The worlds of tabletop gaming and virtual reality might seem like a strange mix, but Demeo Battles shows how well they can mesh together, combining two immersive worlds – one high tech, one low – to create a sense of wonder that’s hard to pull away from. Whether adventuring alone or against others, the moment-to-moment action is easy to learn but more rewarding to master.
Sharing DNA with many of the best board games around, Demeo Battles is a turn based game, with dice rolls and card plays driving the action in a fantasy-themed, virtual tabletop arena. Like its predecessor, 2021’s Demeo, it’s more or less a dungeon crawler board game designed to be played in VR, or on PC. Unlike the last game, it plays out less like a DnD campaign – and more like a competitive Battle Royale.
It’s also a tough strategic cookie, relying heavily on its ability to train you into a master strategist, before attempting to knock you off your perch with brutally unpredictable encounters. At times, the game can be Dark Souls-level difficult, but, just like the popular Miyazaki games, Demeo Battles’ challenges are exquisitely satisfying to conquer, when you put the pieces together.
Whether you’re tackling one of the 40 solo missions, or heading online to scrap with real players from around the world, the key principles of Demeo Battles remain the same. You have an arena, with a battle royale-esque fire burning its way from the outside to the center. Within this area, you must find and eliminate the enemy heroes before they can do the same to you.
Playing from a hand of action cards, you’ll summon companions to fight for you, place traps, cast spells, and basically do everything you can imagine to try and achieve victory. This moment-to-moment gameplay never changes, but it doesn’t need to. There is enough variety in the action cards and heroes you can choose from to keep gameplay fresh for north of 30 hours.
The single-player gameplay isn’t a story per se, but it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the world of Demeo Battles. Each scenario tasks you with aiming for a star rating out of three, based on a mix of how many turns you take, how many enemies you kill, and whether your heroes are downed at any point.
From the very first scenario, you’ll understand that Demeo Battles isn’t interested in going easy on you. It has one level of intensity and maintains it throughout the entire campaign. I distinctly remember my first attempt, which went, in hindsight, too well. I cleared the board and the enemy hero, only to have my two weakened heroes each one-hit-killed by an enemy rogue who’d been hidden the whole time.
I was speechless but had to laugh it off given the absurdity of it. If just one of my heroes had been downed, they could have been revived by bringing the healthy hero onto an adjacent board tile. But no, in one fell swoop the game was over. Moments like this are not rare – although it’s a two-way street, given that you can lure the AI into a false sense of security, just like I was.
It has to be said, however, that these moments could be an annoyance to some, and the lack of a story to tie everything together was a little disappointing given how far VR games have come even in the last year alone. It felt like a bit of a cop-out, in truth, despite being content rich with challenges. The 40 single-player missions provide plenty of fun, but they’re really just a way to train you for online play.
The arena in online play is always far smaller, meaning matches move much quicker as the fire ring closes in relentlessly. Where the single-player content allows some time for exploration, opening chests to earn more cards, and thoughtful strategic combat planning, the online game mode is played at a breakneck speed – and is all the more exciting for it.
No matter how many hours you put into Demeo Battles, one stat you can’t train is luck, as there’s a single core RPG dice rolling mechanic that’s central to the success of your attacks.
A symbol-faced d12 is rolled on most attacks and abilities to determine their level of success. A single sword means the ability will hit and act as intended. Crossed swords indicate a critical success, meaning the attack or ability you selected will be enhanced in some way, be it the damage it hits for, or the size of the AOE. Finally, you have the skull, which isn’t a miss, but your hero will spin on the spot before casting their ability, causing it to land off target and possibly damage a teammate.
Rarely did my luck run offensively bad in these rolls, but there will be times when a skull lands at the most inopportune time, and it’s how you react that makes all the difference.
Controlling Demeo Battles is a breeze and easily some of the most intuitive designs in a Meta Quest 3 game so far. Virtually the entire game revolves around the triggers. They’re used to select menu options, move your heroes around in the environments, select your ability cards, alter your position and view of the board, and roll dice.
There’s very little button input needed, and this creates a welcoming, ergonomic, tactile feel for tabletop gamers to be able to pick Demeo Battles up and learn it very quickly.
Likewise, as an exclusive Quest 3 feature, if you don’t get on well while fully immersed, or just need a break, you can activate the AR option and play the game while passthrough is enabled. The game even adds some decorations to your real-world surroundings in a fun twist.
Passthrough isn’t perfect on the Quest 3, and updates are expected to help this in the near future, but the AR mode allows you to still interact with your surroundings while playing and is a great way to introduce yourself to VR if you’re unfamiliar.
Overall, Demeo Battles is a brilliant tabletop VR game that’s packed with content and replayability. Online game modes are where you’ll get true value for money, but even as a solo adventurer looking for a quick fix of turn-based game action, you’ll struggle to find a Virtual Reality game better to scratch the itch than Demeo Battles.
Provided that the community is active post-launch, and developer Resolution supports the game with content updates, there’s every chance that you’ll be battling away for years to come.
If you can overlook the lack of a strong story and world-building, Demeo Battles is packed with content, easy to learn, and friendly for VR beginners, ticking a lot of boxes as one of the must-play Quest 3 games.