Return 2 Games (Return2Games.com) is a new initiative by Polish developer ThingTrunk. Essentially, these guys are trying to reimaging classic games for a new audience, while paying homage and tweaking the design to make it their own. The first target is one of Blizzard’s greatest triumphs. But let’s call it… The Book of Demons.
The parallels to Diablo are obvious, and tongue in cheek, but lovingly done. ThingTrunk isn’t poking fun at Blizzard, they’re paying homage to them. The “Sage” in town with all the wisdom sounds almost identical to Deckard Caine, and the only dungeon you’ll traipse through lies beneath the town cathedral which goes deeper and deeper until you’re in hell and facing the devil himself. Sound familiar?
The visuals are true to the game’s overall presentation. Return 2 Games, and The Book of Demons are all about “going back to classic stories” through the portal of an old book in a mystical library. Ergo, the world and its characters and monsters are all basically paper dolls with limited animations. They’re like puppets, really. If you’ve played Paper Mario, you’ll get the idea. Your hero (there will be three classes at launch: warrior, ranger, mage) walks bounces along through dungeon paths, breaking barrels, looting items, and destroying enemies you happen upon.
You don’t freely wander and run all over, rather you’re on a set path, and can attack or interact with anything your character can see. You’re on rails, but you’re in control: you can move forward back, choose which direction to go when you come to an intersection, etc. I didn’t think I would like it, but ultimately it’s not very different from complete freedom of movement. You’re still able to see and interact with everything, your character just doesn’t move around as much.
Combat is pretty unique too: due to the movement, you can attack essentially anything within your “circle of light” (think fog of war). So even though you may not be a ranger attacker, you can still swipe away at the skeleton from across the room. It’s necessary too, because when the enemies close in on you they can quickly whittle away your health.
As you play and explore the procedurally generated floors of the dungeon, you’ll loot cards that give you various effects. Some will be spells or abilities, while others will be gear that give you beneficial effects. A suit of armor might let you drop hearts to refill health when you’re hit, a shield may have a 50% chance to deflect projectiles, etc. These gear cards use mana – your only resource for spells and equipping gear cards. And as you level, like Diablo, you can put points either into health of mana.
You start with just a few card slots, but as you progress, you use the gold earned from clearing dungeon floors to purchase more slots, eventually having an army of choices at your disposal. In town you can identify cards, upgrade their effectiveness, buy refills of potions (also used as cards), and talk to the townsfolk about various story and lore points. As you play through the game, not only does your character level, but so does your “Return 2 Games” account, getting various titles, profile pictures, and climbing leaderboards all its own. It’s clear that ThingTrunk has really though out not only Book of Demons, but the entire 7-book series they’re affectionately packaging as R2G.
There’s a load of replayability here as the dungeons are fully procedurally generated, and you can customize their length from short little bursts to long epic adventures – the longer and harder they are, the more rewards you’ll receive. I can’t wait to see the final product, play the other classes, and see just how well the core game loop of tackling dungeons with my own deck of cards holds up. I went into Book of Demons with zero expectations except knowing the looks from trailers. I cannot overstate how pleasantly surprised I was to find a full ARPG packed in this neat little $15 package.
Book of Demons is live on Steam’s Early Access today, and it’s far more polished and fun than most games in Early Access to boot. I recommend giving it a shot, and we’ll have our final review when it’s officially complete later this year.