The genre of Hack and Slay games is known for its combat, its looting and levelling, and its big and dark areas? Well, yeah, mostly, but there are also games that don’t follow that same pattern out there! Today’s game is a card-based ARPG called Book of Demons that dares to change up the formula of hack and slay games a little bit and mix it with a well- “crafted” world and some interesting mechanics.
After a long journey, you’re returning to your hometown where seemingly everything has changed. Everything seems darker and you’re recognizing feer in your old friends. That’s because the old priest of the local church has been kidnapped by a dark force into the depths of the catacombs and even bigger dangers seem to be awaiting you! That’s why you have to embark onto an adventure into those depths to save the world from fear and loathing!
What seems to be the most generic story of all time, is the story of the first part of Thing Trunk’s Return2Games-series. Thing Trunk is planning on releasing six more parts to this big project although those haven’t been announced yet. In Book of Demons (Trailer/Shop) you’re playing an adventurer who has to save the local priest and defeat all evils that are lurking in the shadows. For that, you’re embarking on instance-based adventures and can decide on your own how long you want to explore and what abilities you’re using, but I’ll tell you about that later.
Before starting your dungeon-crawling-experience, you’ll have to choose from one out of three classes: The warrior, the rogue and the mage.
To unlock the mage you and the rogue though, you’ll have to play the warrior to level 5 first which may seem tedious but is done quite fastly. This has the advantage that you’re able to play as a rather sturdy class before playing one of the more fragile characters. Every class has its own skills and cards and is played differently although it all is different compared to other hack and slay games anyways.
For instance, you’re not using normal attacks and abilities but have to click and use cards. Instead of roaming big areas, you’re chained to paths and have to kill enemies that can roam freely. In the beginning, you may feel very restricted because of that. Sometimes enemies are in the way, so you have to slay those first before you’re able to proceed which on the one hand seems unlogical since you could walk past them but on the other hand also is kind of nostalgic and reminded me of old JRPGs where you could either fight or run but never just walk past enemies.
When enemies are approaching you’ll have to click on them to deal damage. You can also hold down the left mouse button to more damage if you don’t feel like spamming your mouse button. If you don’t do anything, your character also attacks by itself but at a slower rate as when you’d click. While the warrior might be a melee unit in most RPGs you’re still able to slay enemies that aren’t directly near. I guess that’s due to some insanely long limbs or weapons or just a quality of life change. The rogue, on the other hand, is fighting with a bow and has more range and more attack speed. I had some trouble seeing the advantage of the rogue over the warrior since both seem to be ranged and since the rogue’s arrows have to travel a distance first before they hit a target while the warrior’s attacks are instant. This is where the right click comes into play: Every character has a special ability that can be used via right-clicking.
The rogue is able to shoot a long-range arrow that is able to hit enemies and objects that aren’t in sight yet. This makes it rather easy to thing out waves of enemies that can’t be targeted at this point so that you don’t get overwhelmed by them. The mage, however, also has ranged attacks but is able to shoot magic homing missiles that can’t be blocked by enemies that stand in front of the target that you’re aiming at you, which is an advantage that the mage has over the rogue. So while the rogue has a higher distance and can attack more frequently, the mage is a tactician that is able to precisely shut down enemies and isn’t hindered by enemies that stand right in front of him. The warrior, on the other hand, is rather beefy and a hybrid between those two with instant attacks that are slower than the rogue’s and with less damage than the magician.
While the combat system is something rather unique, the skill-system is rather similar to other games’: Slain enemies drop experience points and once you have enough of those, you gain a level. On top of the experience-resource, you also have mana, health and gold. Gold is dropped by enemies but also can be acquired by looting alongside items and even permanent health- or mana-points. Health and Mana can be increased at every level-up. While the warrior with his beefy nature has a lot of health but less mana, the mage, for instance, has a lot more mana than health. The rogue, on the other hand, is rather balanced on those fronts.
