My initial impression of Demonicon was that it was a poorly made, low budget, European action-RPG. After getting through an awkward introduction, however, it opened up to be a great, somewhat poorly made, low budget, European action RPG. The story begins with your character Cairon having to go rescue his sister from a blood mage cannibal. It later opens up to be a tale about demonic pacts and the shaping of a religion, with a couple of fetch quests for good measure.
I was struck early on by the deep background and mythos on display. I was not surprised to learn it is based on The Dark Eye, a popular pen and paper RPG from Germany. This is apparently the ninth game based on this series. Knowing nothing about the world did not diminish my enjoyment of learning about the really dark backstory of the places and people, though.
Being an action RPG, combat is the main interaction and Demonicon does a good job in this department. Combat is a bit more measured and slow compared to a combo driven third-person action game. You can counter, use weapon skills, cast a few magic spells, and use potions for stat buffs. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but it is well balanced and satisfying. There are a nice selection of skills and abilities to upgrade and the choices feel meaningful in how to spec out your character. You can go for more magic use and focus on upgrades to recharge you magic meter faster, or use a heavy weapon and have more attack abilities; I really enjoyed the character advancement and challenge of it all.
Demonicon’s narrative is one of the most interesting games I have ever seen of its type. It’s not the best, but it is really interesting. Dialogue is done similar to something like Mass Effect, a wheel to select responses and all that, but the morality is not nearly so cut and dry. First, I’ll get the few problems I had with it out of the way. There are times you’re not sure what outcome the response you select will have. Some of the story between Cairon and his sister is inconsistent and awkward. Jumping into one of the last chapters is wildly disjointed, although Cairon seems just as confused as I was. The ending is a bit abrupt but really, I just wanted an epilogue.
I pretty much loved everything else about the narrative. The world this game takes place in is really dark; the city you spend a lot of time in was once ruled by necromancers and you are given really interesting backstory about that. For example, the toll to get in and out was to spit blood on a stone at the entrance to the city. There is a small community in a demonically possessed swamp filled with plague victims (seriously, ask the leader why they don’t use wood from the swamp). Another part has children being mislead into summoning fire demons. All these nice little touches and flavor are spread throughout much of this game.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the writing and voice acting, as well. I was not expecting much but these people really nailed it. The conversations with the side characters are just awesome (the zombie girl was my favorite). They also do a great job pronouncing the names of weird made-up Gods and demons. Demonicon also features several big moral decisions. They do hit it on the nose a fair bit in the lead up to them but they are morally grey and require a bit of thought. Order vs. prosperity, truth vs. hope, loyalty vs. justice are some of the themes dealt with. Also worth mentioning is the pragmatic vs. visionary arguments laid out for religious sacraments. Few games have had me stop for a while so I could weigh out options like this.
The biggest problems with Demonicon lie in the technical foundations of the game. Textures don’t load for a while at times, certain areas have bad screen tearing, and the animations can be downright laughable. These problems are all inconsistent with some areas looking great and running fine, but others seeming not done nearly as well. Except the out of combat animation, that’s always pretty bad. Other little things like incidental dialogue playing while you are in a conversation with a character crop up here and there.
The worst decision with this game though is the save system. You can’t save the game. It is checkpoints based only. I don’t know who the fuck decided this, but come on. It does save relatively often but there were several moments where I wasn’t sure if it had saved and I had to check time stamps to my clock. It also keeps multiple saves so you can go back to change something if you want, but it doesn’t always overwrite the oldest one.
Some of these problems are attributable to the fact that this is a budget title. It also was apparently under development by a studio that went under and Kalypso Media picked up the IP and some of the developers. The game was then finished by Noumena Studios, who are Kalypso’s third internal studio.
Demonicon is a game with a lot of heart. Built on a solid well balanced combat system, the creators crafted a compelling narrative filled with interesting characters. The technical aspects do mar the vision, but the strength of the narrative and gameplay rise above these problems.
Demonicon is available on the PC for $39.99. It has been announced for the PS3 and Xbox 360 but the release date is unknown.
[+Fantastic characters and story] [+Solid Combat] [+Moral choices are not good and evil] [-Technical problems aplenty] [Awful save system]