Gauntlet Preview

Throw down the gauntlet.

I have two vivid memories of the Gauntlet series: hacking and slashing my way through Gauntlet Legends on the N64 as a badass minotaur, and when I was twelve-years old, wasting far too much time and way too many quarters on a cruise ship by playing Gauntlet Legends on the ninth-floor arcade. Throwing an infinite number of spiraling axes at goblins and arcs was an addictive gimmick, which eventually subsided over the course of a few years. But Warner Bros. and Arrowhead Game Studios believe that the wait is over and the franchise is ready to be rebooted, a feat which will be tested very soon.
 
This Gauntlet revival takes several cues from the classic franchise, having four fixed classes—a muscle-bound barbarian Warrior, a swift and shield-ready Valkyrie, a fleet-footed bow-handling Elf, and a crusty but powerful Wizard. The story doesn't really matter so much, but suffice it to say, you and up to three your trusted companions must fight against all manner of undead and purge all evil from the land one dungeon at a time. Along the way, you'll gather piles of gold, potions for magical spells, chicken platters for health (unless you accidentally shoot it), and keys to unlock doors, and hopefully reach the end of the level in one piece.


 
While the general overview should sound familiar, some of the details turn Gauntlet into more of a dungeon-crawler than an arcade experience. Each level is broken into at least three stages of increasing difficulty, with the opening series of four levels including the obnoxious Death, who will slowly but surely home in on your position hoping to remove your soul with just a single touch. These stages are meant to be frustrating, but with a steady eye and keen positioning around the stage, the narrow corridors, multiple chokepoints, and spike traps hopefully won't be your downfall.
 
The Warrior and Valkyrie serve as traditional frontline melee attackers who have a longer health bar, a basic swipe that can knock back several enemies, and a charge move for a quick escape. The major difference is these two classes can't throw their weapons infinitely; instead, the Warrior can perform a whirlwind attack that ends with a forward burst and the Valkyrie can throw her shield like Captain America. But even with these rechargeable moves, it's important not to get surrounded, be pinned down by archers, or leave summoning statues to continue spawning grunts.
 
The Elf, my character of choice, is squishier by comparison, but his magical bow fires arrows at an incredible rate and he has an sniping ability that can dispatch larger foes. He's also the only character who can dodge, a quick roll away from enemy attacks, on top of being able to move and fire arrows at the same time. For effective crowd control, he can leave bombs and eventually learn to send bombs at long range by way of the sniper shot. The Wizard is equally as squishy as the Elf, but can switch between four spells at his disposal including a fire blast, an ice beam, and an electric shield.


 
On top of that, each character can equip up to two relics whose effects are powered by magic potions, which are no longer used for an AoE burst. Relics can be found hidden within dungeons, but aren't difficult to grab so long as you keep your wits about you. Out of the three early relics, the best one summons a crystal from the earth that lures enemies to its glowing aura before it explodes, giving the trap both decoy and damage properties. Leveling up relics using extra gold improves their effects; the level 2 ability for the ethereal relic allows you to steal life while walking through enemies. That's not a terrible backup plan if there's no food around.
 
Ultimately, as it should, Gauntlet is meant to emphasize co-operative four-player multiplayer dungeon-crawling. In a local co-op session, a friend of mine and I playing the Valkyrie and Elf demolished each level, while lightly competing against each other for the highest gold score. Any points accumulated in kill combos collectively builds a meter that awards an additional life whenever it fills, a pool of lives that's shared amongst the group, so don't play like a fool or the entire party will resent you for it. Going solo is far more perilous since you won't have any support and it will take much longer to destroy summoning pillars, especially if there are four on the field at once; however, it's not impossible, and you won't have to share any gold drops.
 
Gauntlet launches on September 23 for $19.99 on PC and SteamOS in 2015. A 4-Pack deal is available on Steam for $59.99.