But let’s talk about the cards. I already mentioned that this is a card-based hack and slay/dungeon crawling title, so I’m now going to talk about those. Each class has different available skills to them which are unique to their class. On top of that, you can also acquire runes, artefacts and items through looting.
Runes are needed to upgrade your cards. For example, you can get a sun-rune to upgrade the fire-spell of the mage. With that rune and some gold that spell card’s damage increases and it has a higher chance to ignite the floor and enemies hit by it. To upgrade your abilities you’re in need for different runes and quite some gold, so eventually, you’ll have to grind it if you want to proceed into the late game. I for my part enjoyed that part of the game quite a lot but it may seem tedious for some people since the grinding takes up quite a lot of time in this game.
Artefacts are useful things that give you passive Boni. There are all kinds of artefacts from shields that have a chance to block attacks to amulets that recover your health and mana over time. The latter is basically a must for most builds since both health and mana have to be recovered using either potions or mana/health-pools like in other games such as Torchlight or Diablo or by levelling up. When you use artefacts, they not only take up a card slot in your card bar but also lock a part of your mana, turning it from blue to green and making it unusable until you unequip the artefact.
Items can be used to do all kinds of things like healing and buffing yourself or escaping out of the dungeon. For example there’s the health- or the mana-potion that fill the respecting bars in times of need but get used up permanently. Although that sounds not that useful you will agree that these are quite handy, especially since the drop rate for them on explorations doesn’t seem to be that low. Surely, you won’t find them every now and then but you can always use your gold to recharge them in town!
While every class has all runes, artefacts and items available to them, skills are exclusive to every class, as previously mentioned! Skills are equipped in the card slot and activated by right-clicking onto them. The warrior, for instance, has abilities to either deal damage to enemies, to disarm them, to protect himself or to throw poison bombs and the like into hordes of enemies. For example, there’s the ability “Mighty Blow” that costs only one mana point but deals quite a lot of damage. Meanwhile, there’s another artefact-like skill called “Shadow Sword” which blocks a bit of Mana but gives you an extra hit on every click passively.
The rogue, on the other hand, is the DPS-class and therefore has abilities to buff her arrows or escape via invisibility. I really liked how you could create poison arrows and split them into many enemies.
But my absolute favourite class was the mage who’s using elementary spells. He’s able to create frost-novas, fireballs, ice walls and create golems. While he’s really fragile, he’s still able to position himself somewhere safer via teleport-spell and overall he’s got quite a lot of utility and burst-damage which I really liked about him.
Book of Demons uses a new approach for the same system. The classes seem to be the same as every ability-wise but are played differently from other games but in its core, this is still the typical ARPG-adventure – just with some cards instead of everything else.
When you want to rest from your expeditions in the dungeon, you’re returning to the city where you’re able to identify cards at the sage’s or where you can unlock more card slots. The other NPCs all have their own useful sides to them: You’re able to read about rumours, inform your self about enemies that you’ve spotted, upgrade your cards, charge some other cards with gold or visit the Barmaid:
The barmaid has a cauldron where you can “store items”. Whenever you put a skill point into your mana, you gain a skill point for your health in the cauldron, and vice versa. Also when you loot items, you’re able to gain runes, experience, experience boosts, gold, artefacts, cards, more skill points and other items in the cauldron, but the price for buying them rises the longer you wait and all items except for skill points are lost when you die. So, it’s kind of a risk-reward-minigame if you may call it like that but it really helps out to balance your character and make the mage a bit less fragile, for instance.
