Daemonica hands-on archived preview

If you've heard about Daemonica in passing, perhaps you've already made a few basic assumptions. After all, if it looks like Diablo and sounds like Diablo, it's probably a lot like Diablo, right? In fact, let's go over the tried and true checklist of ye ol' dungeon crawl:

Medieval setting during plague-infested times... check

World threatened by supernatural beings... you betcha

Lonely hero fated to battle evil at great sacrifice... right here

Swords, sorcery, and legends revived... oh yeah

Side quests, potion-making, and deadly opposition... bingo

Third-person perspective with isometric, 3/4 view... screenshots don't lie

Creepy title with hellish overtones... Self-evident

Yes, indeed, the evidence mounts quickly that a garden variety hack 'n slash is heading towards store shelves in March. So why cover it at Adventure Gamers? Because it's really an adventure, that's why. Or at least, it's far more adventure than anything else. Once again, we find ourselves faced with the "is it or isn't it, and if not, what is it?" dilemma that inevitably arises whenever a game dares to push beyond conventional understanding of a genre we thought we knew so well. Daemonica is certainly one of those titles that defies easy labeling, and as such, it risks being overlooked, misunderstood, or wrongly dismissed. Fortunately, the game's North American publisher -- a relative newcomer called Meridian4 -- has provided us with a playable preview copy of the game for a first-hand look.

Daemonica touts itself as a "3D interactive murder mystery", and despite its surface similarities to RPGs, a murder mystery is exactly what it is. Rather than serving only as a backdrop for action-oriented gameplay, the story is the heart and soul of Daemonica -- its heart in the land of the living where the murders are committed, and its soul during your many forays to the afterlife in search of the victims.

You play as Nicholas Farepoynt, a "Beast Hunter". Farepoynt is an outcast and a tortured man, destined to pursue the worst cases of (in)humanity by his "gift" of being able to commune with the dead through the ancient language of Daemonica. The game begins with Farepoynt arriving at the small town of Cavorn, where a couple has gone missing and a young woman murdered. Making matters worse, the town itself has fallen on hard times, with darkness covering the land, disease rampant, and hopeless people abandoning their homes. What remains is a shell of a town with only a handful of hardy citizens remaining to brave the evils befalling them.

Although invited by the mayor, Farepoynt is hardly welcomed in Cavorn. With his dark reputation and ever-hooded, mysterious appearance, Farepoynt generally increases fear, suspicion, and distrust among the townsfolk. And when the mayor announces that the case is closed, and a (potentially innocent) culprit already executed for the crime, it's clear that you're on your own to discover the truth.

Gameplay consists largely of exploring Cavorn and its small outlying region, talking to the inhabitants in search of information, and performing various tasks to earn people's trust or delve further into the mystery, which grows deeper and more sinister as the game progresses. There is very little puzzle focus in the game, as Daemonica is intent on letting the story progress naturally, and trusting the mystery itself to serve as the overall puzzle. There are a fair number of events with clue-gathering requirements before you can proceed, so it's not a mindless exercise by any means, but nor should it provide much difficulty to even a moderately experienced adventure gamer. The game does include several contextual riddles of varying obscurity, including one that borders on The Hobbit's "What have I got in my pocket?" level of unfairness. However, for the most part you'll progress steadily, except in those instances where the game decides to challenge you with a game of "guess the random clue provider". Those are always annoying, unless you happen to be one of those people who instinctively think, "why don't I go check the middle of the cemetery to see if someone is now standing there with information I need?"

One interesting feature is the potion-making process. There are herbs you'll need to collect to make various potions, and each is replenished and randomly placed at the beginning of the game's five "acts". Creating potions is neither complicated nor particularly innovative, but it's certainly not common in adventures these days, and it helps you feel connected to the story in Daemonica. Admittedly, there are times when it's frustrating to find a last herb you need, and you'll curse it as unnecessary busywork, but generally speaking it works well without posing a significant impediment.

The most important potion is the "soulgreep". In a dangerous and painful experience (for Farepoynt, not the player, fortunately), soulgreep causes a demon to rip out his soul and carry it towards the realm of oblivion. However, knowing the language of Daemonica, Farepoynt can order the demon to stop at the Temple of Sacrifices between the living and the dead. It is here that you can talk to the victims after answering a series of questions to correctly identify the soul you seek. If successful, you'll get a wealth of necessary information to take back with you. If not, you'll light up like a flaming marshmallow and pray that you saved recently.

Indeed, there are deaths in Daemonica, and some of them will undoubtedly be yours. Whether from incorrect choices, timed events (with insanely generous time allotments, so breathe easy), or melee combat, you may find yourself restoring from time to time. However, you can save anywhere, any time, and you will never find yourself in trouble without fair warning... Oh, you caught that "combat" part, did you? Okay, then, let's confront the issue sure to be the biggest point of contention and confusion about Daemonica.

Continued on the next page...

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United States March 28 2006 Meridian4

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Jack Allin

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