"Book of Demons certainly lacks in variability, and it's easy to fall into a habit."
Book of Demons (BoD) has been in early access on Steam for about two years, and within that time, it has evolved as its developers kept their ears close to the ground. Highly sensitive to player feedback, this meticulously developed hack 'n' slash-esque action RPG resembles Diablo, but with brighter visuals and greater simplicity. By the developers' own admission, this is intended for people who have little time and need a gaming fix before moving on with their lives or other responsibilities.
The story behind BoD is as basic as it gets, with a few humorous moments as advisers and denizens at town share gossip. While not meant to be taken seriously whatsoever, BoD's central arc focuses on delving into a dungeon menacing a town so that the player can defeat a treacherous demon. In no way would I ever recommend BoD for its story, but it serves as the condiment that accents the substance.
Delving into said dungeon, players will walk procedurally-generated paths through cavernous hallways while enemies lie sleeping or in wait for heroes. In order to thwart these evil-doers, players must equip cards. By simply left-clicking or pressing number keys, basic attacks and special powers will assault foes. Everything occurs in real time and mana is the primary resource that many cards use. As an example, a lightning spell which shoots out a bolt of lightning that forks as it hits enemies can be activated by pressing the allocated number key. Mana depletes, but can be regenerated by leveling, drinking from a blue pool, or having certain cards equipped. Health regenerates similarly.
Leveling only increases a player's max health or mana by one, depending on the player's preference. Stats are non-existent; the entirety of BoD lies in the cards. Players find cards littered throughout dungeons, usually within elite enemies or treasure chests. Sometimes these cards offer one of several unique abilities or are magical upgrades of current cards. The skill behind BoD seems to lie in one's preparation or use of cards within a dungeon. Properly expending mana in the right moment can be critical. Of course, potions and other currency-based equipment can provide support in tight situations. As the game progresses, players can spend money and resources to upgrade cards, which is a gambit, because better cards may come along at any time.
The developers proudly boast their Flexiscope mechanic, which is what makes the game accessible for busy individuals or those who just want a quick gaming fix. When entering the dungeon, players can use a slider to determine how long they want the dungeon to be, and the game even offers simple designations, such as very small, small, medium, and big. The smallest dungeons tend to take about 8 minutes, while bigger dungeons can take over half an hour. In this way, play-time can be controlled, and in my experience, if I'm properly equipped, these times are quite accurate. Somehow, the developers found a fantastic algorithm to accurately predict playtime. Once the dungeon has been completed, a return to town allows for recuperation.
Deep as this dungeon is, I can't recommend long playing sessions. At times, the bug has bitten and I take on a big dungeon or two, but I can't usually play much beyond that because the game can get pretty repetitive. This puts me in a unique position as a reviewer, because normally this would be when I lambaste the game for shoddy design, but the developers are actually quite upfront with the intention behind BoD: this isn't meant for long sessions or those seeking a hardcore experience. When accounting for the intent behind the design, I'd say BoD meets its mission well. I've played it for a year or so now off and on, and that's good enough for me, but "more serious" gamers may be frustrated, because the game truly pops off the screen.
Consistent with its story and game design, BoD boasts a delightfully cartoonish flare in its presentation. Most of the game's animation appears like paper, including the fire, as if the entire game takes place in a pop-up book. All of the people, enemies, and effects are shaded such that the texture is evident. I applaud the graphics team, because this isn't an easy effect to nail. With all that being said, not everyone's going to take to this style, because it's not "hardcore" or as intense as one might hope, but, again, that isn't the aim. I almost feel like this papery style is an easy fallback for stiff animations, such as when the player attacks, he just hops up and down in place. Audibly, the game is certainly on the weaker side, though some of the voices can be funny, as intended.
Thing Trunk has done a fantastic job over the years with Book of Demons. They had a goal and a vision they succeeded in meeting. Now, that doesn't mean the end result is excellent. I think a game intended for short spurts can still change things up a bit and excite those who want to play for longer sessions. Book of Demons certainly lacks in variability, and it's easy to fall into a habit. For those looking for a greater challenge, the roguelike mode can add spice as players enter a leaderboard on first death and can permanently die if they're short on funds, but this doesn't entirely solve the issue of repetition. The first of seven planned titles, Thing Trunk has a lifetime of work ahead of them, and I'm eager to see what other unique treasures they create.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.