The isometric RPG has gained a rather storied history over the last couple decades, from the classics like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and the venerable Diablo to more recent efforts such as Planes of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin and Torchlight II. With such heavyweights to contend against, Thing Trunks’ Book of Demons has its work cut out as a new isometric RPG sporting a number of tweaks to the genre’s classic gameplay currently in Early Access. How does the game stack up at this early stage of development? Let’s take a look.
Book of Demons tasks players with excising The Archdemon from a deep catacomb beneath an otherwise rather nice village. After the introductory cutscene setting up the story you’re brought to the character creation screen, where you choose your character’s class (currently the Warrior class is the only one available, though a Mage class is on its way soon), assign some basic attributes and give them a name. Those desiring a greater challenge can designate characters as “Daredevils”, meaning that once they die in the dungeon, they’re gone for good and you’ll need to create a new character all over again.
Once you’ve created your character you’re taken to a rather adorable diorama-style town where you get the opportunity to speak to a variety of NPCs, each with their own service for the player – the Sage identifies rare loot cards (more on that later), the Fortune Teller charges and upgrades your usable cards, the Barmaid assists you with levelling up particular character stats and so on.
After finishing up my leisurely chats with the townsfolk, I clicked on the ominous glowing red church in the background and entered the dungeon. The dungeon you need to conquer runs exceedingly deep, and is marked by three major sections bookended by some big bosses – with the final boss being The Archdemon himself. Soon after completing a short tutorial explaining the game’s basic concepts and controls you’re presented with the “Flexiscope” system, which lets you set how long it should take to traverse a floor of the dungeon, with longer dungeon runs being encouraged by greater gold yields, reward potential and progress towards the next major section of the dungeon. I really liked this system, as it lets you choose to have a quick go if you’d like to while still giving plenty of incentive to brave longer and more dangerous play sessions.
Choosing to take on a “Small” dungeon floor estimated at around 14 minutes to complete, the time finally came to brave the dangers within.
Book of Demons takes a very unconventional approach to the traditional Diablo-style isometric RPG gameplay. I will admit, I jumped in expecting to play something like Torchlight II Meets Tearaway, but that most certainly wasn’t what I got.
Your character moves along pre-set paths etched into the dungeon floor, pausing at junctions (and at your command) to give you a chance to change your course and explore. While this might sound absolutely sacrilegious, it actually works fairly well. If you click in front of your character they’ll start to move along automatically, while clicking behind them will make them stop. While this greatly simplifies your movement and evasion capabilities compared to other games in the genre, it still manages to be rather enjoyable – combat becomes about charging in for a burst of hits then retreating from the onslaught of retaliation, while exploration is still facilitated and encouraged by the multiple paths you’ll encounter and the breadth of loot and interactive items you’ll find lining each side of the path, such as as click-able pots, treasure chests, restorative fountains and much more.
Speaking of the combat, that wasn’t quite what I expected either. Combat usually boils down to clicking on enemies repeatedly to deal damage to them, clicking on them once to start auto-attacking them, and deploying offensive cards when necessary. Once again, while it sounds simplistic it still manages to be quite fun – it isn’t long before the game introduces enemies that require a little more thought in how you take them down.
For example, you’ll quickly encounter zombies that explode and unleash a ring of poison on death, meaning you have to add retreat into the equation to avoid taking a fair bit of damage, as well as enemies sporting shields that need to be broken (by hammering on the shield icon placed somewhere around their form) before they can be damaged and mages whose spells can be cancelled by clicking and holding on the icons that appear above their heads (though of course this will leave you vulnerable more often than not) to name only a few examples. Also, the archers. Oh my goodness, the archers.
As you explore you’ll end up finding a huge variety of loot cards (in chests and certain environmental objects) that you can equip throughout your journey to give you some form of advantage against your opponents. These range from items such as health potions to usable attack/defense moves and passive buffs. As you gain more and more gold you’ll eventually be able to unlock more card slots for your character by speaking to the Sage when you make it back to town, letting you expand the range of options you have when tackling the dungeon even further. The cards form the backbone of how you develop your character, and as a fan of games like Hand of Fate I really liked the idea – once you get enough cards together you can mix-and-match them as you like to build your character in a variety of different ways, a huge boon to the game’s RPG mechanics and a great way of keeping the core gameplay interesting for longer.
Probably one of Book of Demons’ biggest talking points is its “pop-up book” papercraft art style. Each dungeon floor’s layout folds out before you as you enter and both the player character and their myriad of enemies hop about frantically with relatively little animation, as if they were pieces in a tabletop RPG. The visuals overall have been very well realised and carry an undeniable charm to them that I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy. It was a bit of an acquired taste for me personally, especially when it came to the relatively sparse range of animations on display, but that’s just my opinion and there’s still a lot to appreciate about the game’s presentation.
In conclusion, Book of Demons is a very intriguing specimen, even at this early stage – an isometric action RPG that sports some streamlined gameplay mechanics but still manages to provide a lot of the same rewarding exploration and frenetic, Oh-dear-lord-what’s-happening-now fun as a number of other games in the genre thanks to its variety of challenging enemies and deep yet easily understandable RPG systems.
If you’re looking for a different, accessible take on a well-loved and well-established formula, keep an eye on Book of Demons. If you fancy giving the game a go to see if it’s your sort of thing, the developers have provided a demo on the game’s Steam store page.
Book of Demons is available now on Steam Early Access, priced at £14.99.