The pen and paper roleplaying game, “Dungeons and Dragons” isn’t nearly as popular as it once was, as evidenced by the departure of the related Gen Con SoCal in 2007. Los Angeles, California now has two separate Anime Conventions instead which celebrate the influx of Japanese art, animation, and gaming. In Europe however, “Dungeon and Dragon’s” upstart younger sibling, “The Dark Eye” is still doing well, outselling “D&D” in Germany and other European countries. It is from this universe that Kalypso Media brings their new RPG, “Demonicon.” Just released for PC, an Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 version of the game is due out next year.
The recently released “Grand Theft Auto V” is rumored to have cost nearly $300 million to make and market, but there are few games that are made with anything close to that kind of budget. “The Dark Eye: Demonicon,” while in development for a number of years, had nowhere near that level of investment. To be honest, Kalypso Media is nowhere near the player that “Grand Theft Auto’s” Take Two, EA, Activision, or even Square Enix is in the video game market. That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try.
“The Dark Eye: Demonicon” borrows from plenty of the established franchises. There’s a little bit of “Dragon Age”/”Mass Effect,” “The Witcher,” and “World of Warcraft” in the game. “Demonicon” even borrows from more action oriented games like” Assassin’s Creed,” “Darksiders”, and “Far Cry.” Surprisingly, the recipe for the most part works. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, but as a whole, “Demonicon” offers twenty plus hours of good roleplaying fun.
“Demonicon” is set in a small corner of “The Dark Eye” universe and like the best stories, is fairly small in scope. The game puts you in the role of Cairon, a young refugee trying to survive with his sister and father. Cairon doesn’t know his true lineage, but begins to discover it as the game begins. This actually dovetails well with the player experience learning the control system. By choosing this method of storytelling, the game does not allow any real character customization. You can’t choose the gender, race, or even class of your avatar in “Demonicon.” While most of those are standards for many RPGs, this game has chosen to focus on a tighter narrative.
It’s not a terribly original story, though there are enough twist and turns to make the mature-rated “Demonicon” interesting. There are also not any really profound philosophical ideas tackled, but the choices offered aren’t ever just good or bad, righteous or evil. Each decision offers benefits and consequences allowing you to define your own morality. Surprisingly, the majority of the narrative is relayed competently by the actors. Far too often voice acting in anything but a big budget game falls flat. “Demonicon” in many ways is well put together.
Unfortunately not everything in “Demonicon” works well. The animations are often times cobbled together. At other times the animations are flat out broken. On more than a few occasions enemies would get hung up spinning or trapped behind small obstacles. You can also watch textures load as scenes changes, with details filling in a half second later. At first I thought one area’s sky texture was missing only to see it filled in hours later in the game. This also carries over to character model textures in cutscenes.
Luckily, much of the game actually looks pretty good, the enemies look great and many of the environments are stunning. While much of the city is appropriately drab looking the other locations are all pretty interesting with some great art design. The Achilles heel to the environments is that they are terribly sparse. Even in town, there are only a couple of people you can speak with and only a handful of doors you can open. It is worth noting that I made the same complaint about “Grand Theft Auto V.” Not being able to open all of the doors in your own home should be a video game crime. A more forgivable offense is the repetition of character models for the enemies, particularly the human ones. A fight with more than three enemies is bound to have at least one set of twins attacking you. With the nonhuman beasts, it’s less noticeable and defeating the bosses is fulfilling.
Of course there is a lot of fighting in “Demonicon” and while you might wear out your action button on a controller, the mechanics are pretty deep. The game allows you to string attacks together into combos that increase the likelihood of a critical attack and you can purchase special attacks and magical attacks. With a controller, these are all mappable along with potions or other items you’ll need along the way. Cairon can also dodge out of the way and roll as well as throw knives, action points permitting.
It might sound like I’m picking apart “The Dark Eye: Demonicon,”but nothing could be further from the truth. I actually really enjoyed the game. There are quite a few technical areas that could use some improvement and the storyline is similar to the standard fantasy tropes, but it really was a lot of fun. “Demonicon” is a competent third-person action RPG somewhere between “The Witcher,” “Dragon Age,” and “Darksiders.” With a little bit of polish, the game could be truly great. The bottom line is, that I would definitely play the sequel.
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