Book of Demons is a strange beast. It has some audio and gameplay issues that make it downright frustrating at points, but its concept is so novel that it’s still worth looking into regardless.
One of Book of Demons’ many rather unique aspects is its art design, opting to look like a pop-up book. This is fitting for the tongue-in-cheek narrative and style. It manages to look nice whilst prioritising performance, which is a decent combo. It also explains the pop-up book art style in a meta but satisfying way. You are looking at a storybook that is “not for the faint of heart” telling the tale of a wandering hero finally “returning home to find everything different than remembered”. A tremendous evil arose from the depth and corrupted the land above, killing soldiers and torturing the living. A dark ritual deep in the depths summoned “the ultimate evil” from his slumber. You, as an adventurer, must traverse the bottom of a church at the epicentre of the ritual in order to attempt to slay him.
It’s a pretty basic story but with its art direction and style, one wouldn’t usually expect more. It works as a parody, of sorts, of action-adventure/dungeon crawlers, loaded with references and jokes. In fact, one look through the stats sets you up for the type of game you are playing. It has a multitude of joke categories and even a stat for the amount of stats that don’t make sense in the stats menu. Have I written “stats” too much? Probably.
But this brings us to the central gameplay loop. After witnessing the opening, you are told to try your hand at fighting downwards from the church. Initially you may only clear a few levels, but this works well at acclimating you to the base loop.
Book of Demons has a surprisingly original combat system pulling parts from Diablo, board games and Slay The Spire. Its movement system is like that of a board game, having linear paths to go up and down, and the way it treats enemies and its hellish theming fit right into the Diablo world. Then the deck-building aspects draw inspiration from the likes of Slay the Spire and Deep Sky Derelicts. You can move along these paths and your character attacks enemies automatically, but this attack speed can be sped up by holding the A button, effectively making a difference between the odd hit whilst moving and tanking damage whilst focusing DPS. This brings a nice risk-reward system into each encounter as you can risk standing still to finish one foe off, or retreating to defeat them flawlessly.
This is something that is affected by each character type, of which there are three; the warrior class focuses on melee combat and defensive cards, the mage on ranged offensive attacks, and the rogue mixes these playstyles together with a mix of melee and ranged attacks. The cards you acquire can be equipped to your character at the bottom of the screen and offer unique advantages. There are skills that can be used but require mana to work, and there are items that have a limited supply but work without it. Further to that is the inclusion of cards you can equip to your character, giving a buff in exchange for using up some of your mana pool. The mana is an interesting system within Book of Demons – as you can focus on saving it for attacks or preserve it for your equipment, allowing you to become a glass cannon or a steady, but not hugely powerful, warrior.
The level-up system is simple but also plays into the risk-reward elements well. You can choose one mana or one HP to increase in each level. The other goes into a cauldron which can be bought to acquire all that’s in there. The key is the price for that cauldron goes up each time you use it. Do you use it to acquire two or three upgrades or risk losing it to acquire four later on?
This then brings us on to the town that works as your base of operations. From here, there are a few main things you can do – you can gossip with townsfolk, revealing new insight into the world and characters, or you can use their unique skills to help you going forward. You can also upgrade cards, purchase the items in the cauldron, restore your health and more. This stocks you up for pushing even further into the depths.
Unfortunately, the great parts about Book of Demons are brought down, somewhat, by some frustrating technical issues and design choices. The audio for characters being hurt plays, often, on every attack. This means if you attack three times in a second, you hear the same soundbite played over and over again. I found myself intentionally avoiding confrontation which might otherwise net better rewards due to this sound issue. As well as this, the gameplay itself runs into issues. You choose who you attack but this can be finicky, and if an enemy is directly touching you it becomes very hard to hit elsewhere, and some enemies require you to defeat the room first to make them vulnerable. Unfortunately, at its worst, this means you are stuck hitting someone who cannot take damage while minions kill you mercilessly – a terrible way to die. This feels like an issue with the initial port itself as the PC version seems to rely on the mouse to attack more. The game on Xbox One is loaded with archaic choices left over from its Steam design. For instance, the achievements in-game do nothing while you unlock them and the Xbox achievements are a separate list. They could almost be entirely removed as they don’t serve a function.
Overall, from my time with Book of Demons, its good traits are obvious from the start but poor audio, strange AI design and just some overall poor design choices leave the game lacking. It’s not helped by the fact that the Xbox One port seems lazy and adds little to make it stand out amongst competitors. Book of Demons on Xbox One is certainly worth keeping an eye on for its style, but it’s hard to recommend fully at this time.