Those entrenched in the world of videogames may hear the words ‘roleplaying game’ and instantly call a few names to mind – Skyrim, The Witcher, Chrono Trigger – the list could go on and on. This makes it all too easy for gamers to forget the phrase originates from tabletop RPGs, where dice rolling, silly voices, and tomes of rules and lore rule the roost.
Demeo: PC Edition is a turn-based RPG that certainly pays heed to its roots, however. This strategy videogame equips you with a team of classic character classes, places you in a dungeon full of fantasy baddies, and even makes you roll a big, shiny 20-sided-die. The goal is simple – find the item you need to escape levels one and two of the dungeon, then find your way out of the final third level.
Demeo was originally a VR exclusive that was released in 2021, but an Early Access version arrives on PC via Steam on April 7, costing $29.99 / £22.93. Wargamer got a chance to check out its single-player and multi-player modes ahead of time. Please bear in mind that we’ve seen an early version of the game, and this is an Early Access game with an already-established roadmap – so details are bound to change, and we’ve reviewed what we currently can.
Aesthetically, Demeo is lovely. What voice acting there is in the game is high-quality, and you know you’re on to a winner when the person doing something entirely different in the same room says they enjoyed the game’s background music. The homage to TTRPGs like Dungeons and Dragons is clear from the game’s visuals, too. You play the game on a digital table, with your characters and enemies presented as little miniatures to move around. The three adventures that will be available in Early Access even appear on the main screen in the form of 70s-D&D-style adventure books, which feels like a genuine love letter to tabletop’s rich history.
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The game’s character designs are also bright and interesting – if a little too faithful to D&D’s monsters and character classes to be really memorable. One person’s homage is another’s rehash, after all, and Demeo doesn’t really feel like it brings anything new to the RPG genre besides its VR capabilities.
For example, games like Gloomhaven manage to invoke a classic fantasy dungeon-crawler feel while also introducing their own unique characters and mechanics. Meanwhile, Demeo has you play as a Rogue, Bard, Wizard, Ranger, and Fighter – each with a name and backstory, but ones that are easily forgotten when rolling the dice.
Demeo also uses very similar mechanics to Gloomhaven. Both games give you a party of characters to move around a dungeon, and both require you to use a deck of cards representing items and abilities to achieve the goal of the dungeon – killing enough enemies, grabbing the loot, and getting out alive. Gloomhaven also has a digital version on Steam that you can pick up for $34.99 / £27.79 – only $5 / around £5 more than Demeo.
One way Demeo will trump Gloomhaven for some is through simplicity. There’s none of the deck-building, levelling-up, and roleplaying events of Gloomhaven, meaning that if you’re after a slightly less dense game, Demeo is the superior choice. Aside from a brief tutorial showing you how to move your characters around the screen and use cards, there’s nothing stopping you from jumping into Demeo and starting a game.
And the game you’ll jump into is certainly a fun one. In particular, Demeo manages to capture the feeling of exploring a D&D dungeon admirably. There’s a line of sight mechanic that meant, in our co-op sessions, we were constantly surprised by new enemies, each with their own abilities that we had to adjust our strategies to cope with. Other than a few helpful markers on the board and a brief voice-over describing your goal at the start, you’re left to figure out where to go in the dungeon and what’s in it – so opening each new door comes with great anticipation.
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Combat really is as simple as smacking your character miniature into an enemy and rolling to see if you hit. Your deck of cards is pre-made (with the option to buy and collect more character-specific cards as the game goes on), and these, combined with environmental features in the dungeon, make for just enough strategy to keep your party thinking. All this makes Demeo a great social game, one you could easily settle into after a long day of work, like a comfy pair of turn-based slippers.
This simplicity comes with some significant downsides, however. The game’s main source of difficulty doesn’t come from particularly complex strategy or puzzles, but rather from having around 15 enemies dumped on you at once (as happened to us in more than a few dungeons). Just like in a real game of D&D, this can feel more like a wall of hit points that you must slowly chip away at, turn by turn, rather than an exciting hack-and-slash fest.
Additionally, the game doesn’t explain a lot of its more unique features in the tutorial (the range and effect of the many different explosive orbs in the dungeons, for example), and what you’re looking for in each level is quickly explained away by a few sentences of voice-over as soon as the game starts – something that’s easy to miss if your party is talking as you get set up. Although the core objectives of the dungeons never change, that’s still a reminder many won’t want to miss. A lack of on-screen text makes sense in the context of VR and cross-platform play, but from a PC perspective, it made things like knowing whose turn it was that little bit harder.
We checked in with the Demeo team to see if there were any subtitles for the game, but these don’t seem to be available. The team told us that it’s “looking forward to working with our player community and professionals during the early access period to shape the game in a way that makes Demeo enjoyable for as many players as possible”, but it’s still disappointing to see a feature that would provide quality-of-life for some (and basic accessibility for others) absent at this stage.
This isn’t the only issue of accessibility, either. Demeo’s multiplayer offers cross-platform play, but it doesn’t offer any way for players to communicate outside of a voice chat feature that is perpetually on. Again, this makes some sense in VR, but not necessarily for PC. For players who are shy or trying to play a game in a noisy room, this mars the experience slightly; for players who have hearing or speech impairments, this may cut them off from the Demeo experience entirely.
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It’s important to remember that this is an Early Access Game. Demeo has already planned to release two new adventures for the game in 2022, so we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for some quality-of-life tweaks to the game also. Still, first impressions are important. Demeo presents a lot of polish and potential, but not enough straight out the door to make this a game we need to tell all our friends about.