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, especially when they’ve managed to make their own modern refinements to the gameplay.
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 or bow or staff, 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, stun effects that have to be caught, 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, at least until the final dungeons. I beat the game with the rogue archer class without dying, because once I had powerful elemental arrows and passive effects, even massive clusters of foes couldn’t hold me back for long. The warrior and mage characters have their own strengths as well, and the base difficulty ensures you get the right card drops around the right times to keep up with enemies. You’ll need them too, because enemies have plenty of gimmicks and elites and bosses are all multi-stage fights of gimmicks upon gimmicks upon gimmicks.
A journey down to the Archdemon will take you around 8 hours or so, and with the pacing of powers and upgrades and new enemies, it’s surprisingly easy for Book of Demons to keep you hooked. It’s surprising for me, at least, because I didn’t feel this way about the game back in Early Access. They’ve clearly done a lot of work to balance and spice this one up, with clicky combat about as gratifying as it can feel, tons of shortcuts like being able to leave immediately after clearing a level (so not having to trudge back to the stairs), and 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 manages to hit that sweet spot of hectic combat and chill adventuring that I loved about old-school Diablo, and added plenty of improvements to the mix. Just when the levels and combat start to get samey, 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, just deep enough, and the charm of its papercraft aesthetic does a lot to ingratiate itself. I had a feeling I’d be coming back to this one sooner or later, and it turns out it was hard to stay away at all.