Developer: Stormfront Studios
Release Date: November 16, 2004
I like to pretend that everyone has played Dungeons and Dragons, partially because it is generally true and partially because it makes me feel slightly less like a geek. I also like to pretend that I have never read a D&D-based fantasy book because then I would have to admit that I am more of a geek than I like to think I am. Through a touch of luck and maybe a bit of finicky pickiness, I managed to dodge the geekdom bullets of the previous Dungeons and Dragons game, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, twisting and turning and avoiding game after game as they flew at me like a hail of bullets. Now perhaps that metaphor is a little too apt in that I finally and recently reached a point where I determined I no longer needed to dodge these fragments of geekdom and took this one square in the jaw. Did it hurt? Not so much and I do not feel any more of a geek than I previously did, but that doesn't say much, considering I review video games.
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is the newest game to bear the Dungeons and Dragons moniker. All at once, this name carries a bit of stigma as well as an inherent fan base, and both are generally well-deserved. Demon Stone follows your general hack-and-slash style of play and bears a bit of resemblance to LOTR: The Two Towers, probably because it's developed by the same people. The plot is likely to be the shining point in this title, as they had a professional writer do the dirty work, R.A. Salvatore a well-known writer among fantasy fans, mostly thanks to the Icewind Dale novels starring Drizzt Do'Urden. His writing style is a fairly logical option for a hack-and-slash game, as his stories embody the game type and are often full of thrilling adventure and fast-paced action.
Demon Stone's story is based entirely on the object from the game's title. This crystal was used in a ritual in order to trap two of the most powerful entities in the world, the idea being to leave them trapped together for eternity, stuck fighting their private war until the end of time. It would be a very boring story, however, if they did end up stuck there forever so instead of it being a flawless trapping, one of them was able to lead a small group of heroes to release them. The heroes, like the stereotypical bumbling buffoons they usually are, walk right in and break the crystal's hold on these otherworldly combatants, freeing them to wreak havoc on the world. Smooth move, morons.
The story carries the heroes on a winding trail of adventure from there, often pitting them against the most peculiar foes along the way, just to keep things interesting. The gameplay is fairly simple; there are three different characters that you can play as, and each has his or her own special abilities. The fighter is the most basic of the three, and his specialty lies in his physical superiority, and the mage gets magic. The rogue also has some strength, but to a lesser extent, but he gets some of the "counter" techniques, like jumping attacks and the like. Each of the characters gains abilities as his/her level progresses and as training points are spent on skills.
The only character where the skills made a large difference was the mage, as his directly increased the usefulness and potency of his primary mode of attack. As his skills improve, his magic does progressively more damage each time it is cast. One thing that disappointed me about the magic system was that the spells were ultimately the same: a single strike of color that does damage and not much else. At times, I wanted more variety with the magic and spell system (i.e., fireballs that affected large areas, creative spell combinations, etc.), but they did their intended jobs. That isn't to say that there was no diversity at all, as there were some non-damage-related magical options, like the entire set of sleep/hold spells that essentially held the creatures in place for a set amount of time, and the set of defensive spells that temporarily protected the party members.
Quite often, the game forced you to make use of a specific character, for some reason or other. It seemed that every stage had a part where you needed to control the mage to cast magical spells at enemy targets which were inaccessible to the other characters. In other parts, you had to use the rogue to stealthily approach and assassinate a handful of guards as you make your way to the entrance of an enemy stronghold. There were even rare occasions where you had to use the fighter, generally when you had to break some inanimate object for whatever reason. These were initially pretty interesting and fun to take part in, but once I realized that they took place in essentially the same manner on every stage, I began to grow weary. This game has a lot of repetition, and while they paint a different face on the same actions, it still got to be a bit tiresome.
Additionally, all three characters essentially have the same "type" of moves, which is somewhat of a non-issue, if it didn't feed into the whole repetition problem. For example, each has a chain with a high damage strike counter, intended for knocking down targets. The last of the three chains is generally the most useful, as 90% of the time, the combat took place somewhere with a ledge off of which you could knock an enemy (rivers, cliffs, lava pits, etc.).
The item system was a bit fun, as it allowed you to collect gold while out fighting, and the gold could be used to purchase new equipment, like flaming scimitars +4 and the sort, which you almost always vied for in the tabletop game but your GM probably never let you have. The hardest part I had with the items was the fact that I could not really tell what they were doing for me. Their effects were not terribly prominent, and there was no provided gauge or formula to let you know.
Despite the skills, items and tasks and occasional special abilities, the game was really just your basic adventure, which isn't really a bad thing, as those games tend to be fairly fun for a while. This one was entertaining, and the special maneuvers helped to keep things a little interesting, and I did enjoy the fact that I could switch between the three characters in the middle of a stage.
The terrible AI for the player characters was a bit troublesome. The AI was unable to perform the necessary tasks until the creatures had been cleared from the mage, but it also wasn't able to clear the enemies for me. which I cannot tend to because I have to see to a certain mage who needs help. This is one game that should have come with a multiplayer mode; despite the fact that my friends might be more clueless than the AI, at least I can tell them what to do.
The stage design was fairly well done and really struck me as a mix between my fondest roleplaying memories and a well-directed fantasy movie, which was achieved through interesting layouts and interactive environments. One example of that is when the trolls attack and you have to light your sword on fire in braziers full of flaming oil (trolls regenerate unless they are lit on fire). Other parts had enchanted items in the background assisting you in your fight, like suits of armor that attacked the enemies and bookshelves that hurled books at the targets. The events where you were interacting with the environments like that were far more entertaining than the rest of the general positions. However, these segments either did not last long or lasted way too long. I also really enjoyed the camera work, which would pan out and around, often showing large portions of the stage before swooping in to focus directly on the characters. This camera work really helped a lot with drawing me into the story and keeping my interest.
The graphics and character design were a bit unique, the overall appearance being more realistic than is generally expected from the genre. The personalities were a little cliché (i.e., the self-reliant female rogue who is frequently in trouble, the know-it-all mage who is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, and the relatively dim-witted fighter), but the creatures all looked great, again exceeding my expectations in terms of in-game graphics. The background generally looked realistic, and the dark hues gave the whole game a rather depressed, gothic feel.
By and large, the sound was good, and the voice acting is among some of the better that I have heard. The music was fairly standard epic symphonic music and really didn't strike me as good or bad. The sound effects were pretty decent and sounded fleshy enough, but it also gets a bit tiring after hearing the same line repeated over and over again.
The game had strong audio and graphical components, which create a cinematic feel, and while it does not have the best gameplay I have seen, it is far from bad. The story is well done and is fairly engaging, especially if you are already a fan of Salvatore's writings. Mix all of this with the length of the game (about four or five hours for me), and you have a strong rental and possible purchase for fans of the genre or D&D.
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