One of the biggest risks you can take in a game is focusing on co-op. Resident Evil 5, for example, basically made the co-op gameplay mandatory. You could play single-player, but you would be missing out on a big chunk of the game and stuck with an AI sidekick. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker makes the co-op completely optional but clearly designed the game around having multiple characters working together, which makes some levels feel quite odd. At the same time, there's nothing quite like a co-op game built to be co-op. There are certain things you can do in a game made for multiplayer that just can't be done in a single-player-focused game, not even one with cooperative play. Hunted: The Demon's Forge is shaping up to be a surprisingly good co-op title, one that encourages players to work together to overcome odds, rather than simply facing enemies with two guns instead of one.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge puts you in control of two characters: Caddoc and E'lara. They're partners, although they seem to be the reluctant and snarky kind. Caddoc is more straightforward and sensible, while E'lara is more of a greedy and ambitious gal. During our brief demo, the two are raiding a tomb when they come across the mysterious Deathstone. She grabs it without a moment's hesitation and causes the tomb to collapse. Shortly thereafter, undead minions of evil attack, and Caddoc and E'lara are forced to fight to survive. There wasn't too much to the plot in our short demo, but we got an idea of what the game is going to involve: lots of undead demon killing and reluctant adventure.
Caddoc and E'lara are partners, and the entire game is built around their co-op adventure. In a way, it rather reminded me of Resident Evil 5, although the duo is different from Chris and Sheva. Caddoc is big, beefy and brawny, and his physical might allows him to wield a sword and shield with devastating force. E'lara, on the other hand, is a ranged fighter and uses a powerful longbow to snipe enemies from a distance. While this may sound like a straightforward set of abilities, it's worth noting that these abilities are just what the characters specialize in, not what they are limited to. Both sets of characters have melee, ranged and magical attacks. Caddoc has a crossbow instead of a longbow; it's less powerful, holds less ammo and is less accurate, but it can do the job when E'lara is otherwise occupied. Likewise, E'lara can pull out a sword and shield if she needs to fight, but she just isn't as good with it as Caddoc.
The characters really specialize in their special skills. Both characters have access to magical abilities, which they can use at any time. You choose your spell and activate it, spending some of your MP bar in the progress. You can blast lightning at your enemies to shock them to death, but the magic can also be used against a friendly. Doing so will give them a passive buff instead, although in Hunted's demo, it also nullified their ability to use magic until the buff wore off. Since both characters share the same set of spells, this means that both can serve to amplify the other. E'lara isn't the wimpy mage who serves to make Caddoc stronger but part of a full-fledged team. They can buff each other and work together, assuring that both can kill their fair share of enemies.
However, while the characters share the same magical abilities, they don't share the same special weapon abilities. E'lara has ranged special skills built around her bow. In the demo, we saw E'lara use an ice arrow to freeze an enemy solid. The frozen enemy took little damage but was vulnerable to being shattered, either by another arrow from E'lara or Caddoc's sword. Caddoc can levitate enemies into the air, and while this does almost no damage at all, it leaves foes vulnerable to E'lara's arrows. He also has a shield bash ability, which lets him charge into foes and smite them with his shield. The only downside here is that shields are breakable. You can grab new shields off a defeated foe, but you still have to be intelligent about how you use them. Both characters will have their own skill trees, which you can upgrade by finding crystals scattered around the game world. They share the same magic powers but are otherwise unique.
The basic gameplay looked like a straightforward hack-and-slash, although with a heavy emphasis on teamwork. Players had to work together as best as they can to figure out how to survive enemy assaults. It was often best for the beefy Caddoc to draw the enemy's attention, while E'lara stood back and sniped them with her ice arrow ability. This kept the heat off of her and allowed her to control the flow of battle so enemies couldn't overwhelm Caddoc. At the same time, staying apart was useful in case Caddoc went down. When a character is defeated, the surviving character can throw a healing potion from a distance. However, if both characters are defeated, the game is over and you have to go back to the last checkpoint. By staying separate, it's more likely that you'll be able to revive the other character, especially since the healing potions have quite a range. It was also important to manage mana carefully between players. If E'lara uses up all her magic, it's a waste for Caddoc to smash the mana-recovering plants instead of letting her take them.
A later segment showed off how it's essential for the two to work together. An enemy skeleton manned a ballista and started attacking. He's more powerful than usual, so it isn't just a matter of smacking him and moving on. Instead, Caddoc must distract his fire until he turns away from E'lara's position, letting her snipe the skeleton and quickly take over the ballista. From here, she snipes enemy towers that are spawning more skeletons. The ballista is slow, and Caddoc has to defend her from the skeletons while she fires and reloads, as she was otherwise helpless. It's a fun sequence that is better when two players work together. The game can be played single-player, but much like Resident Evil 5, it's hard to see it as anything but a co-op game. The good news is that players are not stuck with one role. At certain times during the game, you can switch who is controlling which character in order to keep things from getting stale.
The game looks to have a fair amount to do. In addition to the main story, there are also going to be side-quests you can take. Caddoc and E'lara seem to be the only living beings in the area, but that doesn't mean they're alone. The Deathstone has the ability to animate corpses and contact the undead. By finding an intact and "friendly" corpse, we were able to get a side-quest that involved the ghost of the poor victim telling us about a legendary weapon that was guarded by a riddle. Solving the riddle earns us the weapon and presumably drastically increases our ability to survive. Of course, it's completely optional, and if players would rather stick to the main quest, then so be it.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge is shaping up to be a really solid co-op game. The focus on two characters with different abilities working together has the potential to be really fun. Caddoc and E'lara are a solid pair, and the combination of melee and ranged capabilities make for some very exciting gameplay moments. During our brief demo, we got a lot of chances to work together and do neat things that you just can't do in a single-player game. The addition of RPG-like leveling features and optional side-quests means that there should be a fair amount of customization and replay value. While one can't help but wonder how Hunted: The Demon's Forge will stand up as a solo experience, it's hard to deny that, based on what we saw at E3, it has all the makings of an excellent multiplayer title.
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