While the game is set in a Paperverse with its pop-up-book-like style and is able to draw you in with its atmospheric soundtrack, it truly sticks out with its session-based exploration system:
I really liked this feature since you sometimes may not have all that much time to go on a quest that lasts for an hour or more. When I play games like League of Legends, for example, I need to plan in the time it takes to find a game, hover your champion, ban a champion, pick those champions, set up your runes and then there’s also the loading screen that may be faster or slower depending on people’s wifi connection and rig, and then you’re in the game and it may last for 20 to maybe even 60 minutes depending on how long people drag it out or how much of a stomp it is. You don’t always have time for that. In Book of Demons, on the other hand, you’ve got the Flexiscope-Tool that allows you to match the size of the dungeon to the time you have. You can choose between “very small”, “small”, “medium”, “big” and “very big” that each takes a different time to explore and to clear. On top of that, the game analyses your playstyle and give you an approximate time it will take you to clear those dungeons – since some people try to play it safer while others are going full-Rambo when it comes to ARPGs.
Next to the approximate time that it will take it also displays you possible loot-possibilities. It shows you an average between the lowest and highest gold you may get, possible items and the progress towards your quest to save the priest. For example, in my newest session, it showed me 25+ rewards (including cards or new cauldron-items) for “big” on top of 22,353 Gold and 10% towards the next boss-enemy. As for the time, this would take me about 41 minutes, based on my playstyle as the mage. While this seems to be a very rewarding session for me, it would also take quite a lot of time, so I get to plan it out more precisely if I still have something to do afterwards. And you’re always able to just quit and come back later if you have something urgent coming up.
On top of the procedurally generated levels, the session-system and the different classes, Book of Demons presents
you with 70 different enemy times (at this point of time) that all have
different abilities, attack patterns and loottables. With that you’ve
got quite a lot of re-play value. Later you can also go for the
Freeplay-Mode to play your favorite quests with higher difficulties and
you may as well consider using one of the different modes, such as the Rogue-like-mode where
you can’t buy Health-, Mana- or Rejuvenation-potions and have to pay
gold to revive in the city. Eventually you’ll run out of recources which
makes the game really hard and if you can’t buy the increasing price
for revival, your character gets deleted instead. There’s also the
daredevil-mode with permanent death for those of you that like the extra
thrill in games.Usually you’re revived in town for free and just have
to collect your items in the dungeon again which makes it less
frustrating, but if you don’t want to go for that easy-going playstyle,
the daredevil-mode might be just for you!
To summorize I’d like to say that this game has a lot to offer especially due to its concept and its overall presentation, although it surely has some negatives to it. Usually you’ll have to grind in ARPGs which may seem tedious to most people, especially when you don’t get the drops you needed. This is also the case in Book of Demons where you eventually have to grind gold for card upgrades, card slots, card charges and the cauldron while also farming runes and the like to be able to upgrade your build to the fullest. For that you’ll have to enter the dungeon over and over again which seems repetetive but is actually not that bad since you’re able to use the session-system to manage your time used at the game.
Due to its Early-Access-status there’s always some little bugs that you can find but those get patched so often that you might encounter it today and forget about it tomorrow. With the ranger for example, I had an issue where an enemy was stuck behind a pillar and I couldn’t reach it due to the fact that I’ve got projectiles to shoot, which was quite frustrating, but going back into town and coming back fixed it for me quite easily. Also you’re able to report every bug to the devs at every point of the game via a small tool at the side of your screen which is a nice addition that every Early-Access-Game should have, in my opinion.
I’d recommend this game to every fan of ARPGs and Dungeon-Crawlers since it has a lovely artstyle but still captures the dark nature of games like Grim Dawn and Diablo. It is available on Steam and for the XBOX One!
Note: While I’ve (or have I?) posted shorter reviews until now, this post has been scheduled for quite some time now and is therefore not going to get changed as I need to compare this one’s reception to the short reviews’ to decide if I’m going for shorter or longer ones in the future. I hope you don’t mind this and if so, it’s too late anyways. Future posts will be fresher (or rather have been? I’m writing from the past!)!
This post is part of a contest/challenge called Blaugust! The goal is to post as much as possible and participants are awarded different prizes depending on the goal they achieved. My aim is to post on all 31 days of August and if you’d like to know more about this “event”, you should check this post out.