The Dark Eye: Demonicon Review (PC)

I wonder if a game is doomed to live up to its first impression. I’ll be honest, when I first saw The Dark Eye: Demonicon two years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. When I saw it a year ago, I’d noticed some improvements but again, wasn’t that impressed. Now the game is out today and I’ve spent 26 hours playing it and, well, I’m not that impressed. That’s not to say I went into this wanting to slate the game – as a critic I have a habit (probably a bad habit) of trying to see the best in all games, and even here there are facets of Demonicon that are ok, endearing, even appreciated. But there’s also a lot of naff, and to be honest I’d probably have been more disappointed if I’d actually paid for the game, which is what you guys will be doing.

Demonicon is a fairly linear Action-RPG set in a small (ridiculously small, actually) slice of the Dark Eye universe, a pen-and-paper RPG that rivals Dungeons and Dragons in cult following, if not mainstream awareness and appeal. You are Cairon, a twenty-something man on the run with your father and your also twenty-something sister. You’ve been on the run your whole life, apparently, fleeing a group of particularly nasty demon-worshipers called the Borboradians who long ago did something something something. The game tries to shove a lot of lore down your throat pretty early on with an opening sequence that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Ultimately the plot is pretty straight forward, but it’s something that kind of develops over time, so don’t worry if you’re a bit confused at the beginning of the game. Just roll with it. Hopefully Dark Eye veterans will appreciate it.

AP is used to develop a lot of different things. Choose wisely

The RPG part of Demonicon touches most of the bases – you have stats that you can level up through points, you’ve got armour modifications and potion making, there’s lots of loot, dialogue options, side-quests etc... but this will not be the best RPG you’ve ever played, and it pales in comparison to what other studios like BioWare and CDProjeckt have done/are doing. There are no companions, although sometimes you do get allies to help you in a fight. The ‘Action’ itself is ok – you have a melee and a ranged attack, you have mêlée specials and the four magical ‘gifts’ that you slowly unlock through the game by developing your character. The points system is a bit of a weird one, as the same point pool is used to develop a lot of different things. It can be hard at the beginning to choose what to concentrate on first, but you get the hang of things in the end. The story is enough to see you through, but it’s kind of predicable and really likes forcing you to choose between two bad options – shades of grey in the ever-dark plains of the Shadowlands. Also, its one genuinely interesting hook in the Incest sub-plot isn’t as interesting as you think it’s going to be, which is a shame.

As a technical piece of software, Demonicon is also rather clunky. Character animations especially are kind of poor, in the sense that main scenes and dialogue bits work well, but then just before the camera pans away they start doing weird stuff. You see a lot of fluff that kind of makes you cringe, and while the world is perfectly respectable in terms of art style and visual fidelity, it’s also so... empty. You can only go into the odd door here and there, you’re funnelled this way and that way, it’s one of the those games where it’s almost painfully obvious what the constraints are and the game world kind of suffers for it. There are small mercies – anything worth interacting with is highlighted, when coming back from a quest that took you to the end of a long tunnel-like sequence, it will short-cut you back to the beginning sometimes to save the walk... small mercies, greatly appreciated in a game that struggles with adequacy. Also, things start to chug sometimes when you load into particular areas, forcing you to restart.

Credit where Credit’s due, the game does an ok job of making you feel like a badass...

For all its faults and flaws though, its clunky design and sometime sluggish nature, there comes a point where the whole experience gets a little bit... moreish. For me, it was towards the end of the second hub-area: I’d started to level Cairon up pretty well, had some decent spells, better attack moves, and better stats. I suddenly wasn’t scraping through anymore, wasn’t fighting for my life. Instead, I was carving my way through monsters and brigands left-right and centre, thrusting through bones and sinew with the point of my newly acquired sword, and freezing demons with my Ice Lance before sucking their life away with Blight. I was a BOSS, and I made sure everyone knew it. If you can make it to the second area, and as long as you’re not stupid with your AP investiture, you too will probably reach this point at about the same time I did. Once you do, and provided you maintain the lead, the rest of the game is pretty breezy, actually. Not so easy that it’s not fun, but easy enough so that you have to work a little bit, but still come off feeling like a badass.

Despite this though, and as much as I hate to say it, Demonicon is a bit of a sub-par release. Maybe hardcore Dark Eye fans will appreciate the lore and its place in the universe, but on its own it’s not a fantastic story, and it’s not a well-designed game either. It’s all functional, but in a fairly lazy kind of way. Also the last couple of hours seem a bit rushed: it all ends kind of abruptly, and there’s a more obvious lack of polish than from the rest of the game. Its saving graces are the nice little design ‘bits’ that make certain areas of the game less cumbersome, and the ‘moorishness’ that seems to kick in after the first hub area. Also the fact that it has a kick ass ending credits song. At 26 hours, you also get a good run for your money, but don’t expect much in the way of replay-value. A one-shot worthy of a really good Steam sale perhaps, but not something you should consider paying full price for.

Top Game Moment: There was one moment where a group of particularly tough looking enemies were running towards me. I’d never encountered them before and I was steeling myself mentally for a bit of a slog. Ran in, did my jumping piercing move from Troy, the demon-soldier-thing died instantly. Rinsed and repeated three more times, and then walked away feeling like a total Boss.

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