Review: Book of Demons
Review copy provided by developer
Do you miss the original Diablo? I know I do, because nothing since has quite managed to capture that same sense of gothic dread. I suppose the folks behind Book of Demons feel the same, because they essentially remade it their own way. Their own way happens to be a streamlined papercraft rendition with a few interesting improvements, but that core inspiration is never far from wherever you are in the dungeon. I have no problem with them wearing it on their sleeve so conspicuously, but it does make the weaknesses this one has show that much more.
Book of Demons is actually presented as one of seven books, and the only one available at this time. Something evil stirs beneath the old cathedral, and the scores of adventurers sent to plumb its depths never quite managed to return. You’re different, of course, armed with your sword and shield and deck of cards representing the rest of your powers and items and gear. Level after level you’ll descend further into the catacombs and caves where monsters lurk, clearing their lairs and hoovering up the loot to make yourself ever stronger for the inevitable final battle.
Look, it’s Diablo. All the way from the beardy man in town who identifies your shit down to the meat-cleaver-wielding demon lording over the catacombs, this is the loviest love-letter to OG Diablo imaginable. The papercraft aesthetic is a welcome diversion but the lighting design, the soundtrack, everything else about the presentation still points to the same origin. The design, however, does not because Book of Demons is very much on rails. You’re not freewheeling around levels, oh no, you’re plodding along paths laid out between the many fonts and sarcophagi of the dungeons.
Some of you may be turning to flee at this point but hear me out for a minute. The combat and exploration is smartly designed around this rail system, allowing you to attack or collect anything within your light radius. You auto-attack enemies that draw near but can click on them to attack faster, and in fact you’ll need to do that with the many varieties of foe you’ll face. The bestiary is rife with special cases that make the most of the mouse-only controls, fielding foes that have armor plates that need to be clicked, magical spells that have to be clicked and held to interrupt, tempers that strike back if you click too much, and so on. Honestly there are so many special enemy and effect types that it can be hard to keep track of them in the heat of battle.
Despite this, Book of Demons doesn’t end up being very hard. I might have gotten lucky with the cards I found that allowed me to hit multiple enemies and set them on fire at once, but even huge clusterfucks of enemies didn’t present that much of a challenge. I haven’t died yet on my warrior character (there’s also a rogue and wizard, surprise surprise) though I did come close a few times, especially when dealing with the multi-phase bosses. The many gimmicks your enemies have to confound you are entertaining at first, but the other weakness of Book of Demons is that it gets pretty repetitive pretty fast.
It might be how long the game is, around 8 hours or so to beat a run, or how there’s only three thematic areas spread across those hours (which aren’t all that different either), but this isn’t the kind of game I can grind away at for hours like Diablo was. And the game tries, it really does, because the clicky combat is about as gratifying as it can feel, there are tons of shortcuts like being able to leave immediately after clearing a level (so not having to trudge back to the stairs), and there’s plenty to explore on each floor. There’s even a neat feature called the Flexiscope that lets you generate dungeon sections exactly as long as you want to play for, and adjusts the rewards appropriately. Playability and quality of life were clearly major design pillars here, and the effort is very much appreciated.
Book of Demons suffers a bit from some fundamental problems of mimicking older designs, but more than makes up for them with the innovations they did make. As samey as the levels and combat can get, there will still be strange new bosses and enemy combinations and rare cards to find, and you’ll always be able to tweak the experience just the way you want it. It’s an extremely playable game, if not terribly deep, and the charm of its papercraft aesthetic does a lot to ingratiate itself. I’ll be coming back to this one a lot, I think, especially if the core experience continues to expand and resolve some of its issues.