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Gauntlet hands-on impressions: Wealth, power, and extra helpings of turkey

We cut loose with an early look at Gauntlet - the game where friends come together to watch each other's backs... just long enough to stab them in it. 


I remember playing Gauntlet in the arcade as a kid. My favorite character back then was the Elf because it could fire off a stream of arrows (as fast as I could pound the button) while warrior characters kept the horde of monsters at bay by blocking off chokepoints. There have been a number of sequels and spin-offs since those days, but few captured my attention the way the original did. So, it's with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism that I gave the early build of the newest Gauntlet reboot a spin.

The newest Gauntlet reboot plays similarly to hack-and-slash dungeon crawlers, except hopped up on coffee and amphetamines. Players take the role of four distinct heroes, each with their own set of specialized skills and styles of play. For example, the Elf (named Questor) has a handy dodge move, and can drop explosives while rapid-firing arrows. Of course, the downside is that stray arrows might destroy items like food and potions amid the chaos. The other three characters include the Warrior (Thor), who swings a heavy axe, the Valkyrie (Thyra) who wields a spear and shield, and the Wizard (Merlin) who casts range of powerful spells. The four of them come together to make their way through dark crypts and bring their full force to bear on the monsters hidden within.

Gauntlet is the kind of game that grows more fun with each player added. Although playing solo and hoarding all the money, but the experience isn't terribly exciting. Having friends who will watch your back only to stab it later for the sake of gold and food is critical to the gameplay dynamics. This is co-op gameplay with a healthy dose of greed, thrown in. Fortunately, having your pals loot your corpse like the greedy vultures that they are is all part of the fun. There are number of skills and benefits that can only be unlocked through dying, so maybe you'll be able to teach your friends a little lesson in friendly payback somewhere down the road. I also like how the game sometimes calls players on behaviors, like when a certain someone "accidentally" destroys the food or a potion.

Some parts of the dungeon maps are pre-set, while others are procedurally generated. So, replaying the same areas maintains simultaneously presents a sense of newness and familiarity. Most aspects of playing Gauntlet are pretty straightforward. Wipe out the hordes of enemies, which grow in number and difficulty, loot every bit of gold you can find, then move on to the next room. Money is used to purchase Relics - items with special abilities that can be upgraded. Although the dungeon levels are linear, even with the procedurally generated parts, a number of elements keep the action moving. For example, Death can show up to chase the heroes through the corridors. There's also an element of unpredictability when playing with others. For example, I had a key on me but didn't know it, so as I was backing away from the horde and firing arrows, my Elf touched on a locked wall. It fell away and unleashed an all-new wave of monsters to mob us.

Our one gripe about the game, at least in the early build, is that a number aspects need to be figured out. Characters gain access to new abilities by unlocking them. For example, my Elf gained the ability to turn into a intangible mote of light for a few seconds instead of being killed, and then return with one hit point. It's a Elf Mastery skill that is unlocked after receiving 2000 points of damage, and its cooldown is further improved through taking damage. Full descriptions for each ability is listed in the Masteries menu, but it's hard to take time out for that sort of thing when you want to keep the pace of the game going. So, it often seemed like we could suddenly do things, but couldn't figure out how. I didn't discover that my Elf had the ability to fire explosive arrows until after our play session was done.

So far, it looks like Gauntlet properly captures much of the spirit that made the 1985 arcade game so much fun. The game releases on September 23rd, and heroes from all over can come together and lay waste to a sea of monsters.

The preview of Gauntlet is provided by the publisher and does not represent the final game. Gauntlet will release on September 23rd for the PC and will cost $19.99.

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