Can the Dark Eye series successfully cross over into video games? We find out…
When a developer says they’re making a ‘dark fantasy RPG’ it’s perfectly natural to take their description with a pinch of salt. Now this isn’t because they have no intention of delivering, far from it, instead it’s usually the case that publishers aren’t really fans of helping a product which allows players to effectively torture lots of people
on a whim. You need balls to create a truly dark fantasy game and its clear Noumena, and to a large extent Kalypso too, certainly have big ones.
Not five minutes into our introduction to Demonicon’s take on the extensively thought-out Dark Eye universe (German pen and paper fans know it well) they had no qualms talking about their protagonist’s infatuation with his sister, the importance of her remaining a virgin before marriage, and a power-hungry cannibal feasting on villagers. If they wanted our attention they certainly had it.
Needless to say, Demonicon tells a story which isn’t for the squeamish. The plot centres on baldy Cairon, who with his father and sister is struggling to make ends meet in the only free human city on the continent of Shadowlands. The section we played involved the ‘big C’ venturing into a local cave to bring back his sister for a wedding she doesn’t want to be a part of, but along the way he inadvertently activates a demonic gift lying dormant within him. This internal battle between light and dark forces coming over him will be a theme constantly revisited during the campaign with moral choices to back up either your descent into darkness or your valiant fight against it.
Even though it’s still early doors for Demonicon, with the best part of a year’s development still to go before release, we still got to play around with the gamepad-centric combat system which allows players to pull off special melee attacks by inputting different button presses, and the default ability to steal health from others during battle. Despite four elaborate skill trees, half defensive and the other offensive, combat felt a little flat but we can see that Noumena are going for a Reckoning kind of vibe and the inventory system should inspire a similar level of loot lust.
However, what really impressed us though, was the way this Berlin studio has implemented story choices in their game. During our playthrough we faced two difficult choices which we delivered in the traditional BioWare style, with dialogue choices bookending an early mission. The choice itself was a toughy: set a kidnapper free killing all those currently in his possession, or save their unfortunate souls and let him go. There was a third option, only selectable if you’ve invested in the required skillset, but we went for the first one and the consequences were entertaining. When you select a choice which can send the plot one way or another, players are not only treated to sublime Frank Miller-esque cut-scenes explaining the results of their actions, but they’ll also notice their town hub – for which Cairan returns regularly during the linear campaign – changing around them. For our deeds we saw the bloodied torso and head of the kidnapper placed in front of the town’s castle, with memorials scattered around town mourning the loss of his victims.
We had a sneaky second run to see what would happen if we didn’t go for the most violent option and on returning to the town we weren’t met by mourners but rather thankful survivors and angry soldiers demanding to know why we let the kidnapper off. It’s these kinds of persistent details which will follow gamers throughout their playthrough. Demonicon will have several of these options spread throughout the game and, much like in Mass Effect, it should lead to players feeling properly entrenched in the universe. Yes you’re taking an active role in Cairon’s story, but you’re also shaping your own experience and that’s something that should excite every RPG fan.
There’s still a far amount of development to go and Noumena will have to use their resources wisely to deliver on their Triple-A ambitions. Whatever happens though, we’re sure Demonicon won’t struggle to stand out among the crowd.
Demonicon will be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC next year and to find out more about it check out this month’s issue of PCGZine.
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