The Dark Eye: Demonicon – Preview
To say that I was nervous about going in to see The Dark Eye: Demonicon would be an understatement. The Dark Eye, or Das Schwarze Auge to use the original German, is a pen-and-paper RPG from way back, and is more popular in Germany than even the behemoth that is Dungeons and Dragons. There have been a number of video game adaptations, both as traditional RPGs and, interestingly, as point-and-clicks such as the recent Memoria. Years of history and lore have gone into the series and, frankly, I didn’t know a thing about it.
Thankfully, you don’t really need to know anything about The Dark Eye to enjoy Demonicon. Set in the Shadowlands, which I’m told isn’t the usual realm for Dark Eye action to take place, Demonicon follows Cairon, an unfortunate soul whose life takes a turn for the worse in the opening part of the game (but more on that later) and just gets worse as he becomes embroiled in a war against the demons that inhabit the world. Story details are a little thin on the ground at the moment but, needless to say, it’s going to be your typical epic fantasy story, although with a darker, more mature edge.
The presentation kicked off in a vast monastery dedicated to one of the demons, where Cairon was busy hunting down flowers to offer up to the demon. This level was massive; the scale of the monastery was huge, and the gardens that contained the flowers stretched on further than the eye could see. After having gathered the flowers, Cairon was set upon by creatures who wanted nothing more than to see him dead, and I got a good look at the combat in action. It’s a fluid action-RPG system, and I watched as our hero dodge rolling around enemies to avoid their attacks before hammering away at them with his sword. Magic is of course involved, although here there’s a nice explanation behind the system. The magic in Demonicon is purely blood magic, and is here referred to as the Gift. To restore your “essence”, you attack enemies and absorb their blood, which then allows you to break out the magic attacks. It’s a neat bit of reasoning for magic point restoration, and one I welcome wholeheartedly.
Growing weary of the monastery, we jumped to a different level, set in an underground city. Here, the occupants were almost entirely mindless zombies under the control of a powerful wizard, who was using them to dig something mysterious up. Moral choices are present in this game, but I was informed that it was more a “lesser of two evils” decision than a straight-up black-and-white choice of good or evil. In the case of the wizard, after defeating him, you can choose to continue on his path and use the zombies as slaves, or set them free and let them be their own people. This may seem like a straightforward choice, but I was warned that revealing the wizard to be a fraud and to destroy the faith in their mission would have a devastating effect on the population. It’s a tough choice to make, and hopefully there’ll be plenty of these to get your brain around.
With all this exciting information being thrown my way, I was closing up my notebook and ready to leave when suddenly the controller was tossed my way and I was invited to play through the opening half hour of the game. Not being one to turn down such a golden opportunity, I sat down and took control of Cairon as he was running into an underground cave system to save his sister from the monsters that lay within. I was immediately ambushed by some giant rats, who were easily dispatched my mashing away at them with my sword, before Cairon’s father appeared at the entrance and started telling me to hurry up. Personal interactions are handled with a conversation wheel, made popular by the Mass Effect series, with options to simply progress the story or find out more information about my quest. I giggled slightly as I asked about my sister’s virginity, which is possibly a sign of my immaturity more than the game, which handled the topic very seriously and treated it as a key plot point. It was actually refreshing to be given that kind of dialogue option and have it taken so seriously; this is a game where the word “mature” is used exactly how it is meant.
After battling my way through some more giant rats, I was presented with a rather interesting conundrum. I had accrued enough experience points to level up one of my skills, and found myself in a room with eight objects. There are eight skills to level up, from being able to read, to blacksmithing, fast-talking and a knowledge of plants. Figuring literacy was kind of a key part of the game, I chose to put my points into that skill, and read a letter left on the floor that provided useful info on how to face off against my next set of enemies. You can’t reach the highest level on all of your skills, so you will have to think carefully about where you put your points. Some skills work together as well; a knowledge of blacksmithing and “lore” will allow you to make poisoned blades, for example.
Eventually I found Cairon’s sister, who was cut up from an encounter with some wandering undead. Attempting to bandage her up, Cairon accidentally forgot the one big rule – don’t mix blood. But far from getting any nasty diseases, the mixing of blood actually gave both characters magical powers, and now I was able to shoot balls of ice from my hands. In an interesting twist, levelling up your magical abilities is completely separate from standard levelling. As you use your Gift, you’ll earn Gift Points, which can be spent on a different skill tree that’s based purely on improving your magic abilities. This means that heavy magic users can still use their regular XP to level up non-magical abilities at no detriment to their magical abilities, which will prove valuable to the mages out there.
My new ice-throwing ability came into its own when I encountered the boss of the level – a giant, ugly cannibal who had trapped a number of people in his cavern. The only way to take him down was to freeze him with ice, and then attack him while he was vulnerable. At one point, he jumped up to a higher level and summoned a bunch of skeletons to deal with me, but this just meant I had plenty of enemies to draw essence from so I could use my magic on the boss. It was still a decent battle, and I was nearly defeated; health doesn’t regenerate during battles, so you’ll have to use potions to recover, although you do get a small amount of health back once you’ve finished off your foes.
With the cannibal defeated, I was given a pretty major decision to make – kill the cannibal, dooming his captives as he was the only one who knew how to get them out, or let him live, freeing the captives but also letting the cannibal off scot-free. Being young and naïve, I let the cannibal free, raising some eyebrows around the room as apparently I was in the minority of people who made that choice. But as a cutscene told me that not long after the cannibal had been set free, more people had disappeared and were presumed eaten, I realised my error. I was suitably impressed that what seemed like the obvious decision ended up being just as bad as the other, and cemented the idea that I really was just choosing between the lesser of two evils.
A little upset that I had caused more suffering, I packed up my things and left to go and have a long chat with myself about what I had done. Despite leaving me feeling more evil than a cannibal, The Dark Eye: Demonicon is a solid-looking action-RPG, which promises many more moral quandaries and fluid fights to appease fans of the genre. Keep a (dark) eye open for this when it comes out on PC on October 25th and consoles at some point next year.
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