Some games try to gain your affection with interesting stories or innovative mechanics. Others just want to show you a good time. If Book of Demons is one of them, it most certainly is the latter. The first part of developer Thing Trunk’s Back 2 Games project, Book of Demons aims at revisiting classic dungeon crawlers of the past by modernising and simplifying them in the process.
Book of Demons is simultaneously a tribute and a parody of the classic action-RPGs of days past. Most specifically, it draws heavy inspiration from Blizzard’s own Diablo series as you enter a town that has been troubled by all sorts of beings that go bump in the night. Luckily, thanks in part to a charming paper craft inspired art style the game balances its tone in between the humour of Fable and the gravitas of its inspiration.
The game revolves around a familiar concept: you must choose one of three classes and venture down into the depths below the town, ridding it of every baddie along the way. The interesting thing is how you go about that task as Book of Demons smartly uses multiple tricks to create a much more accessible experience than that of its predecessors. The first and most apparent change to the classic formula is the game’s “deck-building” mechanic.
Instead of collecting countless pieces of loot, equipping thousands of different combinations to best min/max your way through the game you instead pick up different cards. Each card is a different ability with its own rarity. While it’s too early to figure out how the game’s economy and scarcity factor in here, it makes the strategising simple and easy to understand. You have a certain number of slots to place cards, each card requires a certain amount of mana to use. Bing, bang, boom, you’re on your way.
Book of Demons also makes things easier by implementing a clever system called the Flexiscope system. The game will offer you multiple versions of levels, each tailored to your performance with an accompanying estimated time. By knowing just how long a level will take you, you can either sit back and relax and clear out large chunks of the game or you can breeze your way through a few before you head out the door. The system works fairly well by respecting your time as a player while simultaneously offering incentive for replaying levels your initially start on easier sessions in hopes of finding better cards.
Yet while the game’s interesting features offer plenty of enticement, Book of Demons gives little in its core mechanics. Dungeons are designed well enough but restrict your movement to singular and predetermined paths that feel more like board game maps than actual dungeons. Part of this adds to the charm of the game, yet still are impossibly dull to play through. Its combat on a surface level is just as disappointing as attacks are done automatically, only done faster by clicking and holding on enemies within reach. However, thanks to an impressively diverse range of enemies and its unique take on abilities via its aforementioned deck-building system, the hack and slash combat is able to hide a few moments of brilliance behind its uncomplicated charade.
This odd combination of movement and combat can sometimes force you into difficult circumstances. As movement is made by simply clicking in a certain direction, you can sometimes be clumsily juggling actions in the heat of battle. Clicking in different directions and different enemies can be weirdly obtuse to manage without any other options available. The problem would be easily remedied with the addition of WASD or arrow-key controls which in all fairness may end up in the final release, but in what was available there were multiple moments where large clusters of enemies on screen simply became too mind-numbing to endure. Occasionally you may find yourself frustratingly dying in a group of low-level enemies, but luckily the game doesn’t penalise you much for biting the bullet. After getting kicked out of the dungeon, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump back to where you were last and more importantly, all your lost belongings.
What Book of Demons sets out to do it mostly succeeds. Thanks to cleverly designed systems, a fun art style and light-hearted attitude, it feels much more approachable than the somber and grim games it draws its inspirations from. While it doesn’t quite fill the shoes it tries to, it does create an experience that both a casual fan and a hardcore dungeon crawling expert can enjoy. It’s definitely worth your time thanks to its respect for it, something not many games these days can attest to.