More Slaad?!

Starting a new game less than a month away from the big exams is a big no-no. Playing the game and beating it in one [whole] day, esp if that that particular day is the only time you’ll ever be as free in a long time to come is a bigger no-no. Guilty as charged.
BUT look on the bright side. I introduce you now, to the three heroes, Rannek the fighter, Ilius the sorcerous Knight of Silverymoon and Zhai, the half-drow, half-Wood-Elf rogue who kept me company throughout the journey to find that blasted Demon Stone.

I played Demon Stone a few years back when it just came out on Ben’s PS2. Damn fun. We finished the game and all but I guess I never quite lived down the hasty departure of never ever seeing it again. So when I saw Demon Stone at a bargain price of $0, I just HAD to get it. As I mentioned, it should be considered an old game now, and if my aged and senile Geforce 7300 can handle it, it should probably run on any computer that’s coal and steam powered.
Have you heard of the Forgotten Realms? [You probably haven’t. They’re called “forgotten for a reason!] It’s an awesome way to waste time. A loosely bound set of stories and mythologies that connect different planes of existence canonically, initially in a series of board and die games, and more recently, in PC/console games. There’re also a LOT of books, typically more entertaining than the others in the Tolkien-infested/influenced high-fantasy genre. I generally don’t like high fantasy, but Forgotten Realms is da bomb, trust me. It’s a bit on the kiddie side: a lot of noble ideas, no shades of grey and all, but overall the story arcs tie in very well. In fact, most of the fun is in the cameos. When characters, especially legendary characters, weave in and out and every other story. One of the kickass guys is Drizzt Do’urden. Man, this guy is the stuff of legends. [right Boo?] He’s the kind of hero even the good guys only speak of in hushed whispers. I digress though; Drizzt is an awesome charater, but that’s not whom the post is about.

Demon Stone is a departure from the party/inventory management, isometric top-down view of the traditional Baldur’s Gate series. It’s have been great if it was, but it’s not too shabby the way it is; an action-RPG hybrid using the same engine as the LOTR non-strategy games.
I really love game engines that do what they’re supposed to do and well, never mind the quality of the graphics. And Demon Stone’s engine, the LOTR engine, is really good at that. Even in LOTR, there would be hundreds of orcs onscreen and you’re hacking away, button mashing with the occasional skilled combos, and the framerate never lets up. That, to me, is singularly impressive. Demon Stone is no exception. Tons of enemies pretty awesome framerate; and unlike in the LOTR games, the characters also look good in closeup cutscenes.

As befits a Forgotten Realms game, there’s an epic plot to…wait for it…save the world. But this time round, the story is written by none other than the legendary RA Salvatore, creator of the above-mentioned Drizzt character. Whenever you hear Salvatore is manning the plot, step back and consider your project a success even if it hasn’t begun. That’s how good he is. Which is why Demon Stone is disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. The story is good, the character development is gradual and convincing, the quest is epic, the locales visited are exotic [made into a visual feast by a wonderful engine]…in fact it’s so good that the ending maybe 5-6hours into the game will make you go mad. It’s too good for that length to be enough man. It’s so good it got an award! You almost wonder if he wrote the story while taking a coffee break from other Drizzt adventures.

As I mentioned, the action RPG gameplay does away with the meticulous inventory and party management of the Infinity Engine games. Now your party is decided for you. Rannek, Ilius and Zhai. A typical well-rounded party for any situation. The unique gameplay feature is that you can switch around to different characters anytime during the gameplay. Once you switch the other two are automagically controlled by a pretty strong AI that’s more defensive than you’ll ever be. I frequently switched out when the character I was using was low on health, and within a minute, this character has stayed alive and gotten health back up to boot.
You can play favourites in the game, choosing to use one character most of the time, except when specifically required to use the other characters, but the beauty of the game mechanics can only be truly appreciated if you switch around strategically, even when you don’t need to. Each charcter has different abilities.

Similar to the LOTR games, the developers have thought it unnecessary to give you camera contol or at least a follow-cam. Instead, each region of a map has a specific camera angle associated with it and your directions will change accordingly. Normally this would be very confusing and irritating, and it is sometimes, but for the most part, it’s excusable if only because they have given you awesome vistas and background foreground action that you can make out peripherally. it’s really nice sometimes to get the feeling that tehre’s fighting not just where you’re fighting but in the whole area in general.

Rannek is an all-out brawler. His gaudy sword swing in 250-degree arcs each time and his hits get very powerful as you level up. In general, you can go wrong with Rannek at the helm. He’s a living tank. He also picks up an item from the first boss that gives him the ability to smash through obstacles. This ability is necessary for certain quests. The dumb part about the “powerful” smash is that, it can breack through boulders but can’t kill a low-level mob even if you connect. Pretty dumb, that.
Ilius, a human sorceror, is the magic user of the group. In the Forgotten Realms, there is a stark difference between sorceror and mage in that mages are students of magic but sorcerors are magical beings innately. Sorcerors don’t require a mana pool, so very conveniently Ilius has the power of magic with no limitations! You’ll never run out of spells, per se. He’s quite weak physically anyway so if not for the spells, he’s a siting duck. Ilius only has a a few spells at his disposal but you can level them up. This dearth of spells should be a turn-off for most fantasy gamers, but you must realise there is no way to implement a deep realtime magic casting system with only limited buttons [game was meant for consoles too!]. From the looks of it though, you only need a couple of the spells to hold your own. Since the party will almost never be split up, Ilius is perfectly fine fulfilling a ranged caster role, with little or no melee activity. Ilius’ special ability is the ability to blow things up remotely…but gameplay wise this ability is similar to Rannek’s, just that Ilius doesn’t have to stand in one place and charge up the strike. Still, it’s too crowded when 2 of your 3 characters’ special abilities do pretty much the same thing.
And finally Zhai. I have fallen in love with this little half-drow. She’s a rogue-thief kinda character, so expect lots of slinking and dirty kills. [Only] When you control Zhai, shadowed areas of the map twinkle mysteriously and when you enter them you become invisible. You stay invisible for a short time even when you leave the twinkly area and you can upgrade abilities and equipment that allows you to stay hidden longer. If you’re hidden you obviously get to sneak past enemies, but the combat counterpart of this ability to perform a hidden strike from behind. Traditionally, in D&D rules, such an attack gives you an insane mulitplier on how much damage you do, but here, it an outright kill if you attack from behind when hidden. It takes skill, but once you master it, the weakest character in your party becomes a master assassin. Fun. Zhai’s special ability is to jump. it’s dumb, I know! But only she can reach elevated obstacles and pedestals.

Forgotten Realms has an amazing bestiary and Demon Stone features a few of the more exotic ones. Yuan Ti, Githyanki, Slaad, and even a dragon. Yeap you get to fight a dragon! You know? Red in colour, 3 stories tall, flying, firebreathing, bona fide dragon. Woohoo, I think the rest of the review is largely unnecessary at this point, don’t you?

I don’t like to post spoilers, so no story-mode comments. There’s no choices to be made so there’s no replay value, except to see how powerful your endgame weapons and abilities are, even in the beginning. Pwnage. There’s also unlockables, in hidden areas, so look out for those. But that’s it. Unless you really love fighting dragons, 8 hours tops and you have nothing left to do. And that’s a crying shame.
All in all, this is a rent-title. It’s a really good game, but for its length, it’s not worth buying it.

Here’s a link to the screenshots from the game. Enjoy!

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