by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
I remember walking out of the ‘behind closed doors’ meeting to see The Dark Eye: Demonicon last year and wondering where the game was heading. The demonstration showed simple gameplay mechanics and lackluster graphics and left me wholly unconvinced. My colleague Chris Priestman walked out with the complete opposite feeling, labeling it as ‘ambitious’ and well worth keeping an eye on. However hard it is for me to admit this openly – he will surely rub it in my face – Chris was right. With another year of development under the belt, Creative Director Eric Jannot was brimming with confidence and enthusiasm presenting his game and that enthusiasm would prove infectious.
The Dark Eye: Demonicon is based on the dark fantasy world of The Dark Eye, a pen & paper role-playing universe with a considerable following in Germany. The universe offers a rich background for the story that developer Noumena Studios is trying to tell and the evidence for this is found everywhere in the game.
The demonstration zooms in on Demonicon’s protagonist Cairon who sets out to find his sister after she ran from her wedding. Not because she didn’t want to marry or is need of rescuing it turns out, but because she witnessed a kidnapping and chased the man responsible. It was not the first kidnapping either so we find ourselves in an underground passage investigating the mysterious disappearance of not one little girl but multiple people. Suspecting foul play, the first place to look is beneath the surface, right? The passage is riddled with traps and while we avoid a few, some do serious damage. Damage taken affect your character’s stats until you drink a health potion which is a cool way of making sure you don’t run into anything head first.
We eventually meet up with Cairon’s sister and talk with her about the kidnapping. A handy speech dial guides us through the available dialogue, ultimately leading to the revelation that our suspect is in the next room and that he is apparently a cannibal of sorts that draws magical energy from his victims. The next room turns out to be more of a hall than a room. At its center, a grotesque figure nibbles on some apparently unconscious person. Perp found.
A three-stage battle ensues. The first stage is close combat and has us hacking away at the cannibal and his thralls until he is weakened and starts hurling streams of fire in our direction. During the third and last stage, the perp climbs up on a dais in the back of the room and ‘gets it on like Donkey Kong’ throwing massive boulders in our direction. Deftly avoiding those, we finally bring him to his knees and get ready to deliver the killing blow when he offers us a suggestion. His life is linked to that of the abductees and killing him will also kill them. Leaving him alive on the other hand, and giving him a chance to better his life, will ensure their safe return. Can we trust his word?
Your choice will manifest itself elsewhere in the game. Soon after, we find ourselves in town and welcomed as heroes by some, but regarded with disdain by others. A mother thanks us for saving her son’s life, a guard would just as soon slit our throats for leaving such a dangerous creature alive. The player’s path is filled with similar and often difficult choices that are always meaningful but defy easy classification as either right or wrong. More interestingly, the consequences are not always clear from the start and we were told that the cannibal will make a return later in the game but how… well, we don’t kiss and tell.
Besides swordplay, there are 16 spells to cast that have been roughly divided into buff spells and offensive spells. The skill tree consists of 16 skills and it is impossible to get them all in a single play-through so picking one means sticking with it: there are no resets, no second chances. Good!
The Dark Eye: Demonicon looked almost like a different game. The ambition shines through at every turn. Facial animations have been improved tremendously, combat is much more fluid and the The Dark Eye roots are creeping through every rock of every cave and every roof of every house. It is this level of ambition that makes me look forward to the final game.