Like Diablo, but on rails and made of paper.
Really. That description isn’t too far from the truth. Simplifying it that much makes Book of Demons sound kind of bad, but it really isn’t. In fact, I had a great time playing it as a fun, light game that didn’t eat into my time too much. This is a bizarre hybrid of dungeon crawler, card game and hack n’ slash RPG is a love letter to old school games that somehow works rather well.
The game has a lovely pop-up book style, with all the characters and environments looking as thought they are paper craft with a colour palette to match. This art style reminds me of Blue Manchu’s Card Hunters, but much prettier. The art style is tied in with the animations, which are limited to be in keeping with the game’s look. The game has a rather unique look that conveys its sense of fun right from the off.
Now, likening to Diablo isn’t simply because it’s a hack n’ slash inspired dungeon crawler. Almost everything here screams homage to Blizzard’s classic. As a warrior (or mage once unlocked with a rogue to be added to the game later) we are asked by a barmaid and a sage (who has a look and mannerisms exactly like Deckard Cain. He even identifies items!) to venture beneath the village church to fight the forces of hell and defeat Diab…sorry, the archdemon. The design of the characters and village are very much like Book of Demon’s inspiration, as are the enemies. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it is very clear where the designs have come from.
The dungeons themselves use procedural generation to create a new experience each time. You travel on rails for the most part, choosing where to go at intersections or to go back if you wish. Chests, pots and tombs can be opened to find gold and cards which function as your abilities and equipment by placing them into your hand. Abilities require mana for each use whilst items take a permanent chunk of your mana to keep active. Combat is handled by clicking and holding on enemies in range, or allowing your character to use a (horribly slow) auto attack and using your ability cards. Abilities are what you would expect, with stuns, area of effect attacks and healing all accounted for.
As it stands, the combat could get pretty repetitive, but there are aspects of the game that mix is up quite well. Not all enemies can be defeated simply by clicking and using abilities. Some have shields meaning you need to click to attack a certain spot on them, others will become immune after each attack forcing you to temporarily switch targets, whilst casters will have spells that can be interrupted by clicking on the spell their casting. This is a nice way of building some depth into the combat system, and it also stretches to your character taking damage too.
Stuns will knock your equipped cards out of place, forcing you to reset them before they can be used again and health can be restored by collecting the heart icons that your character drops. There really has been a lot of thought put into how the minute to minute gameplay can be more than just clicking on monsters and chugging health potions.
Progress in the game boils down to travelling down the dungeons, into hell to face the demon itself. Each time you complete a number of floors, your overall progress towards the final boss will move forward slightly based on your use of Flexiscope. Flexiscope is the game’s way of tailoring the length of your sessions. Want a quick 10 minute session? Set the game to short and away you go! You won’t make a huge amount of progress, but it does allow for a quick game if you’re short of time.
Longer games make greater progress and generally have larger rewards across multiple floors of the dungeon. The size of each game also comes with an estimated time to complete it which becomes more accurate the more you play. The first (small) game I played estimated 13 minutes and took 15, so it certainly seems fairly accurate. I really liked this idea as it gave me control over how long I wanted my session to be and allowed me to make progress even if I only had a little time available. It seems like a system that could work very well in mobile gaming.
There are a couple of issues I had with this, in spite of enjoying it quite so much. The movement system can make dodging attacks very difficult as you tend to lock into attacking a target and need to click and hold away from them to retreat. The feedback for damage also felt rather low, meaning I often took far more damage than I thought. Whilst this didn’t lead to many deaths, I can imagine it being annoying the the game’s perma-death Daredevil mode. The lack of a minimap was a touch annoying when it came to returning to previous areas. The game shows footprints on the ground of area you have previously visited, but a map would certainly improve the navigation. It should be noted that at the time of writing the game is in Early Access on Steam and so the odd issue shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but the developers have done a good job in handling feedback, with a button always available on the screen to give any information, as well as a survey to complete upon closing your first session. This is Early Access done right so far!
As it stands, Book of Demons is very polished by Early Access standards and has potential to be something really rather fun. This is only part of the game too, as the opening of the game shows spaces for six other books to be added later. Whether these are included in the cost of the game or not, I don’t know, but the content you get from the single book justifies the cost of entry in my opinion. I look forward to seeing how this develops in the coming months, and I hope to see the follow up books in the future along with the planned level editor. Well worth a look!