Gather ‘round, kiddos. It’s time to tell you the story of the great game that Demon’s Rise: War for the Deep could have been. It’s a sad tale, to be sure, but one that covers aesthetics, mechanics, design choices, plot, and user interfaces. But is War for the Deep as bad as I’m making it out to be? Are there any redeeming qualities, to which a player could latch onto and assuage their buyer’s remorse? Find out below – this is our Demon’s Rise: War for the Deep review!
So, Demon’s Rise is an exercise in contradictions. Case in point, the backgrounds and landscapes are pretty. The designers did well in implementing the stage upon which your merry band will play their somber song. Character models, however, look much like they came from a mid-1990’s CGI cutscene. Some of them are bad by today’s standards. And I mean, like, bad. Not in the Michael Jackson’s awesome song kinda way, neither. Nevertheless, a game does not need to have great graphics to be good (e.g., Dominions 5 and its ilk). It’s just that in this case there is such a dramatic difference between the models and background that it was noticeable. Music was not all that great, either. It does the job, but I quickly found the mute button to be my friend and didn’t look back if that’s any indication of how the audio is.
Throughout Demon’s Rise, a player might also notice a certain degree of… inspiration that the designers seem to have drawn from the Warhammer Fantasy/Age of Sigmar universe. Seriously, one of the potential band members looks strikingly similar to a dwarf slayer. You’ll also have Skaven – ahem! – rat-men, goblins, and dwarves duking it out in the underground, a scantily clad dark elf witch, among others. Derivative is a kind way to put it. There are some unique additions, however… the cannon with arms and legs was unexpected, to say the least. He reminds me very much of Goat Simulator’s microwave class – which, for the uninitiated looks like a microwave with legs.
The basic plotline is similarly derivative. From what I can piece together, dwarves want to move back into their ancestral home and have hired the warband to clear out the riff-raff like a landlord clearing out their unpaying tenants. That’s because everybody knows that in no fantasy universe do dwarves have anything better to do. I’d know more about the plot here, however every time I wanted to read beyond the initial page of expository text, I would press ‘A,’ which typically moves things along in Switch games. Except in Demon’s Rise, where it skips all text completely. EVERY TIME. Maybe it’s my fault for not overcoming habits developed by playing every other switch game I’ve played, but I think maybe the developers bear some responsibility for breaking the unspoken rule of game development – use similar buttons for similar functions, lest the players grow discontent.
While we’re on the subject, the button scheme and UI appear to be poorly designed overall. For example, pressing ‘B’ once during your turn will end your turn, irrespective of where you are in the turn order. I have, more than once, accidentally tapped ‘B’ at the beginning of my turn and suddenly lost the whole turn. This problem was solved ages ago in 4x games, where if any actions were left (i.e., movement or attacks), a warning would appear. Again, though, maybe it’s my fault for accidentally pressing buttons. That doesn’t take away from the lack of labels in the UI, the unnecessary number of extra clicks to do things like use a special ability, or failure to explain any of what the numbers/bars mean.
That said, the premise of the game is fairly straight forward. You lead your merry band of misfits (mine including the aforementioned scantily clad elf, a skeleton, the cannon monstrosity, a gnomish sword golem, a demon-ghoul-thing, and a mini-dragon) into the deep to begin the clearing process. There are a good number of potential champions from which to choose, but these are all named champions… it almost felt like choosing a MOBA avatar to play, rather than generic units to add to a warband. I prefer the latter, but you can’t have everything.
Difficulty ramped up fairly quickly after the introductory chapter, but the number of levels per chapter also diminished by nearly half (9 in Chapter 1 and 5 in all subsequent chapters). Difficulty was primarily a measure of enemy hit points, their damage, and whether or not and the type of skills they used in combat. I don’t know if the number of enemies increased across difficulty but I can say that enemy spam was prevalent as level numbers went up. A surprising and annoying, if somewhat welcome feature was spawning enemies which increased the sense of urgency in a level. It felt like a single-player board game in that sense, but I found it spiced up gameplay somewhat.
Between battles, the player can return to town, which is reminiscent of the old Wizardry games, where “town” was just a several-option menu. You’ll be able to go back into the dungeon, explore the dungeon (which seems to be non-story driven combat missions, although I didn’t explore this option), buy equipment, equip equipment, go to the temple, or hire on different warband members. I have no idea what the temple does. I had favor and blew money there, which said I earned blessings… except no documentation ever indicated what the blessings were or how I might use them.
Near as I can tell, all equipment in the game is available in the item shop, for the right price. On one hand, it’s nice to equip my skele-dude with the artifact-level great sword of goblin colonoscopies. On the other hand, I think the developers missed an opportunity for progression here. Progression does, in fact, feel limited in some ways. Each battle does yield experience, which leads to expected character level-ups over time. I will say those level-ups feel impactful, but progression was otherwise lackluster.
As a quick final note, janky movements (with animations clearly desynced from creatures’ movements) and bugs were noticeable. Not game-breaking, but things like the screen would not stop moving after I stopped pressing the stick to move would become irritating over time.
All in all, I wouldn’t classify Demon’s Rise: War for the Deep as an abomination. Despite all of the above complaints, there were times when I genuinely had fun. They were not frequent, but they did happen. Demon’s Rise is plagued by design choices and poor implementation and frankly could have been a great game with some important changes and polishing. We could spend all day on what could have been, however, so we all want to know – who is this game for? I’d recommend it for someone hard up for a tactical combat game, but not really anyone else. I understand that game development is hard, but this one is a miss, for sure.
A game key was provided for this review.
COMPARE TO: Mordheim: City of the Damned, Fantasy General