Demons Age cinematic artwork

Demons Age is a classic isometric RPG heavily inspired by old school Dungeons & Dragons games such as Baldur's Gate and Temple of Elemental Evil. As you might expect given its pedigree, it features a wide variety of spells and abilities to use against your enemies, numerous followers to recruit and travel with, a wide open world to explore, and naturally, a whole bunch of absurd items to collect and peddle to some poor innkeeper.

Its still under heavy development, but I've recently gotten a preview copy to try out, which as a massive fan of classic RPGs I was more than willing to take for a spin. Since making a proper review based around 2 hours of alpha gameplay would be a pointless venture, I'm mostly going to be focusing on what exactly Demons Age does right and which areas still need improvement.

 

Video version of this article (10 min)

With that said, let's begin with the most important part of any RPG - the story! From the very moment the opening cinematic starts rolling by, fans of Tolkein's books will swiftly begin to see the parallels between the two universes as mankind arrives by sea to the ancient lands of the Elves, Dwarves and Halflings. What follows next is a brief era of peace and prosperity where the various races engage in jolly cooperation and trade, only to have all of that ruined when a power-hungry human king makes a pact with the dark forces and thrusts the entire land into a long and devastating war.

After years of bloodshed the various factions finally united under a single banner and struck against the high king and his demonic legions, defeating them once and for all. To further ensure that evil never returns to the land, massive Monoliths were erected and stationed with an entire legion of noble knights to protect them against any that might wish to bring the demons back. Unfortunately, the long years of peace have pretty much erased the demons from memory and one by one the Monoliths were abandoned as simple relics of the old times.

Demons Age cinematic artwork

The once noble guardians

What happens next I'm fairly certain you can guess, but to put it simply, evil tends to find its way back rather quickly once the good guys get complacent. It is in this era of slowly growing corruption that we, a lowly prisoner exiled to a far away land, begin our long and arduous journey through Demons Age. While the prisoner origin story might be a bit cliche these days, its nonetheless effective at setting up a proper mood for the whole narrative as your character now has a legitimate reason for not having a single shred of equipment or any knowledge about the world he inhabits.

It is here that your standard process of D&D character creation is supposed to take place, but given that this is a preview version that feature was unfortunately missing, or at least I hope it was because having only pre-set characters is a bit of a bummer for RPGs. As for the character classes, they are your standard RPG fare: Wizards, Fighters, Clerics, Rangers, Rogues and so forth. Since I love nothing more than to force-feed my enemies a hearty dosing of fireballs I opted to go with the Wizard, and much like the D&D games of old, I ended up immediately regretting my decision when I realized that the Wizard has apparently been skipping classes given that his spells are about as effective as a gentle breeze, but more on that later.

Demons Age character creation

My grumpy Dark Elf Wizard

After the ship inevitably crashed and I was left to fend for myself in a land full of strangers, I quickly came to realize that the dialogue system is in need of an update. The UI itself is perfectly fine, albeit a bit basic right now, but its the clumsy writing that lets the whole thing down. Its hard to explain this in brief, but the overall message behind each dialogue and lore book is extremely solid as it slowly reveals a compelling narrative, but the sentences are poorly paced and so awkwardly constructed that not even the good voice acting can salvage it.

While I'm aware this would be a massive undertaking, I would like to see the developers team up with an editor and work their way through all of the text, slowly but surely making it more interesting and removing the issues with grammar and spelling. Its one hell of a task, there's no denying that, but it needs to be done if Demons Age is going to follow in the footsteps of classics such as Baldur's Gate, and be the best RPG it can possibly be.

Demons Age has some rather poor writing at times

The story premise is fine, the actual writing... not so much

With the brief introduction finally out of the way I was able to venture out into the world and see what exactly Demons Age has to offer. Unfortunately for me, the answer to that question was the most famous and common video game level of all time - the sewer! While it might not be the most... inspirational of starting areas, the sewer was a great showcase of what Demons Age could do with its level design. The maps are huge, loot is often well hidden and quite plentiful, and given the multi-level layout I often found myself running into places I've never seen before, despite wondering down there for well over an hour.

However, while the exploration opportunities and map design were rather impressive for what is essentially a tutorial zone, the camera was not a willing participant and it took a lot of effort to make sure I have even the faintest glimpse of where I'm heading to. The biggest issue here is that the walls don't become transparent when the camera is sitting right on top of them, and since I mostly ran around a narrow sewer it meant that I constantly got a very, very detailed look at the nearby walls. Naturally, you can control the camera and position it so it doesn't obscure your vision, but this isn't something you should constantly have to worry about in an isometric game as frequent camera shifts can be incredibly disorienting.

The second, albeit much smaller issue, is that loot is often hard to find. By this I don't mean that its well hidden and requires a good deal of puzzle-solving to reach, but rather that it tends to blend in with the background which means a whole lot of mouse wiggling is required in order to find what part of the scenery lights up. Maybe there is a hotkey you can press that highlights all of the clickable items in the room, but I simply couldn't find it and it made the whole experience just a little bit more annoying than it should've been, so hopefully this issue will be looked at in the final version.

Demons Age magical barrier blocks the path

Magical barriers, the bread and butter of an RPG

Since wondering around in a damp, smelly sewer just wasn't dreadful enough for my small party, there was also a whole bunch of mutated animals and Goblins to contend with. While Demons Age resembles old school RPGs in many ways, its combat system is the one big difference. Instead of being real-time with the option to pause, its a turn-based system centered around hexes, and for the most part, it does its job pretty well. However, that is the highest praise I'm willing to give it right now because there are quite a few bugs and glitchy animations in this preview build, but there is definitely a foundation for something great as well.

Out of all the various aspects of combat its the balance that requires the most work since some of the classes are downright pitiful in their damage output. I frequently chose mages and wizards in RPGs because I love the amount of destruction you can unleash upon your enemies, but in Demons Age the wizard is simultaneously the most brokenly overpowered character and also the most useless one. On one hand, the wizard's spells do so little damage you're actually better off equipping a sword and hoping the 20% chance to hit goes in your favor because its still better than throwing a giant BALL OF ACID into the enemy's face, only for it to do a measly 1 point of damage.

On the other hand, the crowd control spells are so stupidly overpowered I managed to cruise through the otherwise difficult boss fight purely on their strength alone. Why bother fighting the enemies when you can blind half of them, fear the rest, and then just smack them over the head with a big club while they wonder around aimlessly and harmlessly. In order to fix this whole mess the classes will need to be significantly rebalanced and the overpowered crowd control spells either tuned down (the worse option) or simply made much less abundant (the better option). Just these two changes alone would make Demons Age much more interesting as the amount of viable strategies would increase significantly, and for an RPG that's always a welcome thing.

Demons Age combat mechanics screenshot

Closing Thoughts

Demons Age is currently in alpha and from playing the preview build its quite obvious to me that its unfinished in so many ways, but I have to admit that it does have the potential to transform into something truly amazing. This won't be an easy process, however, as pretty much every aspect of gameplay still requires extensive work, everything from the writing to the combat system.

In its current state I probably wouldn't play Demons Age to the very end, but if the issues I've outlined end up getting fixed, this could be one of the better RPGs released in recent years as it has all of the hallmarks of a good game, just none of the polish. Whatever the case may be, Demons Age is well worth keeping an eye out for as it slowly approaches its 2017 release date for the PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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