Demise: Rise of the Ku'tan
Windows - 2000
Description of Demise: Rise of the Ku'tan
Eye of the Beholder IV?
That's the first thing that came to mind as I descended into the dungeons for my first time. Demise promises to provide countless hours of real-time action in as many large dungeons. So the question that comes to mind, is there room enough for a game like this? Sadly, in my opinion the answer is no, and what follows was roughly 60 hours of complete frustration.
Demise in all fairness had rather auspicious beginnings. Originally the company producing it was VB Designs. The title is a sequel to a very popular shareware/freeware game, Mordor (also developed by David Allen), which offered an extensive interface to Rogue -type (text-based dungeon crawling) games. After picking up the title for publication, a rift took place between VB Designs and Interplay. David Allen, head of VB Designs, broke off the contract and funded the entire project on his own forming the company Artifact Entertainment. What results is a game that was approximately six years in the making, will take a lot of time to complete, and is only available for order from the company website.
Demise takes place in the city of Dejenol, a sizable city that provides safety for all adventurers, but all was not well here. Dejenol, blessed with a deep dungeon, was destroyed by the dungeon's denizens, forcing the city's army to seal it off. Only recently had it been unsealed to allow adventurers back in. Demise starts you in the city of Dejenol and your first meeting with Lord Gherrick. Gherrick charges you with the task of discovering the source of slavery down below. This is the first of a series of quests. With each completed quest, Gherrick assigns you another one. The quests bring you ever closer to discovering the source of the attacks that originates within the dungeon.
The city provides a guild hall, morgue, bulletin board, store, bank, confinement, and a seer. The guild hall is where characters go to gain levels within their guild or to switch guilds. There is one guild for each class, and these offer specific skills and spells that may be trained. The morgue is where you would go to resurrect characters or send rescuers to find lost characters in your party (although it should be noted that I never got this feature to work no matter what I tried). The bank is a good place to not only store money, but items as well. This is important given when you die down in the dungeon it is possible to loose everything. The seer helps you locate a lost character, an obscure item, or that monster you're quested to kill. Beware with the seer though, as it may take more than one try to get accurate information from him. The Confinement room allows you to buy and sell monsters you acquire in the dungeon. You can also have them bound to your party. Take care with monsters, however, they can turn on you if they become unhappy. A bulletin board in town offers bounties for lost items or monsters slain. In multiplayer it becomes a central meeting place where players may leave notes to one another, or offer items for trade.
Demise features 12 character classes with 9 different races. Each of these races has their own distinct strengths and weakness ranging from ability to breathe underwater, improved eyesight, height (makes a difference with the game camera), and what guilds they have the ability to join. The classes (Demise refers to them as guilds) range from Warrior, Ninja, and Thief all the way to Cleric, Sorcerer, and Magi. Strangely enough, there is little in the way of reference within the game manual as to what exactly these classes do. Even stranger was the alignment choices afforded to some of these classes.
One in particular is the cleric guild, which only allows characters of neutral alignment to join. I found this strange as clerics generally promote any of the three major alignments.
One other thing to note: some guilds cannot be joined immediately when a character is created. Warlock and cleric are the two major ones that I noticed. I find it odd that one cannot create a cleric immediately considering this is a base class in every other role playing game out there.
That all aside, there are plenty of combinations to be had, and having tried many of them, I can safely say there is plenty of diversity. In single player mode, you can create a party of up to 4 characters. Characters gain levels through either killing monsters or unlocking trapped chests. In order to join those guilds you couldn't initially, a character can boost their attributes through potions or tomes that can be found in the dungeon. Advancing levels in Demise not only gives your characters extra hitpoints, but also boosts their skills and allows them to learn new spells. From time to time, a guild will give your characters a quest. These quests typically come in the form of killing a monster, finding an item, or bringing back a monster as a companion.
Demise also allows you to switch guilds during the life of your character. This is much like the dual class feature of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. When you switch guilds, you still retain the abilities from the previous guild, however you do take on an experience penalty that depends upon the level of the guild(s) that you came from. Generally, the larger the difference, the greater the experience penalty.
The Dungeon Crawl Begins
You're done creating your party and you entered the dungeon for the first time. You make a couple turns in the dungeon, looking for your first creature to beat up on. You stumble across a couple green slimes and you want to attack. Here's where my second difficulty comes into play. The controls are not intuitive.
In other games, it is common to click on the target monster to attack, or even press the 'a' key to attack. In Demise, the key appears to be 'f' (making me wish there was a reference card for this game). I finally enter the combat and the battle is over fairly quickly. But this brings me to another problem I have with the real time nature of the combat.
There is no turn-based mode for the combat in Demise. If you want to stop the combat to make new choices, another key combination comes into play: shift-p. Once paused, you can make whatever choices you can for the spellcasters. However, after making choices for the spell casters, they will continually repeat the same spell request for the rest of the combat. Everything is generally automatic. The only way to stop them from casting the spells is to either win the battle or pause the combat again and switch the caster's actions. This seems to be a rather awkward way to handle combat. What would've made the combat system better was a turn based system similar to that of Might and Magic. Might and Magic has perhaps the best interface for handling real-time/turn based combat.
The interface difficulties don't stop there, however, it's very easy to lose information. In the upper-left corner, is your character portrait which lists your current hit points and spell points. Your characters attack, defense, spell abilities are listed here as well as your age (yes your characters can die of old age!). There are several buttons underneath the portrait that allow you to view the character's resistances, and abilities. Unfortunately, item information also shows up in this pane, precluding access to character information. It gets cumbersome switching between the displays as the item controls are located at the bottom of the screen.
