by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Dungeons & Dragons has been a part of my life since I was eleven. My brother, who was twenty-two at the time, taught me everything about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, and as a pre-teen, one book held particular interest to me: the Monstrous Manual. Although Demons Age is not an official D&D game, its ruleset is heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons v3.5. We got a quick look at the gameplay during Gamescom and it reminded us of some quality titles of the past.
In an introduction that looks like the start of every adventure game ever, you get to customize your character who happens to be one of the rowers on a boat headed for a penal colony which suddenly gets sunk in a freak storm leaving you washed up on the beach next to a bunch of chests containing your basic equipment and a single survivor who manages to give you the context of where you are and what you need to do before coughing up his last piece of phlegm and dying. In game studies, we call this a ‘trope’.
The story is mostly linear with some optional side quests, but where the game offers a lot of variety is in your party customization. Although you choose your class to begin with and assign weapons through an inventory menu, level advancement is fixed so little time needs be spent on optimising your character. In every inn, however, you’ll be able to recruit mercenaries to fight by your side. The party size is maxed out at five, but the number of allies is perhaps not as important as their makeup. That is to say, you’ll have to get a feel for their personality and how well they fit into the group if you don’t want them to turn around and stab you in the back, because that may happen.
Familiar, But Intriguing
Combat takes place on a hexagonal grid and is turn based. The grid appears as soon as an enemy appears in the vicinity and your alignment on it is context sensitive. That is to say, your group will maintain its formation and be assigned to the tiles closest to their original position, so be careful about letting your wizards run far ahead of the rest of the group. Should you have a party member who is unhappy with your leadership or absolutely hates some other members of the group, they may turn on you as soon as combat is initiated. This means that you’ll not only be battling the monsters on the grid, but a team member who you’ve spent a ton of gold equipping. It’s doable, but it would be much better to simply make sure your party is content to begin with. The game will be lost as soon as your initial character dies, but feel free to sacrifice the mercenaries on the altar of your glory. Just make sure you have enough money to hire a replacement piece of cannon fodder before going into any more battles.
Random encounters may happen when travelling the world map and those will initiate a loading screen where the encounter is generated. During dungeon crawling, however, the battle initiation process is much smoother as time simply freezes and a grid appears on the ground. The game looks like a mix between Blackguards’ combat system, Baldur’s Gate’s character system, and a party management and recruitment system in a league of its own. Whether this interesting title delivers a solid gameplay experience remains to be seen, but we can’t wait to give it a try when it finally hits the stores.