Fantasy games like Skyrim deliver epic adventures where players slowly gain the power to wield powerful weapons and strong magic. Techland, the studio behind Dead Island and Dying Light, is skipping straight to the good stuff with Hellraid, a first-person hack 'n' slash game set in a dark fantasy world. During this E3, Techland showed me a hands-off demo showcasing the ability to pick up and use any weapon no matter your level, along with the sinister demonic atmosphere of the game world.

The action begins in a stereotypical fantasy dungeon. This series of torture chambers looks decidedly next-gen, with glowing fires that illuminate rooms and detailed textures that sell the grime of the stone walls. Demonic creatures like skeleton warriors, undead archers, and goat-legged demons prowl the foreboding halls. The player character is exploring the underbelly of a monastery home to a well-meaning abbot who went mad trying to research the mysteries of hell in order to push back the demonic invasion. Thankfully, the player has a host of options for dismantling this demonic threat.

Unlike Dead Island, the class of your created character is entirely up to you. Techland is creating a web-like skill tree that combines class archetypes like warrior, rogue, mage, and paladin. Players can choose their path along the web as they please, unlocking passive stat upgrades and new abilities. Deep Silver offers examples like warriors going into a strength-boosting rage, rogues temporarily going invisible, and mages leeching mana from enemies. Deep Silver isn't putting any restrictions on the four-player co-op, either, allowing players of all levels and experience to play with one another.

The core of Hellraid's gameplay lies in the weapons you wield. Hefty axes, swords, and mauls offer melee-based offensive options against the demonic forces. The weighty swing of these weapons and their impact on enemies seems reminiscent of Dead Island, but Techland says Hellraid's engine is entirely unique. Players can block enemy blows using the weapon to parry, or equip a shield to block and bash. Even magical rods can be acquired from fallen enemies, letting you quickly cast lightning, ice, or fire magic at enemies. The versatility of the arsenal mixed with the dark, first-person fantasy setting and RPG elements makes me remember id's Hexen. And that's a good thing.

Combat is slow and deliberate. A well-timed charged attack with a maul will shatter a skeleton into bony bits. You can also dodge in any direction to evade enemy attacks, but at the cost of some stamina. Heavy attacks and quick mobility all drain stamina, which may leave you vulnerable to attacks if drained. The developer demonstrating the game used the dodge frequently when fighting bigger enemies like a bipedal goat demon and corrupted paladin. The massive axes and swords these enemies drop are free for the taking once their defeated.

Techland is developing a few different modes friends can choose between for Hellraid. Story mode allows you to progress through missions in a continuous narrative about hellish evils flooding into the land of the living. Arena mode pits a group of friends against waves of oncoming foes, a familiar concept for fans of horde modes. An additional mode embraces the arcade days of yesteryear with a focus on combos, score multipliers, and getting as many points as possibly in a section. Characters will be playable across all three modes, with progress transferring between them all.

Hellraid's premise of visceral, first-person melee combat in a hellish fantasy setting is simple but enticing. Techland appears to have come a long way in terms of polish and world creation since release of the buggy but enduringly addictive Dead Island. Keep Hellraid in your sights leading up to its digital release next year on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.