Dark Eye Demonicon Review
As somebody who is completely unfamiliar with the Dark Eye universe, Demonicon’s story and setting just feels like another generic fantasy universe with its own set of races, conflicts, and more than its far share of evil demon lords. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many different fantasy universes, but a lot of fantasy universes fail to sufficiently engross me with their complex lore, often unremarkable characters, and generic storylines, especially with fantasy giants like Warcraft or The Lord of the Rings to compete with. But hey, if you’re a fan of The Dark Eye franchise, then you might really enjoy the lore that Demonicon has to offer.
The story is, for the most part, pretty interesting and certainly goes in some pretty unexpected directions, but it’s often let down by poor writing and dull characters. The basic premise is that you are looking out for your sister and father whilst trying to uncover the truth behind your new found magical gift and defeating the source of the ever-present demonic invasion. Demonicon’s story is bordering on being obsessed with ethically questionable moral choices that consistently end every single quest and quest line in the game. Some of the choices you encounter are rather interesting and will offer two equally bleak resolutions to some seriously grim situations. One choice, for example, has you choose between killing a demented, highly dangerous cannibal at the expense of innocent lives or letting him live and saving the innocent villagers in his captivity. Although some of the choices can be a little predictable, they really do make you think at times and your choices do seem to have a notable impact on the story and the world around you, although no more than when villagers would follow you round and shout at you in the Fable series.
The combat attempts to go for a sort of cinematic looking approach, with the game pausing for a brief second after each of your attacks, but it just makes the combat feel slow and strangely sluggish. Basic combat is very hack ‘n’ slashy with a focus on accurately timing your attacks to build up your combo enough to activate “demonic wrath” mode, which offers significant buffs your stats. Having a timing window to continue for combo feels unnecessary and a little punishing for combat that is so spam-based. Your melee attacks build up mana required to fire off your underwhelming “Gifts”, or spells, which consist of icy slows, fiery damage-over-time abilities, self-buffs and debuffs, which can all be upgraded with GP (gift points). Magic spells are accompanied by melee-based abilities purchased and upgraded with AP (adventure points), these generally consist of varyingly powerful blows. Unfortunately, the combat just feels oddly-paced and a little sloppy, the lack of a lock-on system and the length of some of your drawn out animations can often leave you dying unfairly, especially when the game throws groups of ten or more enemies at you at any one time.
Generally, some of the game’s RPG mechanics and limited exploration are pretty fun and work serviceably well. The game is rich with poorly written dialogue, seemingly useful loot mechanics that generally offer nothing but useless crafting materials, and a whole host of utility skills, like lockpicking or herbalism, to dump your excess AP into. Such utility skills will often allow you to further explore dungeons to scavenge as much loot as possible, which can be fun and allows for a kind of completionist attitude to loot-finding, but it often isn’t necessary to waste your AP on these skills when it can be spent on much needed improvement for your combat performance. The fact that these utility skills must be purchased with points that are also used to purchase combat abilities just seems like lazy design, a unique currency or even just an entirely different approach to utility progression would have perhaps worked a little better.
Occasionally the game will throw some fairly basic puzzle or obstacle to overcome, but these are quite rare. They can range from choosing the appropriate dialogue options to aligning symbols in the right order to open a door. Although they are fairly basic and can just be guessed, they are often quite bad at explaining what exactly needs to be done and it often turns into a monotonous guessing game. An example of one of the lengthier and more frustrating dialogue puzzle sequences has you go through a long conversation to get to the five part puzzle that requires you to guess the right choice five times in a row, but if you get it wrong you are taken out of dialogue and have to go through the whole conversation to get back to the puzzle sequence. It’s a lot of these minor frustrating moments that make the game feel so unenjoyable, consistently poor design decisions will have you banging your head against a wall at all times.
The game’s visual design is nothing short of lacklustre; some half-decent character models fail to account for murky, low-res textures, clunky animations, as well as some really poor optimisation. Despite the game looking more than five years old it runs horribly, even on the lowest settings possible, and I experienced some really significant screen tear, even with v-sync enabled. The game was also extremely unstable, with audio sometimes cutting out mid-sentence or music just failing to play and the game frequently crashing, often whenever I was trying to cast a particular spell; in short, I found the Vision Engine 8 severely lacking and I wish that a more modern engine would have been employed.
Like the visual design, the game’s sound design is also pretty poor, a generic soundtrack and voice-acting that ranges from fairly okay to bland and extremely boring (including the main character, who just sounds quite dull).
The controls work serviceably well for the most part and I had no problem playing with a mouse and keyboard, even if using a controller did feel a tad more responsive. I think what I dislike the most about Dark Eye: Demonicon is that it fails to stand out from the crowd in any way; there is simply a significant crowd of much better RPGs out there.