Fraught with peril and plunder, Demeo allows would-be adventurers to delve into dungeons that are filled with baddies, loot, and surprises around every corner. While this digital dungeon experience offers new ways to roleplay, does it bring an authentic D&D-like campaign or fail the charisma check?
Matching an experience millions have played throughout multiple generations is a lofty goal. Everything from the dice-rolling to the sudden surprises and twists from each expertly-crafted campaign run by a cunning dungeon master is so integral to the game feel and what keeps players coming back for more. Demeo manages to break off a piece of that exhilaration, but the chunk it ends up with feels more like an arcade version than the tabletop excursions.
Once you pick up to four heroes for your team or pair up with some other players in co-op — made easier with the ability to crossplay, including players with a flat version of the game — you’ll move them through dank dungeons, room after room. As you avoid traps, sling spells, and take down monsters with your crew, you’ll work your way deeper into the dungeon until you go toe-to-toe against that campaign’s boss and clear that story upon their defeat.
There is plenty to love here for veteran players, but it’s something new, not something familiar. Sure, there’s dice-rolling, but it’s done with a twelve-sided die with swords that hit, crossed swords that do additional damage similar to a critical roll, and a skull that means you have a chance of totally missing your mark and hitting your own teammates. There are no saving throws, ability checks, or the like as the stats are pre-rolled for you, so numbered dice aren’t needed. The die is also rolled on your playing field, filled with three-dimensional set pieces that make up the dungeons, so sometimes the physics of the dice landing sideways on a wall is against you.
Dungeon exploration begins with a bare-bones tutorial showing you how to navigate your way around the playing field. Learning how to zoom into the action, move around the table to get a better view over the walls obscuring your characters, and how to move your team of misfits is welcomed as a beginner’s guide. There are a lot of other things to get into, however, especially when it comes to how each turn works.
Turns are taken with two action points, each one used when you chose to move your character or interact with objects, such as attacking enemies or plundering chests. Planning your movements throughout each room in Demeo is important and each action can mean the difference between success or failure, as enemies swarm you quickly and utilize their attacks to dwindle your health quite regularly. Additional complexity comes to you in the form of action cards, which help give your characters a bit of an extra edge over your fearsome foes.
The cards you utilize in each area are pre-determined by the class of hero you selected, but there’s a chance to gain additional cards as you play through the campaigns, whether it’s within chests or when each of your heroes levels up. Each card has an action cost, just the same as moving or interacting, and some of them are so powerful that they will take up your entire turn. Potions, spells, and innate abilities are often the only resource you have left when outnumbered, so it’s wise to keep those safe for the right occasion. Spend all your cards before you even get to the bulk of the enemies, and you’ll quickly find out exactly what makes your heroes so powerful in the first place.
Spells and abilities in Demeo are something that gets a bit more versatile as you use the environment to assist you. Lighting noxious gas on fire can help clear out an otherwise deadly room, and using an archer to fire an arrow to break a flask filled with ice on the opposite wall from them can help disperse foes from afar quickly. It’s little things like these that feel like an authentic tabletop game with seemingly infinite options, but there are plenty of restrictions that dial it back down.
While having a troupe of four unlikely companions seems like plenty of versatility, you’ll often find that as a single player, it’s way too much to handle at once. Forgotten heroes sent scouting ahead quickly perish, leaving the rest of your team to move forward into a dangerous area to try to bring back your downed friend before they succumb to their fate. In Demeo, you are required to ensure every action spent is the right one, making the quests harder than they would seem at first glance. Luckily, every delve feels fresh due to the random generation of the environments and each playthrough will give you a different experience as a result.
Demeo wants you to rely on the help of others to emerge victorious, and that’s respectable given that’s where the fun in D&D lies, but for players who fear social interaction or want to just dive into something without the hassle of waiting for others to make their move, it feels unbalanced. Not knowing what lies ahead is part of the excitement of a role-playing game such as this, but when simply opening the door causes a dozen blood-thirsty enemies to roll forward with brandished weapons swinging, the ambush incites more anxiety than the adventurous enthusiasm you would expect.
Gaining XP by beating levels is turned into cosmetic items as you level up, with variant dice, skins, and masks you can wear in a co-op run. It’s a bit of an added bonus for playing through multiple runs and keeps the engagement between players fresh and interesting. Customization would be better if you could edit your hero’s abilities or stats, but these pre-rolled characters work well for quick sessions and guarantee that you can just enjoy the game.
While Demeo is a great virtual tabletop experience, I did have some issues that gave me pause while playing. There seems to be an issue where tilting your head from side to side makes the entire playing field jump, and that is a bit uncomfortable, seeing as you’ll constantly be moving the board around and moving your head to get the best view of the action. Also, while moving through rooms, I noticed that not all enemies have their health bars visible, which makes the process of determining your next course of action that much more delayed, having to pick up the enemies to check their stats instead of just seeing it at a glance. When there’s this much action taking place, every piece of information is critical.
Beyond a few issues I had with the game, Demeo lives up to being a great way to experience dungeon-crawling virtually, especially with others. With the convenience of crossplay giving anyone a chance to join up with friends near or far, regardless of whether they own a virtual headset or not, you can set up sessions to keep the adventures going no matter the distance. While the stories aren’t anything close to what I’ve experienced in other campaigns, they do enough to encourage players to work towards conquest against the odds and conquering the devilish bosses. At the end of the quest, the cries of victory overpower any complaints I have about the lack of a dedicated dungeon master, which is hopefully something we’ll see in a sequel or expansion.