Book of Demons
Hands-On Preview
"This is no Paper Mario clone - it's a hack & slash RPG with a dash of deck building."

Games have passed through many trends over the years, in both graphics and gameplay, and when I see a game that bucks those trends, it catches my attention. Book of Demons is such a game, employing the rarely used papercraft visual style. But this is no Paper Mario clone — it's a hack & slash RPG with a dash of deck building. Book of Demons enters early access on Steam today, but the developers gave me a copy ahead of time, so I've been having fun with it for a week now.

In Book of Demons, you dive into a dungeon full of procedurally-generated floors to drive out the evil forces that are plaguing your childhood home village, to which you have just returned. As you progress, the villagers who have not yet fled or been slain will fill you in on the backstory. From what I've seen so far, the game's focus is not on the depth of its story, but if you take the time to hear what folks have to say, you will probably become more attached to them than you'd initially expect, and maybe get a chuckle or two to boot.

After an initial tutorial, you head down into a dungeon for sessions that last as long as you choose. There appear to be a fixed number of floors between you and the first boss (which is as far as the game has been fully built and balanced at this early stage), but you are given a slider that allows you to decide how many floors you take at a time and how large those floors are. The game estimates how long it'll take you to finish the session you've chosen, and promises that as you play, it'll learn how to improve its predictions. Games that hold you hostage are a huge pet peeve of mine, so I like this feature a lot.

As you defeat enemies and complete levels, you gain experience and find cards that you can equip. Some cards are like items in most games: potions and ice grenades and such. Others are like special skills or spells, and they allow you to do things like shoot poison arrows, stun nearby enemies, or charge into them and knock them out of your way. But the final category are what I used most in my time with the game: cards that act like equipment and enhance your character in a variety of ways. One of the characters I tried found a pair of cards that synergized nicely — a fire axe that made my attacks sometimes set the ground aflame and a pair of boots that protected me from fire and enhanced the damage it did to enemies.

Combat is deceptively simple — when an enemy comes into range, you perform a slow automatic attack that is enough to knock out weak enemies without your intervention. However, if you click and hold on an enemy, you attack quickly. But that's not all there is to it: some enemies are protected and require you to destroy their shield before you can actually damage their HP. Others summon minions who you have to kill before you can kill their boss. Some fire off a poison nova when they die... There's definitely enough variety to keep things interesting.

I'll admit that there are currently a few rough bits — enemies with ranged attacks can hit you from well outside of where you can hit them, for example, and I couldn't find a way to force your character to stand still and attack. I have bad aim with a mouse, even after hundreds of hours of Diablo, so a "stand still" button is essential for me. Without one, I try to click an enemy to attack and instead run to my own death. But even with those issues, I still really enjoyed the time I spent playing Book of Demons. And they're not particularly concerning issues, because they're the type of thing I'd expect developers to hear about from players during Early Access and adjust.

On the whole, Book of Demons seems to be shaping up nicely so far. Make sure to check out the gallery of screenshots to the right to see its unique visual style. If your interest is piqued, you can pick up Book of Demons on Steam Early Access now, with the final version due to arrive on PC and XBLA this Fall.

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