I am a huge fan of tabletop RPGs. I have been running games for my friends for over 20 years in different game systems and recently started tinkering with virtual tabletop programs. When I first came across Demeo by Resolution Games, I was intrigued. The visuals immediately reminded me of many games I played growing up, and the tile dungeon map looks like collectible resin terrain/dungeon sets. Does it hold up to the nostalgia I am feeling? Did the team succeed at recreating a tabletop experience in VR? This is our review of Demeo on the Oculus Quest platform.
The module intro is quick and to the point. It does the job of getting the players set up for some dungeon delving, and the new player tutorial is excellent. I had no issues jumping right into a game.
Starting a game for the first time was simple. You can choose to quick play, host, or join a game session. When hosting a game, I just had to tell the other players the room number from the edge of the game table. They could then join my session quickly and easily. If you would prefer to go it alone with three characters, there is also an option at the bottom of the menu for skirmish play. The menus are simple and easy to navigate, no complaints at all. The game runs solid, and I had no crashes playing on my own or with a friend.
Navigating around the play space is intuitive once you get some practice in with the controls, and it doesn’t take long to quickly get a good view of your character/enemies as you explore a dungeon level. The only minor technical issue I had was when targeting my character to move, nearby walls and enemies could obstruct the controller pointer/view. A similar problem occurred when targeting enemies with spells. Typically repositioning myself around the table helped resolve this. The only time where we couldn’t avoid the issue was when two enemies stood in the arch of a double door. We could not see their current health due to the archway obscuring the numbers.
The story is very straightforward. Your party is to enter the elven necropolis of Helmaar and will fight through three levels to free the spirit of the mad elven king. Appropriately the title of the module is “The Black Sarcophagus”.
Once underway, the first thing that stood out was the VR environment. The game board setting is in a retro-style basement with all the trimmings. It was nice for a minute or two to look around, and I could see the team doing something more with decorations/collectibles as future content is released.
While somewhat limited, the voice acting is good, and some of the character one-liners add a decent bit of humor. They at least gave me a chuckle. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed the player character animations and spell effects. All were very appropriate and felt like your characters hit the enemies when attacking with weapons and spells.
The base game mechanics are fun and easy to understand. Characters have two actions per turn. You can move, attack, or use an ability/spell/item card from your hand. To determine success, a player rolls the 12-sided dice to determine a hit, critical, or miss. You can hold up to 10 cards at a time, getting new cards from chests, and filling up a meter by killing enemies. In between each level, characters can spend the gold they have collected to purchase cards as well.
Different cards take a certain amount of actions to use, indicated at the top of the card. As you progress through a level, the points of interest (POI) appear on your map, and you need to find a key off one of the enemies to unlock the stairs down.
The game shines the most when playing with friends. After only 2 hours, we were already looking forward to playing with a group of four. There were many fights where the two of us laughed and joked about our bad luck when the die roles didn’t go our way. I also can’t wait for the eventual release of the non-VR version. I can share it with my friends who have no interest in VR.
The biggest issue I have with Demeo is the current aggro radius of enemies. I like that the enemies don’t wait in their rooms, but it feels like once you engage in combat, everything starts to zero in on your party from the current level. It feels like the Game Master is out to get you, and she will not stop until your all dead. It turns the game into an ongoing defensive tactical fight rather than an RPG dungeon exploration adventure.
Scaling for less than four characters is also an issue. While not impossible, fewer characters can make progression a lot harder. Some items/enemies may also need a balance pass. In our multiplayer, our MVP was the ballista card. It just mowed down enemies, and we kept luring them into the line of first since it was so efficient… laughing the whole time.
The amount of current content is limited, though the developers are promising: free updates, new content, characters, levels, and more. As of yesterday, they announced the second module, “Realm of the Rat King”, releasing this summer.
However, replay for the current content is still somewhat high since the levels for each playthrough generate from a pool of maps with randomized POIs and enemy positions. There are also progression rewards for cosmetic items that you gain after each playthrough. I would love to eventually see the option for player-created maps/modules and player-controlled Game Masters, but that may be asking a bit too much, at least for now.
If you are a fan of miniature RPG board games and tactical turn-based gameplay wrapped around a simple to play ruleset, there is a lot to like in Demeo. Combining the VR environment, voice acting, sound effects, and animations make for a great experience, especially when played with friends. While it currently doesn’t replace a tabletop RPG, I can see the potential, and it is a big step in the right direction. With a few balancing tweaks and more updates/content, this will be an amazing game. You can currently find Demeo on Steam VR and the Oculus Quest Platform. In the coming months, Resolution Games plans to release also on Oculus Rift Store (Cross-buy supported for Quest/Quest 2 owners) and a non-VR version with cross-platform play.
Copy provided for purpose of review.
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