Players guide three distinct heroes through the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lands known as the Forgotten Realms, to correct a mistake and perhaps save the world in the process. By accidentally meddling in an age-old feud between two powerful, demonic hordes, the player's characters have allowed both abysmal armies into our plane of existence. Now the noble characters are honor-bound to make amends, and banish the demons from Faerun once more.
The player directly controls one of the three characters and can switch between them at nearly any time. These characters represent the fundamental AD&D archetypes: the burly fighter, who can take at least as much punishment as he dishes out; the agile rogue, who can pick locks and sneak about for surprise attacks; and the resourceful sorcerer, who specializes in a variety of ranged combat spells. Demon Stone is designed to call on the diverse abilities of each of these three characters, so using the right hero for the right job is an important part of play.
Characters gain experience and new abilities as they progress through the adventure, but Demon Stone players won't spend as much time number-crunching as they might in other AD&D games. Most of the statistical arithmetic that drives the combat system is applied behind the scenes. While Stormfront's collaboration with AD&D license holder Wizards of the Coast helps ensure that Demon Stone's rules system is accurate to the pen & paper standards, the focus of this game is squarely on the action.
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is not the developer's first hack-and-slash console RPG. EA Games' well-received The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, based on the Peter Jackson film, was also designed by the studio. Stormfront's previous work with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons license yielded a series of home computer games in the early 1990s, as well as 2001's Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.
The Forgotten Realms have inspired more than a few successful computer RPGs that come immediately to mind, the best including Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate. Demon Stone features a story from the mind of R.A. Salvatore, the author of several best-selling Forgotten Realms fantasy novels. The game appropriately treats its setting with respect, and fans should enjoy the plot. However, don't be fooled: Demon Stone is substantially different from its predecessors, a cross between an RPG and a straight-ahead brawler that is paralyzed by the ghoul of linearity.
In Demon Stone you'll guide three heroes -- a fighter, a rogue, and a sorcerer -- through 10 chapters situated in various locations throughout Faerun. Rannek the fighter excels in power attacks and defense. Zhai, a half-Drow rogue, can use the shadows to become invisible and execute deadly backstabs. The sorcerer, Illius, the game's main missile man, can fling spells from a distance and is absolutely vital to dealing with most bosses. Each are outcasts from their societies, and are guided by some unknown force into breaking the Demon Stone, a relic that imprisoned two powerful entities who are each capable of conquering Faerun. Rannek, Zhai, and Illius are tasked with finding a new Demon Stone and entrapping the pair again, a mission that will require kicking a LOT of monster ass.
If you've ever played Stormfront's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Demon Stone plays in a very similar manner. Each of the game's 10 chapters are comprised of an assortment of fighting arenas: bad guys will pop up, and they'll need to be dealt with in order to proceed. The levels occur all over Faerun, and while most of them are relatively obscure locations, one of them couldn't be better known to fans of the Forgotten Realms. The battle for Mithril Hall in the frozen north is unforgettable, and allows players to take control of the beloved Drow, Drizzt Do'Urden.
Each arena is unique and has features that must be capitalized upon in order to cut the overwhelming odds facing the trio of heroes. For instance, in one fight, bridges have to be cut in order to prevent lots of reinforcements from entering the battle. In the fight for Mithril Hall, players have to dip their swords in flame before dispatching invading trolls permanently. Some levels have a lot of shadows that make Zhai a killing machine. Each character has a move meant to push foes back, which is handy if the area directly behind the foe happens to be a gaping chasm or a fireplace.
The game's presentation is topnotch. Most of the voice acting is excellent, and the score is stirring and dramatic. It took a bit of tweaking to get the game to work well on my system; the settings defaulted to the lowest possible resolution and refresh rate, which is downright unplayable. However, the graphics are beautiful, and there's so much eye candy going on in the background that you'll be hard pressed to concentrate on the foes you're supposed to be attacking. The motion capture is brilliant and fluid. I especially got a kick out of seeing Drizzt's special attack, which I swear could be the Drow's patented double-thrust low.
You control one character at a time in Demon Stone, and can change that character on the fly. While you control one, the other two are guided by the A.I., which is both a blessing and a curse. The A.I. is very proficient in keeping characters alive. When the character I was controlling was low on hit points, I'd often switch to another to continue the combat. The A.I. would defend itself better than I could, and grabbed health icons without fail. However, the A.I. doesn't understand the primary objective of whatever level you're on, especially during boss battles. If the mission is to blast faraway bad guys and you're not controlling the sorcerer, don't expect the sorcerer to concentrate on the mission. The A.I. brawls, and does it well; if you want anything else done, you've got to do it yourself.
What kills Demon Stone is its linear plotline. There are very few instances where you have a choice in anything. There are no conversation trees that could take the plot in different directions, nor are there ways to use tactics to avoid battles rather than just barging in. There are certain levels where the better Zhai is utilized, the fewer opponents you have to face, but aside from that, you've got very little say on what happens to your characters.
Character progression is limited as well. After each chapter, you'll be able to upgrade the abilities and equipment of the heroes. However, your ability to purchase those feats and items far outweighs the selection available. It's not a matter of carefully picking your feats in order to maximize your chosen play style with a certain character. You simply choose every feat available.
Things are a little better on the equipment side of things. You're able to tweak your weapons with blessings, defense enchantments, poison, and the like. However, there's no indication of exactly how those enchantments are actually working. How is a frost blade different from an electricity blade? Is there really a big difference between a +3 staff and a +5 staff? How much better is a Robe of the Archmagi than a Robe of Scintillating Colors?
One of the most aggravating features of Demon Stone is the inability to skip past the cutscenes. They feature some great writing and voice acting, but any chapter is made up of at least four or five of them, and if you happen to die, you have to start the level over either from the beginning or its midpoint. Players are strapped in for the ride, unable to skip past dialogue with which they're already familiar.
Hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans might appreciate the care and devotion paid to the setting of Demon Stone, but shouldn't expect any of its actual mechanics. There are no d20s rolling in the background, no armor classes to keep track of, and no critical hits to celebrate. So if you're looking for an interpretation of the actual D&D game, look to the previous Forgotten Realms games.
Fans of the Forgotten Realms books written by R.A. Salvatore will find a lot to like about Demon Stone. There's a decent plot, and the game's fantastic graphics really make you feel like you're in Faerun. And for a brawler, it's a very playable game. However, compared to other games, it's more like an interactive movie. You buy the ticket, you take the ride. And despite how cool the ride was, once it's over, you can't help but lament how short it was, and how it wouldn't be any different the next time.
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