From the moment I doubled clicked the Daemonica icon installed on my desktop, I was pretty much hooked. The short opening scene, the storm and the graveyard, the apparent darkness in the upcoming tale, the images on the load screen; these were all things designed to be immediately appealing to me. They won't spark everyone's interest, and certainly if what happened after the load screen had been rubbish, I would have been un-hooked in a flash. But whilst not everything about Daemonica lived up to my immediate enthusiasm, there was plenty of stuff to like.
Take, for instance, the top down isometric view, one perhaps that you see a bit more of in other genres, but which makes limited appearances in adventure games. Very refreshing, and good for exploring worlds, particularly when you can rotate the view through a full 360 degrees anytime you want.
So too the blood filled heart in the top right corner of the screen. Delicious!
Daemonica is not a pretty story, although it has its tender moments. It lived up to its dark first impressions, supported by a soundtrack designed to engender foreboding and despair. Without giving too much away, you are Nicholas Farepoynt, a Haresh al-Dorem (or beast hunter) who has been invited to the town of Cavorn to investigate some rather gruesome murders. The skin of a victim is missing, suggesting Nicholas' particular talents will be needed. You can find them out for yourself.
Set in mediaeval England, the backstory can and should be read from the load screen. You then find yourself at the town gates.
Death is all around, Black and otherwise. Nicholas can die, and you will have to fight to prevent it. The blacksmith can help (perhaps) and so too can the healing potions which Nicholas can concoct. Provided of course he has the right herbs.
I have seen on bulletin boards that more than a few Daemonica players have experienced great frustration at not being able to find enough of the herbs needed at any particular time. Nicholas will need to brew different potions for different purposes, and herbs are his stock in trade. You find them by wandering the town and its surrounds, as they grow wild. Your inventory contains a potion book with descriptions of them, and the places they grow.
I confess that I never experienced a herbal delay, and pretty much had what I needed at all times. Certainly I had to go and replenish my stock, my fighting leaving a little to be desired, but the herbs seemed reasonably abundant. They also regenerate in certain spots, and several times I was able to pick one, leave, and come back shortly after and pick another.
I can however appreciate the frustration. That is the case with any adventure game if what you need is not able to be found, but you will need to find herbs more than once or twice so it increases the likelihood of a hold-up. However, provided you wander from place to place, particularly in the sorts of places described in the potion book, you should find plenty.
I did, though, get delayed by failing to find the odd person needed to move forward. A little more direction at times would have helped; if you don't know you have to locate a monk standing nowhere in particular, why would you look for him? The wife of one character proved especially elusive, and there were several occasions where it was necessary to revisit everyone in town to find the conversation thread that would move things forward. Combine this with a lack of herbs, and Daemonica can indeed be an occasionally frustrating search-fest.
One final frustration was a character who died too quickly, preventing me from learning a piece of information necessary to converse with his soul. I failed to find it anywhere else in the game, and several players have confirmed they could not find it either. So it seems you either get the information before death strikes, or you peek at a walkthrough.
I mentioned you have to fight, swords being your weapon of choice. The space bar blocks your opponent, the left mouse unleashes a barrage of whacks as fast as you can click. The emptying heart will keep track of your state of health. If it empties, it's game over, and you need to restore from a save game.
There aren't a lot of fights though, 4 or 5 perhaps, and you can train with the blacksmith, and whilst he will not kill you, you will lose health points if he strikes you. He can also teach you an alternative sword stroke, which might have helped if he had ever taught it to me. However much I trained and won, he refused to teach me, and I stopped trying, seeing as the real fights were not too onerous.
The options screen allows you to pick simplified combat, but I confess I could see little difference.
Health is restored through potions, and you can make as many of these as you can find ingredients. Sleep will also restore some health, but there are only a few occasions in the game this occurs. So stock up on the potions, particularly as Nicholas, despite being a beast hunter, is a kindly soul who insists on sharing.
It has been a while since a story sucked me in quite so much. Daemonica is well written, and at times quite emotive. I liked Nicholas, and wanted good things to happen to him.
Nicholas is the only character voiced in the game, and you hear him in between scenes and quests when he tells you things or advances the story. All his conversations with other characters are read and not heard.
I actually liked this aspect a lot. Good prose is often let down by bad acting, so here it wasn't an issue. Like reading a good book, the voices and characterisations were created by the words in my head, and nothing was grating or false. I thought Nicholas when he spoke was suitably dark, no Larry Olivier but up to the task. The ambient sounds and the musical score ensured the aural experience was a full one.
That is not to say that voices for the other characters wouldn't have been a plus if well done. Rather, I didn't think my experience lacked anything by not hearing them.
Graphically, Daemonica is vibrantly coloured and the world richly detailed. It rains, rats run everywhere, birds fly by, and in keeping with the storyline, whether it's night or day a gloomy pall lies over Cavorn.
As intimated, you wander about gathering information and attending to tasks as they arise. The straight conundrums are few and not too difficult, and on most occasions I was held up, it was a failure to spot a rather small hotspot or item, or trigger the right conversation. I mentioned you can rotate the view through 360 degrees and at times you will need to do this to properly search a location. The top down view is not directly above, so when inside a building or up against the town wall, you will need to turn the view to be able to see "over" or behind the walls.
A compass will help you maintain your orientation, and a map in your inventory will always show you where you are. I routinely kept the same orientation in the game world as was on the fixed inventory map (north at the top, I think) as it made it easier to orient myself, particularly when first exploring the environs. If you click on any part of the inventory map, a pointer will appear in the game world at the side of the screen showing where you need to head to reach that location. It will adjust itself as you walk around, so just head for the pointer and you will get where you want to be.
Once you have visited key locations, they appear on the inventory map, and clicking on them will instantly transport you there. It saves walking, but you won't find herbs that way.
There were a lot of load screens in Daemonica, each location requiring a separate load. They are only short, but at times annoying (eg enter a building - load - go downstairs - load - come back up - load - go outside - load). You can limit them to a small extent by jumping with the map (ie jumping from downstairs in one building straight to another will only require a single load).
The inventory is available by clicking on the icon at lower right or hitting the "I" key. It contains your items, including your herb bag, and whilst you can only carry a limited amount, the need to get rid of things occurred rarely and the decisions weren't hard to make. It also contains a notebook, which has your potion menus and herb descriptions, and it keeps track of what you learn about the other characters and the quest or tasks you need to perform. A message will appear briefly at the bottom of the screen when there is a new entry.
There are 3 different endings, based on choices you make in the endgame. It's up to you to decide which is the "correct" one, but I know which one I preferred, even if it perhaps imperilled the world.
Daemonica isn't perfect but it certainly made me want to play, which is a lot of what you want from a game. Its dark side appealed to mine, and for me, its strengths overpowered its flaws. Its final rating might not be the same as yours (isn't that always the case) but reflects how much fun I had over a few very lengthy and absorbing playing sessions.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2006.
All rights reserved.
Win 98/2000/ME/XP, 1GHz Pentium III, 256 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0 compliant 64 MB video card. DirectX 9.0 compliant sound card, 4x CD-ROM, 900MB hard disk space, mouse & keyboard.