I stumbled upon the trailer for Hunted, the Demon’s Forge last week for no particular reason other than I like to see trailers of upcoming games. Lo and behold, before I even watched the video I saw the following:
“Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a cooperative fantasy action game.”
Fantasy? Cooperative? DING DING DING! We have a winner!!
And then I watched the trailer. Maybe you should watch it before I go on:
Here We Go Again
Depending on how much you know of the fantasy genre, you may have picked up on a few things in that trailer:
- The male protagonist is big, brawny, and carries a big sword
- The female protagonist is scantily clad and wields a bow
- You can use magic
I’ve never heard of ineXile as a production studio before, so perhaps this is their first foray into the world of video game development. And I am by no means an expert on game development, but I’ve played and read a LOT of fantasy. A LOT. Do you know what excites me about this trailer?
No, really: how many times have we seen these fantasy archetypes before? The male lead with the big sword. Name a game where you’ve seen that very same thing. Go ahead, I’ll give you 10 seconds. I bet you could name at least 5 games (hint: just say “Final Fantasy” and add a number on the end :P). Now think about how women are portrayed in fantasy. Do they ever use swords? Rarely. Do they always appear as the frail healer or the ranged attacker? Almost always.
So here comes Hunted, a game published in 2010 that’s trudging through the exact same swamps that fantasy has traversed since Tolkien. Are you kidding me?
You may think I’m overreacting–I’m not. I am convinced that the video game world does not understand the meaning of innovation or imagination when it comes to fantasy. And fantasy, by definition, should be the one genre where you can get away with absolutely anything. That’s what makes it fantasy.
It Can Be Done
Take a look at the God of War series as an example. Greek mythology is nothing new. Violence and stories of revenge have been around since long before Star Wars. And yet the creative minds (David Jaffe and co.) took these concepts and re-conceptualized them into one of the most popular and unique action games (series) of the past decade. You’ve never seen Greek mythology portrayed this way before (“Let’s kill the Greek gods and watch the world crumble!”), even though you may know all about Greek mythology to begin with. It’s called innovation.
So why can’t the people behind Hunted craft something that harbors even the smallest trace of something unique? I haven’t forgotten that the game is cooperative, but that’s not a new concept either in video games of this genre (see Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, X-Men Legends, Champions of Norrath, and so on).
“But wait, Eric!” you exclaim. “I watched the demo and the chick had a sword and a shield!”
She sure did, but did you see the size of her sword? (It’s puny.) Did you see what she did with it? She. Chopped. Bramble.
Now compare it to the size of the man’s sword. Honestly, who would you pick to be the melee fighter here? More importantly: which of the two characters do you honestly think the developers intend for you to use as the melee fighter?
Don’t even get me started on the character design. Bald and burly male fighter and the stealthy, scantily clad female archer. The development studio clearly didn’t spend a lot of time on these two poor schmucks.
I’m sure that I’ll say this again: fantasy games lack originality. If you’ve played one American game, or JRPG (which are even more guilty of sticking to the same formula), then you know what I’m talking about. Heck, I’m 20 hours into Dragon Age: Origins and there ain’t many original things about it (aside from some damn good writing and an interesting attempt at noncorporeality). It’s sad when Harry Potter becomes the refreshing face of fantasy video games by wielding wands and shouting incantations.
So what can be done to make fantasy gaming a little more unique? Here are some nifty ideas!
- Create non-human playable characters: why hasn’t a cat humanoid been invented who attacks melee style with his/her claws? Why can’t I play as an earth golem who makes the ground ripple just by punching it? Why can’t I play as a hawk and gouge out the eyes of my enemies in order to stun them?
- Use magic as your means to go beyond the laws of physics: cities in the sky are seen every once and a while. How about a city under the sea? How about revealing cloaked enemies by merely shouting? How about making weaponry out of fire or air or earth?
- Diversify your weaponry: swords and bows are dead. How about a poleaxe? How about throwing knives or axes? How about poison darts to stun enemies? How about boots with spikes on the ends as a means to that final melee blow? How about attacking with a staff (rather than casting magic with it)?
- Creature creation: skeletons make for nothing more than boring and horribly basic enemies. How about trees that come to life (ents)? How about golems, or water elementals?
- Mix up the archetypes: not all dwarves have to be short and wield an axe (despite what a dictionary says). Not all elves have to be immortal and love nature (see Radiata Stories). Not all angels have to have white wings and live in the sky.
(Seriously, I’m going to have to write a book myself using some of these ideas, and I haven’t even mentioned the ones I’m actually utilizing for my novels).
I know that Hunted could have been something amazing. But it won’t be because everyone has seen it all before. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my faith that the video game industry can one day do some amazing things with fantasy elements. I just wish I could give them a friendly nudge! ;)