In the past few years, mechanics borrowed from collectible card games (CCGs) have been added to, bolted on, merged with and infused with a large number of other genres from RPGs to shooters, with varying degrees of success or comprehensibility. Book of Demons is an isometric dungeon crawler/action RPG that also uses cards, but not in the usual and expected “dueling cards” sense. In Book of Demons, the cards that are looted along the way are essentially buffs and debuffs, special spells and weapon enhancements and serve to augment the action and enhance the gameplay. Given the pop-up book aesthetic of the game, I suppose using cards as the mechanic makes sense. Just don’t expect Gwent or Hearthstone crossed with Diablo.
Book of Demons from indie developer Thing Trunk is the first of an eventual suite of seven games, and is a hack-and-slash action title with quite a few strengths as well as some flaws, beginning with the significantly undercooked story. Given that most games in the genre are rarely saddled by nuanced storytelling, this isn’t surprising. Book of Demons is rooted in the addictive gameplay loop of kill and loot, pop back to town for some welcome healing and equipment upgrades, and explore ever deeper into the monster-filled catacombs under the town church. Compared to Diablo, the tone is much lighter and humor-infused but there is also very little sense of story progression or a compelling dramatic arc.
Just about everything about Book of Demons’ gameplay seems tuned to the busy gamer and in most cases, this is welcome. One of the best features — and one I wish many other titles would take notice of— is that the length of game sessions can be shaped at the onset by selecting how many levels deep a section of dungeon will be. Of course, less levels mean less loot but this option really caters to folks who want to pop in and out for just a few minutes of play. Other small quality of life enhancements, like quick jumping between town and the dungeon or from one level to the next, make the experience feel streamlined and respectful of the gamer’s time.
The procedurally generated dungeons literally unfold like a particularly macabre pop-up book and all the characters have the appearance of paper-folded creations being pushed along by unseen hands. The player character can be one of three classes (fighter, mage, or ranger) and moves only along paths through the levels, rather than freely, and this takes some adjustment for those used to games like Diablo or its many clones. Movement isn’t terribly fluid or responsive and there are so many enemies spewing poison at you it would have been nice to have a quick dodge or roll.
Anyone who has played an action-RPG will be at home with Book of Demons’ basic hack-and-slash mechanics, once they get used to the player and monster movement and the game’s specific approach to combat. The menagerie of monsters includes the usual undead, flying beasts, poison-spewing critters that explode with a satisfying “puff,” and all manner of death-dealing mages, ranged weapon-wielding soldiers and melee enemies, increasing in number throughout the descent. While there is a reasonable variety of enemies, combat sometimes feels a little repetitive and the number of poison-belching creatures can be annoying. Casual difficulty is far too easy, with Normal difficulty probably being the most satisfying. Generally, cagey AI is not the challenge so much as sheer numbers.
As noted, Book of Demons adds a collectible card element to gameplay. Additional card slots may be purchased in town, cards can be upgraded and the players “deck” arranged before the next level of dungeon. As a risk/reward system, it works well to add a little more complexity to the moment-to-moment gameplay.
Book of Demons is an approachable, addictive action-RPG with a few new ideas but overall, an admirably lean approach that doesn’t allow feature-creep or overly ambitious design muddy the fun. Distinguished by its paper book aesthetic and player-friendly mechanics, Book of Demons is thin on story and level-by-level lacks variety but the ability to determine the length of each play session means that it won’t overstay its welcome.