While virtual reality is typically used as the bridge to fantastical extravagance, Demeo is much more humble in its ambition. Rather than thrusting the player into an outlandish, foreign reality, Demeo instead opts to recreate simple, but fond memories of huddling around a board game in your parents' basement. No giant swords to swing, no bows to aim—just character models to tactically move around a board, cards to strategically play, and a die to flagrantly toss.
By shaving a lot of the immersive sensibilities that typically do a lot of the legwork for VR, Demeo sets incredibly bold - and risky - aspirations for itself; having to confidently prove itself as an enjoyable board game first and foremost. While I’m not convinced that a physical edition of Demeo would fly off the shelves, its core, simplistic design is more than competent enough to support its premise. Its complexity is found in battling the hordes of enemies that populate dungeons, rather than unending pages of instructions, rules, and statistics.
While its relatively simplistic design might disappoint hardcore strategy fans looking for the levels of depth found in Divinity: Original Sin II or Into The Breach, it does allow for players of any skill level to jump in and play—and it’s from this philosophy that Demeo really shines as a social space. Physically interacting with up to four friends as you plan out routes and attack strategies is a magic enhanced tenfold by the medium of virtual reality. Though, I wish Demeo embraced this strength a little more and launched with a bit more meat on its bones.
Intuition Across The Board
Demeo's core gameplay is confined solely to the grid-based board that the player and their party gather around. After choosing one of four classes—Warrior, Archer, Mage, or Rogue—players gradually crawl their way through procedurally generated, winding dungeons while battling off enemies and collecting loot. Movement is naturally intuitive, with the player simply grabbing their character model between their fingers and dropping them on the space or enemy they wish to move to, which is a small gesture that goes a long way for recreating the charm of the board games that inspire it.
Combat takes its lead from card-based tabletop adventures, with the player opening up their left hand to reveal a spread of ability cards—both cool down and one-time-use—that allow for complex and tactical strategizing. From devastating area-of-effect attacks that lay carnage to clustered enemies, to panic button teleports across the game board, the variation of offensive and defensive abilities across these cards create limitless possible approaches to each encounter.
While these refreshingly simple fundamentals make for an accessible adventure for both VR and tabletop newbies alike, its approachability isn’t to be mistaken for a lack of difficulty. Yes, you might be quick to get to grips with your classes unique abilities and the cards in your deck, but take one misguided step down a corridor and you’ll quickly find yourself vastly outnumbered by vicious, heavy hitting enemies. Every single move, whether attacking, retreating, or simply exploring, needs to be carefully considered and discussed with your teammates, at risk of attracting new mobs or putting yourselves in the line of fire.
Dice Hard With A Vengeance
It’s quite easy to find yourself overwhelmed in Demeo, with enemies quickly pouring into entrances left and right, meaning that things can escalate from good, to bad, to worse at the drop of a hat. My initial, rather conceited approach to dungeons was to watch every single unit that dare to challenge me fall victim to my blade—though it quickly became apparent that Demeo was going to chew me up and spit me out with this attitude. Instead, the goal is to desperately carve passage through to the next floor. Demeo never lets you feel confident as you scout its dungeons, with a constant feeling of anxiety haunting the player throughout every turn, and I found myself holding my breath whenever it came time for enemies to make their move.
An adventuring party will have to survive through three separate floors of these swarming mobs in order to clear a successful run through Demeo, with intermittent visits to a shop for additional ability cards, and a particularly vicious boss battle to cap off the whole bitter affair. Yet, as fun and challenging as the whole experience is - it’s all over just as it feels like it’s getting going.
Roll For Content Check
Despite the variation in gameplay afforded by randomly generated dungeons, Demeo lacks replayability in the disappointingly little amount of content included at launch. Though the layout of dungeons change with each playthrough, it ultimately does little to change the overall experience, and it’s hard to feel inspired to attempt further playthroughs when even the final boss battle is fundamentally identical each time. Demeo sorely misses a levelling system or even unlockable cards to motivate replayability, meaning there’s practically no progression whatsoever outside of basic cosmetics.
Though developer Resolution Games have made the promise of additional free campaign expansions down the line—with the first due to arrive in Summer of this year—it’s hard not to feel short-changed by the package at the moment.
While Demeo doesn’t intentionally create much replayability within its design, it’s the interactivity and cooperation with other players that kept me coming back to repeat the same three hours of content over and over.
Virtual Basement Dwellers
Like Karnage Chronicles before it, Demeo is more than competent as a singleplayer game, but absolutely thrives as a social game. Where the simple, underwhelming virtual backdrop of a 1980s basement does little to evoke memories of physical tabletop adventuring, it’s in physically looking at a friend, pointing to his character model, and drawing out tactics that really took me back to that time. The heated discussions and gentle bickering that come from excitedly planning out the next move, or desperately clambering away from a powerful enemy, are fantastically human and an incredible reminder of the joys of human interaction that we’ve all been missing during the pandemic.
In fact, this social element is so key to Demeo’s success that playing through the singleplayer Skirmish mode in which the player controls three character pieces at the same time feels rather naked. After joyfully congratulating and high-fiving teammates upon a stressful journey through Demeo, returning to the same dungeon solo feels like playing a Mario game with no power-ups or GTA with no driving. It just feels like you’re missing an essential part of the experience. Thankfully, Demeo does support matchmaking, and I was always able to find a jolly group of players to crawl dungeons with, and the focus on cooperation and discussion through the adventure serves as a fantastic setting to make friends in.
Waiting For The Next Edition
Demeo might not offer the next ground-breaking advancement in tabletop or strategy game design - but it does make for a fantastic VR playground to meet friends, make memories, and share victories in. It’s thin amount of content holds it back from being a must-play VR experience, but with the promise of more free content down the line, it absolutely has the potential to grow into one.
TechRaptor reviewed Demeo on PC using a Valve Index headset, with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on the Oculus Store.
- Approachable, yet tough tabletop experience
- Fantastic Social Experience
- Lack of content makes it feel like early access