Book of Demons First Impressions [Early Access]

Title: Book of Demons
Developer: Thing Trunk
Publisher: Thing Trunk
Released For: PC (Windows Vista+)
Played: PC (Windows 10)
DRM Versions Available
Released On: Jul 28, 2016
MSRP: $19.99 Steam Link
Copy provided by developer or publisher

 

You know, if you asked me say, twelve years ago what my thoughts were on a game like Book of Demons, I’d ask why I don’t already have it and where I can get more. Twelve years ago, Card-based video games were still a rarity, Lost Kingdoms had just come out, and the only well-known paper based games were the Paper Mario games. Now, twelve years later, Book of Demons isn’t in a special club, and with it being released in Early Access, it’s not really in an exclusive club either. Still, it is an interesting little concept.

Not being in a unique club doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and Book of Demons in it’s current state certainly resembles some of those aspects. Released to Early Access in July of 2016, Book of Demons is a simple hack and slash game with a rather interesting artistic ‘paper’ style, and some rather brave card mechanics. You are a hero, you’ll chose a class, go to town, venture in the dungeon, fight, back to town, and repeat. I mentioned Lost Kingdoms for a reason. It to had some rather ‘brave’ card mechanics in the attempt of setting itself apart from games during the time. It even had a sequel, which was received about as well as the first, with an astounding ‘meh’. It wasn’t bad mind you. It’s idea was rather sound, but the gameplay was slow, it’s visuals rather drab, and it’s gameplay suffered from trial and error syndrome that single player card games have always struggled with. It’s hard after all to balance a game surrounding cards with the core concept of a card game being luck and chance, two things that games aren’t that great at mastering. I also mention Lost Kingdoms, because it was the only game I remember in the last fifteen years to come even close to in-game card mechanics in a game that wore the skin of a role playing game. Hand of Fate comes close, but I don’t own it (yet), and wouldn’t be able to accurately compare it.

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So, where does the gameplay of Book of Demons take us? Well, to demons of course! After visiting a town with some colorful characters,  you’ll go into the dungeon, fight, get cards, get gold, kill enemies, and save the lands (or something like that). At the cathedral where the dungeons are, you can use a slider to determine the size of your randomly generated dungeon. The slider is cool and I like the concept of difficulty being based on a slider for size, rather than just enemies becoming hit sponges. In each dungeon, you’ll fight a bunch of enemies, and a mini boss. Then, at the end of the quest, you’ll fight a big boss. Fairly simple, easy to grasp gameplay. If you thought that this would have some incredible story, there’s both far cheaper and far more interesting tales to satisfy that craving. However, bland story aside, the game genuinely has some cute banter between the characters in the town hubworld, and every hour or so, there’s some new little piece of gossip that each character has that makes visiting the town fun, though the fact that the characters talk rather slowly makes it also needlessly longer than it should be if you don’t want to skip the dialogue.

The gameplay is also simple, and often, too simple. I played with a mix of controller and keyboard, and the controls are almost exclusive to three buttons, which are to move, to hit targets, and to use spell cards that grant you other bonuses. The first hour, I religiously searched for a mobile version of this game, because that’s how the controls felt. The combat isn’t just designed more for casual play, it’s designed in such a way that it plays ‘like’ a mobile game. Yet, there are no mobile versions, and from what I can tell, it never had one and didn’t plan on one either. It even has those ‘larger than life’ buttons that are just large enough that they feel like they could be from a mobile game, but no, they’re not. The combat is largely just ‘hold down the attack button until everyone’s dead and occasionally do another thing to break a shield’. While there’s a fair bit of enemy variety, it suffers because there’s no real challenge to any of them. Supposedly, I should have died by the point in the game I’m in, a lot, but I haven’t once. To be fair, I have yet to play with the mage, so maybe a ranged play is what’ll make the combat more interesting, but the player shouldn’t need to find way to enjoy a game, that’s one of the reasons we buy games.

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As is, while the card mechanic is cool, I got pretty much every card one could ever want under an hour into the game. These cards give the player bonuses like increased health, extra attacks, etc. The player has two pools of cards, magic cards and cards that use gems, with each card equaling a different value. Cards with green gems are effect cards that stay on the player, while cards that rely on magic must be cast, have cool-down periods, etc. There’s also potion cards, which can be ‘charged’ for the cost of gold, but more often than not you’ll find far more potions in the dungeons than you’ll ever actually need. From there, you can also find rune cards that, along with other rune cards, allow the player to boost the effectiveness and perks of a card, while also costing some gold. By three hours in the game, I became invincible. I had never run below six health potions, I never touched the magic system, I could hit 4 enemies at once, and I could heal 30 hearts every minute. The lack of both a raw number of cards and cards that have negatives mean that you as the player will find nearly all the cards you could want by three hours in, and I haven’t even hit the second (of three) quest bosses in the dungeons yet. Plus, due to the lack of cards having negative effects, it means there’s really no need to balance your card stack, or to build certain stacks based on the dungeon. It’s not ‘bad’, it’s just sorta meh. It’s not really ‘casual’ as much as it’s just simple. That wasn’t to say it isn’t fun. I enjoyed going through the dungeons, uncovering random mystery cards, and finding out what I unlocked at the town, but after I got all the cards I possibly wanted, there wasn’t much of a reward to be had other than money, which could (at that point) really only unlock things like card spaces. However, my complaint about the lack of cards is also something that could very easily be added to drastically improve the game, something that Early Access is designed for.

I mention the dungeons being randomly generated, and it’s decent generation, though the lack of true movement, rather movement along a fairly linear path makes the generation simple. While I didn’t notice similar dungeons, too often I would have mini-bosses that spawn on levels of dungeons spawn right next to each other, and the same goes for treasure chests filled with things like gold or cards. As of the build I played, there’s no real ‘puzzles’ to speak of in the dungeons, and most of the visuals to the dungeons look fairly ‘samey’ after an hour or so in. I’d love to see some real puzzles to add some more depth to the gameplay.

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Visually, I like the paper style, though due to the dungeons darkness, they really don’t take advantage of a paper-style universe. Again, these aren’t core issues, rather things that can be addressed. Other than that, Book of Demons is nice to look at, though I wish it took more advantage of the paper visual style they’re trying to go for. As is, it’s only truly visible in the town.

In terms of audio, the ambiance is nice and I think the sound effects are just cartoonishly silly enough to work in this style of game.

As for controls, the simple gameplay leads to simple controls, and while I did wonder if this was always meant to be a PC game, the controls are better than just ‘simple’. Little things involving the movement with the scroll wheel was intuitive, and buttons I expected to do things, did the thing I was expecting. The controls are also fully rebindable, should you chose to switch something like the movement keys to the arrow buttons. The settings options are also simple, but they work fine in a game like this.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Book of Demons, though it’s lack of depth in terms of card gameplay left me feeling a little hollow. I think if they improve the card-play mechanics, add more cards, add cards with negative effects, and flesh out the style of dungeons with either new locations like a forest, or an abandoned castle, I think that will go a long way to improving the game and my recommendation. As is, I think it’s coming along well in Early Access, and I’m interested in seeing what they do to improve, if nothing else. I hope that both gamers, and developers read these, and I hope that by giving some advice on what to improve on, Thing Trunk, or other developers can improve on their games, making better products along the way.

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