Ever since getting introduced to Diablo II back in college, I’ve always enjoyed a good dungeon crawler, even going back to Diablo II from time to time. Besides video games, another one of my passions is card games, whether they’re collectible card games or deck-building games. There have been games in the past that have combined a couple of different genres together but this is one of my first times checking them out as we have a Diablo-style dungeon crawler mixed with card games.
When you begin a new game you can pick from three character classes…well, sort of. There are three character classes available in the form of a warrior, mage, and rogue. The catch is that you have to choose the warrior until you level it to level five, and then you can pick from any of the three classes on a new game. I kind of get why that is, as the early going introduced you to the game’s primary mechanics and it doesn’t take long to get to level five. But I find it strange that a dungeon crawling game would force you into a class at the start. Once that’s out of the way, you have three difficulties to choose from: Casual, Normal, and Roguelike. Given how they interact with a couple of the mechanics of the game I’ll talk about these in a moment.
The bulk of the game takes place in the dungeons, but you begin in the town with a few people you can talk to. Each person serves their own purpose, such as the Fortune Teller helping you level up your cards, and the Barmaid taking things you find in the dungeons and turning them into rewards. Once you head into the dungeons you’ll start to get a feel for how combat works, though it’s a bit different than your typical dungeon crawler. Gone is the ability to equip items and spend skill points when leveling up to min-max your character however you wish. Instead you’ll come across various cards that act as your spells and abilities, and leveling up lets you choose to increase your life or mana. In a way, it ultimately doesn’t matter as you can potentially get whatever increase you didn’t choose later. Basically you’re choosing which increase will help you out best in the current situation.
While you can perform a basic attack by either hovering the mouse cursor over an enemy to slowly attack them or rapidly click on them to attack faster, the cards are kind of the main focus. Again, these produce your spells and abilities. At the start you can only equip three cards at a time but you can purchase more card slots as the game progresses. Cards come in four types: spells to attack enemies with, Items to aid you such as potions and town portals, artifacts that can give passive effects, and special cards used to upgrade the other types of cards. That being said, the other cards you can find can be upgraded to have their effects increased. Spell cards use mana and item cards have a limited number of charges unless you either find more in the dungeons or have them recharged in town by the Fortune Teller. As for artifact cards, they have a unique mechanic as they permanently occupy a certain amount of mana. To best explain this, let’s say you have 10 “blue” mana that you can use for spells (also colored blue), and casting those spells will consume some mana. If you equip an artifact that has a mana cost of five mana, five of your 10 mana becomes “green” and can’t be used by spells, meaning you now only have five mana available for spells until you unequip the artifact. It’s an interesting concept and it works pretty decently in practice.
After you’ve cleared the first couple of areas of the dungeon you’ll unlock a feature called the Flexiscope. This basically allows you to set how far into the dungeon you’ll go for a session. For instance, if you’ve only got a few minutes you’ll probably want to do a smaller session, but if you have 10 to 15 minutes to spare, a larger session might work better. The trade off is that smaller sessions only progress the game by a small amount and give fewer rewards, while longer sessions give more of a payoff if you survive. Death isn’t necessarily permanent but it can have a cost depending on the difficulty you chose at the start. Casual Mode is basically a beginner mode where enemies attack less viciously, healing is a lot easier (the health fountains you find in the dungeon replenish faster), and the cards are randomized in a way to help combat the enemies you encounter. Normal Mode ups things a bit to where enemies attack a bit harder and it’s not as easy to survive as Casual Mode. Then there’s Rougelike Mode where it’s pretty easy to die, cards are completely randomized to where you have no idea what you’ll get when, and when you die there’s a cost to resurrect yourself which increases every time you die. If you can’t pay the cost, the game is over…period.
I briefly mentioned that each of the four townsfolk have certain things they can do to aid you such as the Sage identifying unknown cards and the Fortune Teller upgrading your cards to make them more effective. The Barmaid and the Healer also have their roles. The Healer will restore your health and mana for free on Normal and Casual difficulties, and for a price on Roguelike, as well as recharge an ability called Death Rage which auto-activates when you’re near death to heal you and give you temporary immunity. Death Rage is recharged upon leveling up. Once you hit the level cap you can recharge it for a hefty price. The Barmaid, meanwhile, will collect any random rewards you find in the dungeons and put them into her cauldron. You can then purchase the contents of the cauldron at any time to reap the rewards. These are usually things such as money and item charges, but the cauldron will also contain any Mana and Life increases you didn’t choose when leveling up. Keep two things in mind though: the price of obtaining the rewards in the cauldron increase every time you purchase them and you’ll lose anything in the cauldron upon death except the life and mana increases. You can also find a key in the dungeons or purchase them from the Barmaid to replay a completed chapter; enemies are more difficult but the rewards are better, so it’s basically your typical risk vs. reward scenario.
I’ve enjoyed my time with Book of Demons. I wasn’t quite sure how a rougelike game would mix with cards but it seems to work pretty well. That said, I do have a couple of nitpicks and they all revolve around one thing that I haven’t talked about yet: movement. Unlike other dungeon crawlers and roguelike games where you can move wherever you want, in Book of Demons you can only move on set paths in a straight line. Granted there are branching paths you can take to find rewards, but the paths are fixed and you can’t wander off of them. You also have a circle of light that dictates what you can and cannot attack or interact with. Then there’s how moving itself works. Instead of just clicking a spot on the ground where you wish to walk to, clicking a spot on the walkable path will make you start walking…and you’ll keep walking until you either come to an intersection, click in the opposite direction, or hold Shift to stand still. While in combat you will move to wherever you clicked and just stop, so that’s a plus. Your character will even auto-turn around a corner if they come to one. This makes it pretty easy to get yourself surrounded by enemies, especially when you come to enemies that can summon minions. Then you have enemies that can fire projectiles at you before they’re fully on screen, enemies that have a shield to take down before you can attack them directly, and enemies that become immune to attacks between hits while they summon more enemies to aid them, and it can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed.
Overall Book of Demons is a fun game, but it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed after the first few floors of the dungeon. Within the first chapter of the game you’ll begin to encounter multiple enemies that have various effects such as poison and freeze (which just slows you down instead of downright freezing you), spellcasters that you can click on their spells to interrupt their casting, and, as stated earlier, enemies that are immune for a few seconds after each hit while they summon more enemies. The limited movement options can make it easy to get bogged down and surrounded by enemies, but that also means there’s a lot of strategy in the cards you use. However, the fact that artifact cards kind of act like equipment with no actual equipment in the game means you might end up using several artifact cards to help survive and limit what spells and items you can use. Still, Book of Demons was enjoyable with a few minor nitpicks here and there. If you appreciate rouguelike games such as Diablo and don’t mind the restricted movement and lack of equipment, you should give this a shot. Those nitpicks, however, might not be easy to deal with for some, and the price tag might be a bit steep.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.