A couple of weeks back, I interviewed the creator of Left 4 Dead and general PC gaming multiplayer grandee Mike Booth about his VR tabletop game Demeo. In virtual reality, Demeo seeks to recreate the feeling of playing a TRPG strategy game, huddled around a table with three pals and a load of cheesey crisps. Soon, though, you won't need a headset to play it, as Demeo is also getting a standalone PC version. I got invited for a little hands-on of the PC build, and thought that since I am a tabletop-game-playing person, it'd be interesting to bring Ed along with me. Ed likes multiplayer PC games more than me, but in the kind of kill-streak, headshot, battle-royale way. Thus, as a team, we are perfectly poised to assess how Demeo stacks up as a co-op PC game.
We played a single level in Demeo's first adventure module, The Black Sarcophagus, although when it launches in early access a complete game will stretch to three. Demeo will also have all the other adventures released for the VR version, including the most recent forest-set Roots Of Evil, but The Black Sarcophagus placed us in a creepy stone dungeon and/or crypt. The goal was to find the monster carrying the crypt key, remove the key by force, and then unlock door to the next level. Our team of four was completed by Tommy Palm, CEO and founder of Resolution games (and owner of a truly top-tier cardigan) and producer Gustav Stenmark (no cardigan visible sadly, but he seemed cool). Here's how we got on.
Alice Bee: Mike Booth said the idea with Demeo is to replicate a tabletop gaming night – you know, you're rolling dice, and you're doing all that stuff – except like, the best version possible, where the little models are actually firing flinging fireballs and the monsters are leaving slime trails. I've rolled a few critical misses in my time, but you're not really a board gamer, right Edders? What did you think? Did Demeo win you over?
Edders: I think so, yeah. What surprised me most was Demeo's emphasis on sticking together - or at least, this is a thing you're meant to do in tabletop RPGs, apparently. It seemed a bit weird to me that splintering off from the group and exploring the dungeon we found ourselves in wasn't encouraged. As a backstabbing assassin fella, that's all I wanted to do. Still, it was fun sticking together and rolling dice and having a natter.
Alice Bee: Don't divide the party! I always think rogue-type classes are tough to play in tabletop games. Rogue mains are always insufferable so you're not a natural rogue anyway, Edders. I was a hunter, which is sort of a ranger-esque hero, because you can stand at the back firing arrows and feel useful all the time. I was really interested by the sourcerer here (which Tommy Palm picked), because he had some really spectacular spells and set off some environmental traps, but it seemed like the sourcerer required a lot of strategising. What did you think of the powers and card system? I liked that you could get single use cards (like my beefy poisoned shot, or the sourcerer's more powerful spells) as well as reusable ones, like my regular arrows. I kind of never felt like I ran out of options.
Edders: Yeah, same here. I liked that whatever cards I'd been dealt were almost always of use, not to mention that I had plenty to choose from. They certainly made me feel rogue-y, like one that let me coat a group of enemies in poison or go invisible for a few turns. And I thought it was nice that using our abilities, playing smart, and defeating enemies contributed to a team power pool. One that drew a new card for each of us and encouraged experimentation.
Alice Bee: Some of the cards seemed kind of pointless to me - a DPS-first, ask questions later kind of player - but were actually useful. Like there was a bone that you could throw to draw aggro, but Stenmark used it on a zombie dog and the dog became our little pal! If anything, it ended up being the MVP of the game.
Edders: Shout-out to that zombie dog, who I think did more for the team than anyone else.
Alice Bee: I liked the bits like that. It encouraged experimenting, like you said, and it's a very team-focused game, so, you know, someone would suggest exploding an ice orb to freeze the enemies, and that would give you a better chance to backstab, that kind of thing. It's cool, but I do wonder if it'll draw new players in organically, like. It made me laugh because you asked Palm and Stenmark about progression in the game, which is such an obvious question for you to ask, yet it seemed like it kind of hadn't occurred to them that a potential player might ask it. Like, it's just not that kind of game.
Edders: Yes, their response to my question was focused less on progression and more on the game being a social thing. It being a virtual hang-out is the draw, not EXP bars and unlockable decks and costumes. I just don't know if that's compelling enough for me.
It being a virtual hang-out is the draw, not EXP bars and unlockable decks and costumes.
Alice Bee: PC is going to have a bigger potential audience for Demeo but the test is now going to be against a bunch of games that people already play with friends. Yes, people miss hanging out in person, but I dunno if the Venn diagram crossover between people who miss their pals and people who want to pay a TRPG-style strategy dungeon game is that massive. Which is kind of a shame because Demeo is a good version of what it is. It looked really cool, it feels like the PC port is very strong, and the enemy AI was good as well. Did you start freaking out whenever you heard a door open somewhere in the dungeon? I totally started freaking out.
Edders: Oh totally. We'd just be doing some battling in a room and then all of a sudden a slime would come a knockin'. Just like fling open the door and invite all of its mates in for a flank manoeuvre. There was also this goblin wizard who would teleport his buds over to us. It really seemed like the AI were working overtime to get the upper hand on us. I will say that I didn't find it too challenging, though. Maybe that’s just because we were early on, or because we were playing with some devs. But my time with Divinity: Original Sin 2 prepared me for a reckoning that never materialised. And that's another thing, actually. DSO2 provides similar TRPG times with mates, so I'm not sure if Demeo brings enough to the table to pull me away from something so expansive. Is that a bit mean?
Alice Bee: I don't think you're being mean, I think you're providing more evidence that this game is kind of laser-targeted at a certain audience. I can see more appeal because, for example, it doesn't require anywhere near the same time commitment as something like DSO2, you don't need to scale a character to keep up with your pals and so on. And I like the sound of the new content packs, like how Roots Of Evil adds, you know, trees, and a bard hero. But also, I am in my 30s. Finding three board game pals who are all free at the same time and would want to play this with me? A heroic feat in itself.
Edders: As someone who's not of the TTRPG fold, I'd also struggle with this as well. Although, like you say, the game is definitely much easier to hop into for a quick sesh than something like DSO2. So perhaps it'll be easier to convince some mates to give it a crack. Plus, I liked that you could zoom out and view the game from an actual tabletop perspective. Like, see everyone's disembodied hands and goggles floating around. A proper treat, that.
Alice Bee: Yeah, I think my position on Demeo is that it seems fun, I hope it is successful, and I hope a bunch of people enjoy it... but at the same time I'm probably going to struggle to fit it into my co-op gaming calendar.