Monday, December 12, 2016

Book of Demons Early Access Impressions!

                Book of Demons is a quirky looking game by Thing Trunk part of a series of tributes to the old but gold games of the 90s.
                The action takes place in a paper-cut looking village and its haunted cathedral. With the support of a handful of villagers, a hero ventures into the depths of the cathedral that stands as a gateway to hell. Sounds familiar? Setting aside, everything about Book of Demons stands as a comical homage to Diablo. Right off the bat players can choose between the three classes and even if the Early Access version contains only warrior and mage, the trio will be completed with the addition of the rogue. Going past the simplistic character creation, the player arrives at the troubled village inhabited by some caricature characters including this game’s version of Deckard Cain and Adria (I guess Griswold didn’t fit in with the game mechanics). Even the cathedral’s submerging progression culminates with a silly Archdemon that’s the paper-cut embodiment of the older and terrifying Diablo.

                The purpose of this game called for a gameplay that should resemble the original Diablo in one way or another and despite its peculiar nature, Book of Demons is some sort of Hack & Slash designed around simplified mechanics. The maps are boardgame-like allowing the players to move only on a rail that follows straight lines and right angles, limiting the ways combat can be approached. Enemies on the other hand have no movement constraints and can attack the players from any direction outside of the movement path. It’s an interesting concept that doesn’t translate all that well into a gameplay mechanic. The limitation to the movement greatly simplifies the combat system transforming it into an even bigger click fest than Hack & Slashes usually are as well as being monotonous.
The railroad!

                The combat is pretty straight forward. As the player follows the defined movement path enemies will be met and dealt with in the old fashion way of Hack & Slashes. Book of Demons will have you click your brains out fighting waves of enemies together with their summons and the ambushes that await on the invisible ceiling. It’s nothing wrong with clicking your mouse button to death to slash enemies apart. Many games have done this in a satisfying way for the players and a beneficial way for the producers of peripheral devices, but the movement style doesn’t allow any tactical approaches. You either go headfirst into the groups of enemies trying to click their HP hearts out before they get yours or you slowly kite your way to victory with no other play style being allowed or viable.

                The variety of enemies is pretty impressive and each monster comes with certain abilities and elemental attunements to make your clicker’s life harder. Group leaders and bosses are often met in the dungeons beneath the cathedral and to deal with these powerful monsters, Book of Demons has clicking mini-games that add some sort of depth to the combat system. To recover from a stun, players have to catch all the flying starts on the screen and an enemy’s armor is destroyed by repeatedly clicking on the armor icon instead of attacking the target directly. It’s a neat little trick that expands the gameplay mechanics past their simplistic design, yet I’m not sure it bolds too well with PC gaming giving a strong feeling of mobile gaming.
The dizziness is real...

                As any Hack & Slash, Book of Demons has a progression system which allows players to improve their characters to face the hordes of enemies more easily. But as with everything this game entails, the progression is pretty simplistic yet surprisingly catchy to keep you busy for quite some time. Leveling only increases the character’s life or mana with one point per level and while life serves the same purpose as in any other game, mana is a multifunctional stat. Mana is tied directly to the cards system and can either be spent to use abilities and spells or can be reserved to equip cards.
Cards are this game’s version of almost everything including abilities or spells, potions, crafting runes and artifacts. The big difference is a deck-like system in which useable items, abilities and artifacts share the same slots. A character starts with a limited number of card slots which can be expanded through spendy upgrades which together with the crafting system make gold a valuable currency.
My deck!

                Cards can be upgraded through a crafting system which has the players fusing rune cards and spending gold to get more and better stats for potions, abilities and artifacts. Grinding for gold and potential upgrades to fuel the character’s progression is done efficiently with the help of the FLEXISCOPE.
                The FLEXISCOPE feature allows the adjustment of levels’ size and implicitly the quantity of loot found in these levels. It’s a system that works in a similar fashion with any other games that have the players grinding eternally for gear, asking for a time investment in exchange for more and potentially better loot. There’s also the cauldron gambling option for those who feel particularly lucky or have gathered a fortune, but with the certainty to get something useful out of it. The cauldron gathers random loot and even stats during specific milestones as long as the player doesn’t die or isn’t tempted to buy in. The bigger the wait the higher the prize or the loss.
Controlled progression.

                The last part of the progression system is shared between customary features. Achievements have been around for ages, giving players an incentive to continue playing and Book of Demons has them in spades, awarding players with profile pictures that come along with a peculiar share option and that will probably carry on throughout the paperverse.
                Last, but not least, the players driven by competition will find that Book of Demons has a global leaderboard tracking the progression in the game’s Hardcore mode.

                Setting up the paperverse art style for the Return 2 Games series required two years of work and it shows. There is a certain tradeoff happening within the Book of Demons with artistic direction coming on top of the simplified gameplay. Nevertheless, the combination of funny poetry and boargame imagery with every visual being paper cut is quite unique transforming the gritty Diablo into a satirical adventure that’s worth seeing at least once.
This angel came to the wrong game.
Wanderer, is that you?!

                As Book of Demons is the first in a seven games series that will take the gamers back in time, the developers can learn a lot from this experiment to improve the future of the paperverse. But as it stands now, the game’s catchy artistic direction of a caricaturized setting that’s a tribute to a great game isn’t enough to hide Book of Demons’ gameplay problems borderline with a strong tablet vibe.

(This article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)


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