Within the dominion of high fantasy, there are two staples upon which you can always rely. Running parallel are J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the Dungeons & Dragons universes--the former of which stays grounded thanks to a Victorian travelogue-level of mundane detail, and the latter of which benefits from a voluminous world and detailed mythos. A couple of years ago, Northern California-based developer Stormfront Studios established an accessible, enjoyable formula for melding the high-fantasy feel with visceral action in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and now it brings the same to the Dungeons & Dragons world. Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is a small evolutionary step above what Stormfront did with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and players who appreciate that brand of brute-force, hack-and-slash gameplay should find in it a great-looking and enjoyable, if somewhat familiar, experience.
Having already brought Tolkien to the game-playing masses, Stormfront has given D&D the action treatment.
A party of heroic characters that goes out on grand quests is the very bedrock of the Dungeons & Dragons experience--and, really, of all its high-fantasy ilk--and Demon Stone delivers this staple on multiple levels. The story begins years ago, when Slaad Lord Ygorl and the Githyanki General Sereka, the malevolent leaders of two powerful, destructive armies that have been fighting over the right to pillage the world of FaerÃ»n, find themselves imprisoned in a mystical Demon Stone by a clever wizard named Blackstaff. Now jump to the present, where three individual adventurers--Rannek the fighter, Illius the sorcerer, and Zhai the rogue--find themselves allied on a battlefield rife with orcs. Each is there with his or her own agenda, though upon entering the secret chamber that houses the Demon Stone and accidentally freeing the evil antagonists, the three find that their fates are intertwined. Consequently, they embark on a quest to re-imprison Ygorl and Sereka. The story is pretty archetypal, though the inclusion of two antagonists who are also at each other's throat is a nice one, and overall, the story's delivered quite well. The game uses nice, quick cutscenes to keep the story moving, and it usually manages to do so without disrupting the flow of the action too much.
D&D aficionados will be especially interested to know that Demon Stone was scripted by R.A. Salvatore, who has authored a vast number of novels based on the D&D world of Forgotten Realms. His familiarity with the subject matter is apparent, because he employs a great many characters and locales that those familiar with the Forgotten Realms universe will recognize.
Within this nicely established Dungeons & Dragons scenario, Demon Stone proceeds to hurl seemingly insurmountable numbers of foes at your party of three. Though the numbers can seem overwhelming, your party is more than capable of handling the workload. Melee combat is the primary means of taking out the bad guys, which mostly consists of a few three-button combos. However, as you play, you'll learn the nuances of the system, such as riposte and recovery moves, charged attacks, and the all-important coup de grÃ»ce move, which is great for finishing an enemy who has been knocked down but is threatening to get back on his or her feet. On top of the core combat, each character also has a ranged attack, a unique supermove, a team-up move that lets you call upon your teammates for a quick assist, and a screen-clearing team supermove. All of these actions are quite useful when the odds are heavily stacked against you. Once you get the hang of one character, the other two are pretty easy to adapt to, since all three share a lot of the same basic moves.
Of course, each has his or her own specific strengths too. Rannek's core melee moves are particularly brutal, and players will likely find him the easiest to use overall, because he doesn't require an incredible amount of finesse to use well. Illius the sorcerer possesses strength that resides in his ranged spells, which are more powerful than the other characters' ranged attacks, making them more useful for dispensing out-of-reach enemies. Zhai's stealth moves make her the most unique of the three, simply because her mechanics are unlike anything that either Rannek or Illius has. When playing as Zhai, you'll notice that shadowy areas are highlighted with a distinct speckled glow. If you move into a shadowed area for a second, you essentially become invisible for a short period of time. Save for a few specific instances, the game doesn't really demand that you sneak around your enemies a lot. However, when you're stealthed, you can creep up on unsuspecting enemies to execute them with single moves, which can be quite satisfying. The PC version of Demon Stone uses a slightly modified take on the standard first-person shooter keyboard-and-mouse controls by default, which works fairly well, though if you have a gamepad with an analog stick and an adequate number of buttons, the experience will feel a bit more streamlined.
Demon Stone eschews statistic-and-probability-driven gameplay for relentless hack-and-slash action.
While the game seems fairly friendly to basic button-mashing tactics in the beginning, it's quite necessary to understand the strengths and abilities of your party, which becomes apparent after the first few levels. Fortunately, Demon Stone does a pretty good job of introducing the basic combat tactics over the course of the first two levels. But even on the default difficulty, the game offers a respectable challenge, so know that if you have three or four trolls surrounding you, it won't take long for them to empty your health bar. The boss battles can also be particularly tough, as they tend to require some specific tactics that aren't always obvious, and they don't leave a lot of room for slop. Though the only hard save points in the game exist at the end of each level, Demon Stone breaks the levels up into nicely sized chunks. So in spite of the occasional tough fight, we rarely found ourselves having to replay more than five minutes of action after one of our characters expired.