The Dark Eye: Demonicon Review

Something I didn’t notice until I was writing descriptions for the screenshots at the end of this review was just how much I wanted to call the main character “Geron” instead of his actual name, “Cairon.” I made that mistake several times, Geron of course being the main character of terrible adventure game The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav (which takes place in the same universe), and it became apparent just how similar both games are in how utterly unlikable they manage to be. Satinav sees Geron taking advantage of the naivety of his companion in order to use her to his own ends, whereas Demonicon is centered around a group of siblings of various relations who are suddenly thrust into a Highlander-esque series of confrontations with one another between bouts of incoherent dialogue. Oh, and the magic that necessitates fighting also causes these maybe-blood-siblings of Cairon to find him absolutely irresistible, leading to some truly stomach-churning moments. That’s to say nothing of the mechanics, which are equally appalling and prone to all kinds of glitches that can force you to restart from an earlier save, something that would be less of a problem if the game didn’t rely on autosaves as its sole saving mechanism. Put simply, Demonicon has almost no redeeming elements.

Prepare for incoherent fantasy jargon

The very first thing you’re bound to notice about Demonicon’s writing is its early preoccupation with the virginity of Cairon’s sister. It eventually moves on, but only to make things even worse by putting the two characters in a love affair. Of course, you eventually find out that they’re not actually blood-related, but whether they are or not is eventually left undecided by the game, one of many things that the game’s incoherent writing can’t decide on. In one scene, someone tells you that the two of you definitely aren’t related, whereas a later cutscene states that it’s impossible to be sure who your real father is, opening up the possibility yet again. Even if the two characters aren’t blood-related, however, there are two other maybe-sisters Cairon has (one of which the game establishes he is related to), and one of those two shows up and hits on Cairon shamelessly midway through the game. That means that there’s a 66% chance that Cairon’s getting hit on (or worse) by a blood relative at some point in the game, and while it may seem like a silly preoccupation given that we’re talking about fictional characters, it’s something that’s so unexpectedly prominent and disgusting that it’s bound to be a deal-breaker for many.

When it’s not being revolting, Demonicon is instead being vague and incoherent. Like I mentioned, the game has incoherent writing that can’t decide on what’s true and what isn’t true (are certain characters lying, or are the cutscenes just poorly written?), and that’s really the least of its problems. In trying to make the game as fantasy-ish as possible, you’re inundated in random, irrelevant details that don’t pertain to anything happening in the story. An example I’m including in the screenshots at the end of the review is the one about the “drover of the dead,” with that being just one of many things in this dialogue sequence that makes no sense whatsoever. It’s just vague fantasy jargon spouted out in the attempt to make the game appear to have depth, when in reality it’s as shallow as shallow can be.

This is what the combat is supposed to be like…

… but this is what it often becomes thanks to bugginess.

None of your choices matter

Nothing demonstrates Demonicon’s shallowness quite like playing through the game a second time while making different choices. Every so often, you’re given the opportunity to decide whether someone or something lives or dies, or to side with one character over another. These seem like decisions that will have consequences, but they don’t. One of the first decisions you make is regarding the fate of a cannibal at the end of the (mandatory) tutorial mission, and the only thing this changes is the reaction one or two NPCs have toward you minutes later and the cutscene that plays immediately after deciding. Stunningly enough, this decision has more impact than any other in the game despite its impact being virtually nonexistent, and that’s because the “decisions” you make from that point onward determine little more than the cutscene that plays after each choice.

The only other decision that has any impact beyond a cutscene is the choice of whether to side with the town guards or the local cartel, and even that changes nothing apart from experiencing one or two missions from “the other side.” Like so many others, the choice ultimately doesn’t matter because both lead to the same battles and an identical confrontation between the two sides, and while you’d think that determining who’s in power would make a difference to later parts of the game, you quickly move on to new locations where your previous choices are rendered irrelevant. No matter what, you’ll always make it to the end, only to be presented with a tiny bit of altered dialogue (depending on how receptive you were to your sister’s advances) and the same binary choice of endings.

Slow, clunky combat

When I first started Demonicon, I suspected that its combat was using a round-based system comparable to KOTOR. Now I’m pretty sure that it’s just slow. Every taste of early combat is an exercise in frustration, complete with slow strikes and invisible barriers (more on that later) undermining any attempt at strategy. Early on, your only real option is to roll around and poke your enemies to death. It’s just not fun, and there are all kinds of problems that make the whole experience even worse. For one, the combat camera doesn’t function well indoors, leading to moments where you can’t even see Cairon or nearby enemies anymore. Then you have the occasional boss fights, which manage to be annoying more often than not. One of the early ones includes a boss that can randomly teleport with no cue, instead disappearing and reappearing ready to lunge at you from the side. Add on top of that the fact that your spell that freezes enemies only works on it sometimes and you have a recipe for the most annoying boss fight in the game.

To be fair, combat becomes more tolerable later on once you’ve leveled up some of your special attacks and bought some stronger weapons. By the end of the game I was cutting through enemies without trouble, using a special roundhouse move to make space whenever I became surrounded and a magical spell to speed up my movement that let me breeze through the tedium. Even then, however, the combat was merely tolerable, never quite becoming something enjoyable to engage in.