The map is typically in the bottom center of the screen, but can itself be obscured by item information, spell lists, and nearby characters. There are two different message boxes on the right side. One reports combat messages while the other reports character messages. Unfortunately, there's no scrollbar for the combat messages, so often times I'm left to wonder exactly what transpired during combat. This is especially bad when you're fighting roughly thirty monsters at once.
One omission that bothered me a great deal was what to do with monsters that wanted to join the party. Neither the online help nor the manual addresses how to get monsters to join your party if they want to join. I experimented some and found out it was the 'j' key that allowed them to join.
Did this Game Really Get Released in Year 2000?
After seeing the graphics on Demise and hearing the sound effects that came into play, I really had to wonder about this one. It is true that Demise sports a 3D graphics with support for Open GL, Direct 3D, and software mode. It is true that the graphics are three dimensional, in an Eye of the Beholder sort of fashion. The graphics are cell based 3D, outdated by almost six years or so. I prefer Might and Magic 's graphics to that of this game. At least Might and Magic is true 3D.
The sound effects are at best inconsistent. The voices for the characters are passable as they run into walls, get diseased, shout for help, and even die. The ambient sounds do a good job of leading one to believe they are in an expansive dungeon. However, the sounds of the party being hit by monsters made me scratch my head. If my party gets hit by a pack of slaves, it sounds like electrical buzzing. If monster offers to join, I hear this high pitched, barely audible voice saying as such.
The music however is of good quality, playing directly off the CD. My only complaint about this music of this type is that it triggers pauses in the middle of gameplay. This can cause a great deal of problems if you're in a hurry to get back to the city and your hitpoints are rapidly draining away while being poisoned.
What About the Gameplay?
Gameplay is fairly simplistic. There is no story line to bog the game down, and all it boils down to is one long dungeon crawl. The official website for Demise wasn't kidding when it said the first 5 levels alone could draw more than 100 hours from the player. I played the game for nearly 60 and just barely reached level 6 of the dungeon. As if that wasn't enough, I ran into some bug after having my party scattered by a teleporter. What happened after I got two of my characters back to town was that I lost most of the characters on the character list and was reduced to three characters! The other 7 I created disappeared from the disk, never to be seen again. The frustration made me want to yank the CD and break it in two. [This is a common gameplay feature of ***Rogue***-type games, once a character dies and you no longer have a corpse to regenerate it in the morgue, the character becomes permanently dead and can no longer be used in the game. Somewhat forced role-playing. A work around is to copy the save file regularly to a new directory while characters are alive, and then recopy them back if this occurs - a pain, I know! - Ed.]
The other issue with gameplay is that often times, the game is just run in and beat up a bunch of monsters and run back to the surface. Getting to the lower levels can take time as one must always fight their way through to get there. There are ways to shorten the trip downward, but there is no efficient way to descend further into the dungeon that I'm aware of. If running from them is necessary, all you need do is make it through that doorway. For some reason, they wont go through doorways at all. [Teleport scrolls later on in the game should allow you to come back to town and go back into the dungeon at the level you were, which may be quite deep. - Ed.]
Other annoying bugs have to do with frequent pauses that take place in-game and the abysmal frame-rates that can happen as you go along. I've had the game bog down severely on level 4 of the dungeon where I was approaching an underground swamp. I'm on an Athlon 550 and not even Flight Sim 2000 bogs my CPU this badly. The game turns into slide show on a primitive graphics system.
Another bad design decision centers on the lack of an in-game save feature. There is a backup system where you can backup the game files (and characters with it). The caveat to this is that it'll shut down the game in order to accomplish this. Nearly every role-playing game out there has an in-game save feature, and it's inexcusable for Demise to not include one.
On the other hand, if you like power leveling and going on a mindless kill-spree, then Demise is perfect. There are a lot of monsters to be had. Each monster appears to be a 3D model, and there are a lot of different models for each monster. There are plenty of character stats, many of which can be modified by a book or potion. Demise allows you to switch guilds mid-game to another guild (great if you build up a mindless warrior and suddenly want to give him spells to work with).
Demise provides a Master Server (ala Gamespy) that allows you to join another server for multiplayer or you can run a server yourself. While player killing isn't allowed, cooperative play is encouraged. Demise also provides for player communications, allowing players to converse with one another on the server. This is where the game does get interesting as you work with friends to descend into the dungeon and reap the spoils of that hard fought battle. Parties could work with other parties to break into the tougher levels and try to keep each other alive. This is one of Demise's saving graces in my opinion.
So what does Demise set out to accomplish? Is it a role-playing game? The answer is no. It's largely a mindless dungeon crawl where the point it to kill most anything that moves. Does it have exploration and discovery? Yes, there is a ton of that going on in Demise 's massive 45 x 45 square levels. The advertisement card that came with my reviewer's copy was funny. It said it came with the best of every role-playing game. Only here, Demise didn't come with a story-line, the role-playing, or even decent graphics.
If you want a role-playing game, stick with Fallout, Balder's Gate, or Planescape. If you want a game that's a worthy Eye of the Beholder sequel, or a game that's just a simple dungeon crawl where power-leveling is the rule, then Demise is perfect. It honestly depends on what you expect out of Demise. This game has a number of design flaws and a couple potentially nasty bugs. While this game would've been great if it were released three years ago and with fewer bugs, its not worth the fifty dollar price tag that it asks for now. This is very pricey for a game that should've only gone for $20.
Review By GamesDomain
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