Demeo hands-on: Dungeons and Dragons for the rest of us
Dungeons and Dragons is one of those experiences I've often considered but had never undertaken. Over the years, I've played card games like Magic the Gathering, taken part in several Everquest and World of Warcraft LAN parties, and, yet, something as ubiquitous as Dungeons and Dragons has, somehow, always eluded my grasp. I don't know if it's the deep commitment that D&D players often find themselves agreeing to — my own brother has a regular D&D group he plays with — or the huge rulebook that seems to change all the time; it's just never been part of my routine.
Demeo threatens to change all of that — in a very good way, of course — by bringing the feel of Dungeons and Dragons to the world of VR, creating a board game atmosphere in a virtual basement where you and three other teammates can delve deep into dungeons without the need for a commute or a massive commitment. It's Dungeons and Dragons for the rest of us, if you will.
Resolution Games, the developer of Demeo, gave me the opportunity to take part in a virtual hands-on session of the game last week. As I joined two of the game's developers and another gaming journalist for an hour of my day, I found that Demeo more than just piqued my interest; it called to me in a way that turn-based RPGs haven't in ages, and it left me longing for more.
While I played it on the Oculus Quest 2 for this play session, future versions of Demeo will support both VR and "pancake" PC gaming simultaneously, meaning you and all your PC gaming friends can take part in a brilliant experience, whether they want to join in VR or not. If you're planning on playing longer in VR, the best Quest 2 accessories will make those extended sessions much more comfortable.
Demeo Realistic expectations
In the hour-long play session, we finished almost two dungeons, meaning you can probably expect around half an hour per dungeon. The exception is, of course, if you want to clear out the entire dungeon or explore all of its secrets before leaving. Demeo starts players off together at the entrance of the dungeon, tasked with finding the key that will unlock the door — both of which are placed at a random point in the dungeon. Each player's board piece is chosen ahead of time and represents one of four traditional RPG classes.
Each dungeon is procedurally generated, and enemies are placed in a random fashion, as well, similar to roguelike or roguelite games. Players start off with a deck of cards, which are also randomized in the beginning but can be customized in subsequent rounds. You can purchase cards at the end of each dungeon by using the gold you've earned from killing enemies and finding treasures. You'll find these cards in your hand by holding your palm upward, just as you would a proper deck of cards in your actual hand.
Each player is allowed to take two actions per turn, typically consisting of one move and one special attack during the hands-on. Moving and attacking is considered one turn though, so you can sling together a few different types of actions to make the most of each turn. Like many board games or turn-based RPGs, Demeo's dungeons feature a grid on the floor that better tracks the distance a player's piece can move. Pieces are picked up and placed in the desired spot, just as you would expect in a board game. You'll even roll a 20-sided die after each action to see how successful the move you made will be.
I recorded part of the second dungeon during the hands-on, which you can watch unedited below. My voice wasn't recorded for some reason, so you won't hear me.
Demeo Bring your friends, no basement required
Demeo is designed as a more social way of playing multiplayer games, which, all too often, devolve into individual-focused experiences that just so happen to take place on the same field as other people. In my experience, too many gamers in multiplayer games — especially shooters — end up playing more like lone wolves than part of a pack. Demeo's slower, more tactical gameplay and its focus on huddling around a table — complete with open-air communication — make it feel like you're actually playing the same game with other people.
That feeling of standing around a table brings similar advantages and disadvantages as their real-time counterparts. For instance, after only a few minutes of playing, my neck began to hurt from all the looking down. While this can also happen with a real-life version of Dungeons and Dragons — or any board game, for that matter — Resolution Games developed a simple way to correct this problem: tilting your in-game view of the board. A simple up or down flick of either thumbstick will tilt the board so that, instead of looking down, you're now looking forward at a more top-down view of the board.
The rotation happens in small angles, so you can tilt it as much or as little as you'd like to relieve any neck straight. During the hands-on session, the developers joked that they now have the strongest necks in the world, and I can see why. While this mechanic is brilliant, I was saddened by the fact that tilting the board turns the room around the board black. This is done to keep people from feeling sick, as the room around the board looks a lot like a basement when the board is at a normal angle.
In fact, I absolutely loved the feeling of sitting around a table in a basement with friends, playing D&D. It felt authentic in every way and, more than once, I felt myself wanting to lean onto the table for a closer look at the characters, or just to relax a bit while waiting for my turn. Demeo, like a normal board game, is best played when seated for several reasons, although you can certainly play while standing if you prefer.
I spent the entirety of the hour-long hands-on sitting in my office chair, as I had previously stood through the tutorial and first playthrough. Between the two sessions, I found sitting was more the comfortable way to play. There's nothing wrong with standing the entire time — people do this when they play pool or other games like that — but a game that's strategic and turn-based like Demeo just feels like it makes more sense from the comfort of a chair.
If you're worried about how uncomfortable it would be to lean over a giant virtual table just to reach for your piece, don't be. Demeo's controls allow players to rotate the table, pull themselves through the world, and even grow or shrink themselves to the size that's most comfortable. This is all done in a natural way that makes sense in a world of pinching-and-zooming.
You'll see players huddled around the table — represented by a mask and a pair of hands — at the exact size they've made themselves. Whether it's looking down at a tiny 2ft x 2ft board or shrinking yourself down, so your hero piece is as large as your face, being able to get in and get the best point of view is incredibly helpful when playing with others. The best part is, because of the way Resolution Games has designed the masks, other players' hands and faces won't get in the way.
Demeo Can't wait to delve in
After just an hour, I was totally hooked. I thought about Demeo for the rest of the day and couldn't wait to get as many of my friends in this game as possible. As an adult that has a family, a busy schedule, and finds it impossible to schedule even an hour to play games with friends some weeks, a game like Demeo feels like the perfect mix of accessibility and depth. I don't know about you, but most of my friends now live in several places throughout the country and the world, and it's simply not possible to regularly get together and play something like Demeo in real life.
The real crux of the experience, for me, was the sense of presence that Demeo delivers. I felt like I was actually in the room with these folks, strategizing and socializing in a way that previously only felt possible when meeting in real life. The regular keyboard and mouse PC version, when it launches, will certainly be missing that component because you lose a degree of sensory experience outside of VR but, I imagine, it will still be a great way to gather with friends outside of the confines of an actual basement hangout.
Resolution Games says it plans to keep Demeo regularly updated with new content, delivered in "book" format. The first content expansion, Realm of the Rat King, was teased on Twitter before the game's launch, showing that Resolution is committed to bringing plenty of upcoming free content. I've also seen users request features like the ability to be the dungeon master in a game, which would open up a whole new can of worms for multiplayer. Either way Resolution rolls it, the future looks bright for this dungeon crawler.
Gather 'round the table
Assemble your crew
Gather your friends for a four-player dungeon crawler that feels like nothing you've ever experienced before, thanks to the immersion of VR.
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