Leveling is weird, but surprisingly well done

Demonicon has a classless leveling system, which means you can put points into whatever you want so long as you can afford it. There are no levels to be found here. Instead, you have two different pools of points, those being AP and GP: the first are gained through combat and are what you use to buy special combat skills and upgrade your general attributes (to, for example, increase your strength and general damage output), whereas the latter are gained by using your magic more frequently in combat and are used exclusively to unlock better versions of the four basic magic spells. While there are never enough points to invest in everything you want to—I found myself unable to disarm traps and collect plants used in the game’s valuable healing potions because I invested a lot of points into the weirdly useless lockpicking skill—you gain just enough points to ensure that you’re strong enough to keep up as the game goes along. This is actually one part of the game I felt was done surprisingly well, because for all my initial confusion about the leveling system, I never felt that my decisions on where to spend points came back to haunt me hours later like in some other The Dark Eye games.

You like random invisible walls that sometimes box you in and get you killed, right?

Empty space and fetch quests

Everywhere Cairon goes, NPCs send him on a series of fetch quests. This is the gameplay in a nutshell: you run toward the objective marker, fighting enemies in predetermined locations all the while, only to finally find the person you’re looking for and have them send you to collect X number of Y items. This is something that becomes worse and worse as you get closer to the end, with the middle and end of the game sending you to collect wood (no, really) and the near-end requiring you to run around fighting groups of enemies to collect keystones, then crystals. Between the two, you end up having to run around a giant, mostly empty area looking for 10 different things, and this was tedious even when I used Cheat Engine’s speedhack to speed up the game and get from point A to point B faster. Basically, a large portion of the game’s quests are phoned-in fetch quests, and it ceases to be entertaining long before you reach the credits.

Bugs and issues

One of my biggest irritations with Demonicon revolves around its invisible walls and enemies being unmovable. The two things combined make it easy to get boxed in by one or two enemies and quickly killed because you’re unable to move out of the way (and you attack slowly enough early on that you can’t get in a strike before one of them hits you and interrupts your attack). That’s just the cherry on the bug sundae, though, because I experienced a truly appalling number of bugs and sloppiness. For one, enemies come at you in waves, and sometimes they don’t have an animation before showing up, meaning you can finish off the last of a wave, only to have a new wave appear out of thin air without any audio cues. They just blink into existence, and it’s incredibly annoying.

Then there were the times when enemies spawned out of bounds where I couldn’t attack them, forcing me to reload an earlier save. This happened to me exclusively in boss fights, so I had to repeat the entire boss fight again while hoping that all enemies spawned in the correct locations. Not all of the problems revolve around the combat, either, as evidenced by several points in the game where you have to pick between three pieces of armor based on their name alone. Demonicon doesn’t offer you the opportunity to see their stats or appearance before choosing, so your choice is reduced to something completely arbitrary, based on which name you like best instead of which best suits your needs/play style.

Only an autosave? Really?

As I mentioned earlier, there are no manual saves in this game. Instead, the game saves automatically at many points. This isn’t enough, though, and the save points don’t always make sense. For example, moving from the city market to the cartel’s area automatically saves the game, but finishing a sidequest doesn’t for whatever reason. If you want to have your progress saved after a sidequest, then, you have to make use of that area transition save or risk a cheap death sending you back to before you completed it. This makes no sense whatsoever, and if developers are going to be so user-unfriendly as to take all control over the save situation away from the player, the least they can do is make sure that the game saves whenever a save would be appropriate. Players losing large chunks of progress because of developer incompetence is unacceptable, period.

If you don’t level up the skills that let you see where these traps are, you’re bound to experience a few sudden deaths.

Annoying insta-deaths

One of the skills you can put points into is the “disarm traps” skill. There’s also one that helps you see where traps are in the first place. I’d recommend putting points into at least one of them, because my first playthrough was fraught with moments where I’d run toward a chest, only for it to turn out to be a trap. These seem to come in two variations: the “you’re almost certainly dead” traps that reduce your health so quickly that you’re almost guaranteed to die (and some even lock you in a small area where you have no hope of escaping), and the poison gas traps that reduce your health slowly and that you can run through without too much worry. The latter aren’t that big of a deal, but having spikes pop up out of a random swamp area and kill you despite the placement of the trap making no sense whatsoever isn’t a fun experience, and putting points into one of the skills that will help you avoid those moments is definitely a good idea if insta-deaths aren’t your idea of fun.

Lots of brown

Visually, Demonicon reminds me a bit of The Cursed Crusade in the sense that it’s a game world awash in brown. There are a few exceptions, with the tutorial area (which you visit three times over the course of the game for some reason known only to the developers) and swamp having some bits of color thrown in, but it’s generally a very dull-looking game. On top of that, the character models are ridiculous; Cairon (and many other NPCs) looks like he has some kind of brain issue going on, and his facial animation is so poor that any attempt to show emotion on his part instead makes him look like a constipated toddler.

The music is actually pretty okay

While most of the game’s music is of the “forgettable orchestral” variety, the music in the town—which you hear quite a bit of—is actually fairly memorable and interesting. Some of the combat music is also interesting enough, reminding me ever so slightly of some of the more high-energy stuff in the Baldur’s Gate games. That’s not to say that the entire soundtrack is worthwhile or that you’ll be drowning in great music, because a lot of the background music is ambient stuff or otherwise forgettable, but some of the more interesting tracks you’ll hear over the course of the game are definitely of a higher quality than Demonicon probably deserves.

The Dark Eye: Demonicon

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