into both characters. When playing it online, this can be a bit of a challenge due to the difficulty of communication. Another online complication is that they don’t increase the number of potions at all, meaning that you can quite often find yourself very starved for potions since there’re two people using them rather than just the one in single player.(The only potion your AI partner uses are the vials of resurrection).

Playing it alone means that the other character is controlled by the game itself. You can switch which character you control only at very specific crystals. During my playthrough as E’lara, the AI Caddoc did everything I would’ve wanted him to about 98% of the time. He was always maneuvering to try to take enemies that charged me off of me, he always resurrected me quickly whenever I died – except once. During the last boss I think his AI glitched because I died at the same time as the boss did one of his special game mechanics, and all the enemies and my ally just sort of stood still while I was dying. But other than that; and one or two other times when he seemed to get stuck on something, the AI was exactly what I would’ve hoped. Oh, and one other thing, the AI likes to use the Battle Charge ability a lot. Which made me a happy archer.

As far as puzzles go, I found the puzzles almost too easy with an AI companion, while almost annoyingly difficult when playing online.

It’s my job to be repetitive. My job. My job. Repetitiveness is my job. (Props to anyone who gets the reference!)

The game has a lot of repetitive mechanics. A lot of them. While it is impossible to avoid SOME repetition in an rpg, and I understand and accept that completely, this game goes a bit in excess in some cases. There’re a few points where even the developers must’ve realized they were going to an excess because they had the voice actors record lines complaining about the repetetion for the characters to say.

First and foremost, as mentioned above, some aspects of the combat can get repetitive. For example, some of the really strong enemies that aren’t even bosses can take 40 or 50 arrows to their heads without dying unless you’re willing to throw magic at them. Also, some of the dialog gets repeated ad nauseum, which can get a little trying. Additionally, there are ten trillion doors throughout the game that your two characters have to open together. This one is one of the ones that the characters themselves comment on with lines like “How many of these giant doors are there?” and “What would anyone who comes here alone do?”

But perhaps most tedious of all, in terms of repetition anyways, are the puzzles. Easily two thirds of the puzzles are simply ‘light an arrow on fire, and shoot it at the right spot’. This is the other repetitive aspect that the characters themselves comment, with a few puzzles starting with the line ‘Lighting it on fire, haven’t we done this before?’

Story, characters, and voice overs oh my!

I’m gonna open by saying this game’s story is nothing to write home about. It’s not a bad story, and as is typical of most Bethesda titles, the game’s history is more important than the game’s story. As you progress through the game, you’ll learn a lot about the world from using an artifact you have to communicate with dead bodies. And the picture this all paints is bleak, but quite interesting. You get to hear all about an ancient war that happened from all perspectives, from maids to soldiers to spies to even a dragon. Also, you use it on every boss you stumble upon, which gives you a little cutscene which gives some insight into that boss’s motives. But the game’s actual story is very clichéd and most of it is predictable, although there are a few cool twists that might be unexpected.

However, whatever depth the story lacks, the character interactions do a good job of making up for. Most of the conversations between Caddoc and E’lara, or the two of them and the other characters you run into, are witty and entertaining. The relationship between the two main characters is deep and fun, and their personalities spark so well off each other that it’s hard not to love listening to their banter – until they start giving you the same idle banter over and over again. The change that comes over the characters, especially E’lara, over the course of the game is deep and believable, and really fleshes out the characters.

On the voice acting front, this game has some pretty notable talent. Seraphine is voiced by Lucy Lawless, and E’lara is voiced by Laura Bailey, the talented voice actress behind such roles as Serah Farron from Final Fantasy 13, Chi-chi from the original Dragon Ball, and many others. Most of the voice talent is very good, and the characters all ring true.

Final thoughts

I haven’t really touched on graphics here, because there’s not much to say. They’re not great, but not bad. Everything about the graphics are really unnoteworthy. Also, the game uses a pretty cool loot system that uses enchanted weapons to encourage you to regularly replace your weapons. One minor con is that certain types of items require interaction to pick up, whereas others don’t – which doesn’t make too much sense to me.

There aren’t very many people playing online, especially in the crucible mode. The crucible mode requires you to obtain an inordinate amount of gold in order to create anything interesting. Online play has a lot of limitations on it, which can be a little disconcerting. The inability to trade potions between players leads to a very selfish playstyle when playing online, which just feels wrong in a team game like this.

In summary…

I really liked Hunted. Sure it has its flaws, but most of the flaws were minor enough to not be a bother. I felt Hunted to be a truly fun rpg, with good characters, a solid level of difficulty, fun combat, and a very unique team dynamic, despite some clunky online mechanics and a lot of repetition.

Pros:

  1. Fun and engaging combat mechanics.
  2. Good characters, with solid voice acting and entertaining character interactions.
  3. Fairly well written gameworld history with an interesting way to get perspective.
  4. Special combat sequences such as catapults and ‘Sleg’ sequences are very fun.
  5. Spells are fun to use and dynamic.
  6. Interesting cooperative mechanics.
  7. Relatively smart AI partner.
  8. Loot system is interesting and encourages cycling of weapons.
  9. Good difficulty level.
  10. It’s fun shattering enemies and picking off enemies that are floating helplessly in the air.

Cons:

  1. Online play is very limited.
  2. Certain aspects of combat get a bit repetitive over time, such as firing dozens of arrows into regular enemies without them dying.
  3. Some poor design decisions detract from gameplay
  4. Graphics do nothing to distinguish themselves
  5. The doors, oh god the doors… too many doors! TOO MANY DOORS!
  6. Crucible requires an inordinate amount of time playing the game to be able to create really cool content.
  7. Game’s main story is dry and cliché.
  8. Most of the puzzles are a bit too easy when playing solo.
  9. Puzzles are too limited in scope, with nearly all of the puzzles using the exact same mechanic.
  10. Recovery after being hit takes slightly too long, preventing you from avoiding subsequent hits.

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