Last year I got to review Demons Rise: War For The Deep. A turn-based tactical RPG that was promising for its amount of content, character and budget price.
Unfortunately, what materialised and set it back somewhat was the distinctly fuzzy look of PS2 style graphics. A baffling camera set up and dragging hit/miss combat mechanic. All contained in an array of unfriendly UI menus that took a lot longer to work out than any actions and tactics on the battlefield.
This week, switch users get to buy and play the sequel Demons Rise: Lords of Chaos. The 2018 spiritual successor to the first game with the chance to right the wrongs and potentially raise the bar. Can developers Wave Light Games make enough new changes and gameplay improvements and tweaks to better the experience?
Well, after spending hours and days with Lords of Chaos and looking for improvements, the answer is generally a big NO. Sadly, most of the visual look and core gameplay is a carbon copy of the first game. The PS2 era look, the UI menus and the constant annoyance and unrealism of the battle mechanics continue to exist and in the first hour or so, to much dismay.
Yet before you stop reading right here or have just bought the game and prepare to designate it to the back of your library. One particular change completely transforms this title and takes it through fresh and interesting new territory.
In Demons Rise: Lords of Chaos you get to play the evil bad guys. Oh yes. It’s your turn to twist the tides of battle from the first game and unleash your inner Darth Vader. Annihilate the good guys and return the world right back to that gorgeous scenario of darkness and chaos, by putting the heave back into Evil!
The startup is pretty much the same formula as before. Pick a team of six characters from a large roster and when satisfied you have the team you want. Then it’s time to place them on either a campaign mission or a selection of side quest single missions. Gain victory, gold and experience and items on the way until you level up characters. Gain improved stats and unlock extra abilities to either proceed with the campaign story or replay previous missions to subsequently ”grind “your way to success.
In between all that, there’s also a shop for buying items such as weapons and armour with all that hard-earned gold you’ve collected. A temple where you can pray to the demon God and buy “favour” in the form of a demon power that you can use for the next battle, or just browse the world map for insight and history into all the various areas in Tarren and the factions that occupy them.
This time around, the character selection screen is far more interesting and more intriguing than in the first game. Demon Knights, Blood Mages, Skeleton Warriors, Vampire Knights, Wererats? and even a large spider are part of the roster available. So even if knights, warriors and mages are pretty self-explanatory in what they do and how they fight. The inclusion of strange and often hybrid character types leave the player with a type of “trial and error” scenario in picking them for the team and how they play out and work together in battles. Also, with two special abilities per character and a maximum of up to six to unlock for each character. The dark and evil intentions of your team in hand, unleash a far better and more fascinating and interesting range of hidden abilities than our standard team of good guys.
For example, apart from the standard abilities of buffing attack stats, critical hits, fire range and elemental powers. The vampire knight has a very cool bite ability to drain the blood of enemies and gain back that damage amount in health. A teleport ability that can make him vanish and reappear on any square on the battlefield and finally, the blood shaman particularly, can initiate a blood rite that turns a square into a health regeneration point that any member of your team can use if injured for that particular battle. A small insight into the wealth of tactical and strategic options that come your way.
When it comes to the battles themselves. What’s immediately noticeable is the change in the environments and the wider scope for tactical planning and movement.
Gone are the restrictive and often claustrophobic rooms and chambers of the last titles dungeon setting. Replaced by open fields, stone circles, buildings and stone monoliths of hidden mystical powers.
Visually the characters and enemies have the outdoor advantage of looking fresher and brighter under natural light, even though the fuzziness and last-gen look sadly remains on close up as you zoom right in.
The camera is not particularly stunted as the action plays out either. The D-pad can be pressed to step in all four directions with the trigger buttons assigned to zoom in and out. So with action occurring in all areas in and out of view, at least you can follow (even if it does feel slightly cumbersome) at playing cameraman in between each turn.
As for the combat itself. Players having played the first game will see little difference and no real change as regards the mechanics and the confusion behind the “percentage to hit” notification on the right-hand side of the screen every time you target an enemy.
Movement of your characters gives the same percentage stat regardless of your distance away from the enemy, so a 65% hit rate applies if you’re three squares away or standing right next to them!? It’s baffling and often annoying to get three attack turns declared “missed” whilst swinging an axe and standing shoulder to shoulder with your assailant. On one hand, I could understand the reasoning with my archer targeting a heavily armoured knight for example. Yet targeting all enemy types from archers to mages and getting the same percentage stat is baffling, unrealistic and doesn’t ramp up the tension, with the whole system more random dice roll and not playing out for the better because of it.
That being said. Through all the minor annoyances and wishing, menus were simpler and more explanatory. I found that I kept going back to this game time and time again and enjoying replaying missions and grinding a team that was strong enough to survive and complete the tougher missions on the list. Mission structure often has little variations to keep things feeling fresh and avoiding stagnancy. Like defending a bridge vantage point, outnumbered by the enemy and having to survive for 20 turns. To the single missions that include taking on axe-wielding golems, magical force infused mages or my particular favourite, surrounded by four killer trees! There’s certainly variety and you’re willing to bypass the setbacks to discover and find out more of what’s on offer.
The audio is also worthy of note, with a grand and classic synth score along the lines of Game of Thrones with some great screams on the battle maps and even an evil laugh from some of your characters when dealing the final death blow.
Overall, Demons Rise: Lords of Chaos still holds a place in my library along with War For The Deep.
Yes, there’s a lot of small problems that should hold it back and greatly damage the overall experience. Yet underneath it carries a certain degree of addictiveness and dare I say it, charm.
In comparison, it certainly lacks the glitz and polish of other similar tactical titles like Disgaea and Fire Emblem, yet has enough character, vibrancy and atmosphere for it to surpass titles like Mercenaries Saga, just on interest and appeal.
There’s a good wealth of content and replay value contained within, once you learn and adapt to the often awkward UI and general clunkiness of the menus, camera and thin story content.
It comes at a very reasonable price and for fans of this genre, it’s a good and bad tactical battler that’s worth forgiving for overall value and to a slightly larger degree, satisfying and enjoyable gameplay…
Thanks to Wave Light / Silesia Games for the code.