Ok, so stop me if you’ve heard this one…A fighter, sorcerer and a rogue walk into a tavern…Yeah, I know, it’s a cheesy pun, but it definitely owes its sense of familiarity to the ever-popular Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. This year, the Granddaddy of all RPGs turned 30 years old, and its influence can be seen in almost every game today. From the concept of leveling up characters to acquiring new powers or special items to the widespread phenomenon of massively multiplayer online games, all of these owe some debt to D&D. Well, to help celebrate their birthday, Atari has released Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, a title set in the D&D universe’s most popular universe.
Scripted by R.A. Salvatore (an impressive writer who’s authored an ungodly number of novels in the Forgotten Realms universe), Demon Stone’s plot feels like it was ripped from an old D&D adventure module. Centuries before, two rival armies from alternate planes of existence started a massive battle to determine the fate of Faerun. The human-like Githyanki, led by General Cireka and the creatures known as the Slaad, led by Lord Ygorl, almost ripped the realms asunder, had it not been for the skill of Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun. Arunsun’s magic trapped the warring creatures and their forces inside a massive crystal, where they were to remain throughout eternity, saving Faerun in the process. They would’ve stayed there, had it not been for three adventurers who mistakenly shattered their prison, unleashing their forces upon the world once again. As the party of unlucky (not to mention unlikely heroes), you’re tasked with repairing the damage you’ve caused by eliminating the threat of the Slaad and Githyanki once and for all.
Your trio of adventurers comprises a number of the deadlier archetypes that D&D can offer. All three characters have their own motives for their journeys, although they quickly discover that their fate and their objectives are intertwined once the common threat to Faerun is released. Rannek is the bruising fighter, a warrior who skill with melee weapons and hand to hand combat has served him in battle for numerous years. However, after failing to protect a village from a surprise attack of trolls, Rannek left a disgraced man in search of redemption. Illius, the sorcerer, is highly skilled in magic and ranged combat. His quest is to discover knowledge and a path for his life after his family disowned him because of his magical ability. Finally, there’s the half elf/half drow thief Zhai, who’s looking for her place in the world since her “impure” lineage excludes her from either society. She’s the only character who has the ability to jump and tumble around levels to solve obstacles, as well as the ability to turn invisible and commit stealth kills from the shadows scattered around levels.
Creatively, players will have the option to switch control from any one of the trio at any time to take advantage of their skills. This will be useful for taking out certain threats or solving puzzles that are scattered through the ten stage quest. While some players may prefer to use only one of the three characters, it’s actually necessary to progress through certain areas during the game. See, Demon Stone will hurl a ton of enemies at your trio, which can force you to think about the best way to eliminate your incoming opponents quickly before you’re surrounded and cut down in battle. This may require you to eliminate ranged foes first with Illius, switching to Zhai to silently kill one or two unsuspecting targets before changing to Rannek and killing the remaining targets. Each successful kill provides experience points for your characters, as well as some gold points that you can use between missions to purchase equipment or new attack moves.
However, these features also expose some of the significant flaws within the game. First of all, when you take control of a character, the artificial intelligence governing the other two is less than ideal. In fact, it can be downright abysmal more than half the time, so you’ll wind up constantly micromanaging almost each and every single fight instead of letting them take care of themselves. Speaking about fights, you will get swarmed with plenty of opponents. However, you will be able to dispatch most of these opponents by pounding on the primary attack button whenever an enemy nears you. While you can invest in new attack moves, you probably aren’t going to use many of them in combat because this method suffices.
Even worse, each ability you purchase winds up replacing another skill that your character had. This may not seem like a bad thing, until you consider that effective spells for Illius are often lost because you upgrade your abilities. Would you know the effectiveness between Flame Arrow and Acid Arrow? Unless you’ve played the actual pen and paper game, you’re not going to actively know what’s a good spell to have in your spellbook. In actuality, both are relatively solid additions for any magic user, but since these abilities are “written over,” it’s hard to tell what’s useful and what isn’t. This issue also extends to the equipment that you can purchase, making the store ultimately confusing. In this way, the character development could’ve been much deeper than it is.
What’s more, you’ll notice each level is essentially the same as far as action is concerned, outside of the first two stages which are essentially tutorials. You’re going to enter an area, get attacked by a large number of enemies and cut all of them down before moving onto the next area. Even when the difficulty gets a bit higher later on in the game, you’re still actively performing the same tasks, which can get stale. Even worse, there isn’t two player co-op, there’s no online play, and once you’ve finished off the game, which might take a dedicated player anywhere from six to ten hours to complete, there’s no reason to replay the game.
This is relatively disappointing because the game is graphically presented in a very appealing way. Character models are large and very nicely animated, and demonstrate a number of unique movements to each hero. For instance, Rannek’s blows feel particularly strong and damaging, and Zhai’s stealth attacks seem extremely effective when launched from the shadows. Environments are nicely detailed, with great attention paid to the shadows and lighting effects. Textures could be significantly cleaner, and the amount of slowdown that occurs could be less frequent than the game allows. The musical score is cinematic and nicely handled, although the true star is the vocal acting. The animosity and sarcastic banter between the three party members is very well acted, and the celebrity talent, voiced by Patrick Stewart and Michael Clark Duncan, gives a great performance.
Demon Stone is one of those titles that fans of D&D might wish was a bit deeper and a lot longer. As an action title, it’s decently presented, albeit repetitive, and has a creative control scheme, although not fully implemented. If you’re really into action, RPGs or D&D, you may find this title is a decent addition for you, but otherwise, you may want to rent it before you buy it.