The Dark Eye: Demonicon – Preview
by Mark R
Save for the absolutely-necessary hardship of forcing myself to get some serious hands-on time with Borderlands 2 and X-Com Enemy Unknown, I had made a conscious decision to focus on the lesser-known titles on show at this year’s Gamescom, and one of my first rest stops on the road less-travelled was with Kalypso and Noumena Studios to see their upcoming RPG, Demonicon. For the uninitiated, Demonicon is set in the Dark Eye universe – the German pen and paper role-playing game, Das Schwarze Auge, which dates back to 1984 and outsold Dungeons & Dragons in Germany – and follows the story of Cairon on an initial quest to find his sister, Calandra.
In an attempt to revolt against an arranged marriage with a high-ranking soldier, and to lose her virginity and thereby nullify the engagement, Calandra is believed to have run off to a cave with one of the villagers. Cairon’s father sends him into the cave to find and retrieve her, warning him not to let their blood mix or there would be grave consequences, although the details of why this was such a big deal weren’t given at this time.
As with any story worth its salt, the unthinkable happens and, as he battles his way through the cave-dwelling hordes to reach his now-injured sister, the various conflicts result in enough wounds that his blood almost immediately mixes with his sister’s and this will, presumably, plant the seed for a heavy thread within the main quest line. Once the two are re-united, Calandra immediately explains that her disappearance wasn’t a quest to lose her virginity, and that she had in fact been following a man who she’d witnessed abducting a child and wanted to see where he was taking them, in the hope of discovering why there had been a spate of kidnappings in the area.
In true pre-alpha style, we weren’t given long with this particular quest and were quickly spirited away to another save point where our protagonist arrived at an area to find a brute of a man enjoying the pleasures of the flesh in a rather different manner to most – he was munching through them as though they were a KFC bargain bucket. Whether this was the same person who had been kidnapping women and children from the village wasn’t made clear as dialogue trees were being skipped through rapidly, but it certainly appeared to be the case.
It was at this point that the immortal line of “I’m gonna chop your head off, so you never eat again!” was uttered and we faced the first of the seven bosses within the game. The combat in this particular battle was actually pretty inspired, with the cannibal having three separate force fields around him, making him immune to all types of melee attack. Spells could be used to remove each of the three shields in succession, rendering him vulnerable for just a few seconds before the shield regenerated.
As the cannibal’s health bar decreased and reached a certain level, his combat style altered and he was now using four shields, making his weakness more difficult to exploit and, finally, after a third switch in tactics and just over four minutes of hacking away at the beast, we are faced with our first moral decision – allow him to live or kill him outright. While this may seem like a fairly clear-cut decision for most, it does come with drastic consequences as the missing townsfolk are being held hostage by the cannibal and are now bound to him by blood magic, so killing him will result in the immediate death of the kidnapped villagers, but sparing his life to save them obviously leaves the locals open to further abductions and killings. The decision fell upon me and, as a stand-up kind of guy, my choice was to kill the cannibal and live with the deaths in order to save future generations… and so, the beast was slain.
Back in the seediest part of town, the refugee camp, we got to see the first consequence from our decision to sacrifice the missing villagers – the town square has the corpse of the cannibal crucified for all to see and, standing below this monument, a mother cradles her sick child in her arms as she unleashes a tirade on you for causing the death of her brother, leaving her with no other family and nobody to help provide for her. On the other hand, the city guard wholeheartedly approve of your decision and you’ll gain favour from the authorities, but lose it with the denizens.
A little further on in the game, we are given the chance to restore favour with the locals by sharing a basket of food with them rather than see them go hungry. While there wasn’t much rejoicing had at the time, we were told that this would later culminate in their helping you to frame someone in order to take them down. Calandra appears happy on seeing you back safe and sound and shows her appreciation with a sisterly hug… which quickly heats up a little and ends in a full-on head-grabbing bout of tonsil tennis. Quite why we allowed our sister to thrust her tongue down our throat, I have no idea other than the fact that she was understandably cute, but I’m sure that the final game will reveal all. Sadly, our adventure in Aventuria had come to an end, for now.
In terms of role-playing mechanics, any positive actions result in an increase in experience which can then be used to obtain new skills or further existing abilities. With sixteen separate special attack moves, there is more than enough to strive for with the combat alone, and each comes with their own perks and buffs to either alter or enhance them for specific purposes, all of which come at a cost of more experience points.
When the time comes to level up, there are eight separate attributes from which to choose: legend lore, which allows the character to identify specific artefacts; plant lore to aid in creating potions and poisons; healing helps with health regeneration; perception allows you to see/sense enemies from a greater distance; fast talk for when persuasion is necessary to further the progress; haggle to help reduce the cost of items from vendors and to gain more from selling; pick-locks is pretty self-explanatory; and blacksmith is necessary if you want to be able to repair your own weapons and disarm traps.
Graphically, Demonicon doesn’t necessarily blow you away or come close to those of other recent RPGs but, with such a small studio, that’s to be expected, and it’s still in pre-alpha so it’s clearly open to improvement. What was interesting, however, was how bleak and dismal the Dark Eye universe appeared to be compared to the typically-vibrant games of the Kalypso stable, with a more under-saturated palette and a generally-grim outlook on life. Voice acting wasn’t really given the opportunity to shine through as, due to time constraints, almost all of the dialogue was skipped but, at one point when Cairon was speaking, I became convinced that he was being voiced by the same lead actor from Two Worlds II. What we did get to see of the conversation trees, however, showed something very reminiscent of the dialogue trees from Mass Effect and should therefore be aesthetically-pleasing to most.
Overall, Demonicon looks like one of those dark horses where nobody pays much attention to it but, if you’re lucky enough to spot it within the crowd and get a chance to spend some time with it, you’ll enjoy it. It certainly turned my head, and has been penned in to my “must play” list for when it finally hits the shelves around the summer of 2013.
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