The world of Forgotten Realms has been tied with the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse since the introduction of AD&D back in 1985, and has grown with it through sourcebooks, modules and novels throughout the years. Some gamers have become intimately familiar with the Forgotten Realms universe, through PC and console titles such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. The latest offering that has the drow junkies drooling is the upcoming Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone for Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC, due out this fall. While the game offers the standard hack-and-slash gaming fans expect, it also introduces a few new ideas and mechanics that should not only please the existing fan base, but also entice a few new players into the fantasy world of the Realms.
Demon Stone features three playable characters: Rannek the Fighter, Illius the Sorcerer, and Zhai the Rogue. Each character has a unique subset of skills, making one more useful than the other in certain areas of the game. For instance, only Rannek is strong enough to break through certain walls, and only Zhai can jump onto high ledges unreachable by the other two heroes. While this may alarm some gamers that like to methodically explore and complete every last inch of a game, rest assured, for this is where things get interesting. In Demon Stone you can switch from character to character on the fly, even in the middle of combat. In this way you can build up and coordinate powerful team attacks, switch to a character with more effective attacks against a certain enemy, or retreat a severely wounded party member from the fray. You can finish the game with any one character, for those that wish to play only one class, but switching is encouraged to get the full gameplay experience.
Like many previous Forgotten Realms games, Demon Stone is primarily a linear dungeon crawl. Your characters follow a predetermined path level by level, destroying monsters, finding treasure, and leveling up. As your characters become more powerful, they gain new powers and abilities to aid them in their battles against evil. In Demon Stone, however, they are given a new weapon…interactive environments. Ladders filled with enemies can be thrown down, crushing those formerly climbing it. Rope bridges can be cut, spilling enemies into the abyss below. Catapults can be loaded and fired. If you knock a foe into a churning water mill, he will be promptly minced into ground orc burger. The combat system has also been updated as well…victory will not be won by relentless button mashing. Instead, effective combat is achieved by chaining combo attacks together, by pressing buttons in time with the rhythm of the combat (a concept Vagrant Story fans may recognize). This encourages the player to become comfortable with the ebb and flow of combat itself, as opposed to just pressing ‘attack’ as rapidly as possible.
Often times, the stories and plotlines behind this kind of game are notoriously basic and flimsy, with wretched dialogue and just enough content to set a background for the adventure. Demon Stone, however, is quite the opposite. The story is penned by none other than RA Salvatore, New York Times best-selling Forgotten Realms author (Baldur’s Gate fans may know him as the creator of the Dark Elf Drizzt, a character notorious for popping up in that series). Not one to let his story be corrupted, Salvatore was closely involved throughout the game’s creation, visiting the designers on more than one occasion to help interweave his vision with the progression of the game, as well as scripting all the in-game dialogue.
The company designing the game is none other than Stormfront Studios, the same development team behind the well-received console adaptations of the Lord of the Rings films. Following the success of those titles, the designers knew they needed to achieve a similar, if not better, cinematic feel for Demon Stone. The art department went about creating intricately designed lush environments and finely detailed character models, and the technical team tweaked the Stormfront engine for near seamless transition from cutscene to gameplay and for smoother running combat. The audio team vied to embody the movie-going experience as well, with voice acting supplied by Patrick Stewart and Michael Clark Duncan, supported by a sweeping orchestral score and painstakingly created ambient effects. In a recent interview, audio director Andrew Boyd even insisted it will be “the best sounding game you’ve ever heard”.
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone ships in September for PS2, and November for PC and Xbox, releasing amongst the onslaught of several other much-anticipated console and PC titles. While fans of the series, not to mention Salvatore’s readers, are sure to pick up the newest game set in their favorite fantasy world, Stormfront hopes the nuances in combat and the detail of game design will help Demon Stone stand out and catch the eye of even the casual RPG gamer. As a company that has proven their ability to treat pre-existing licenses with care and reverence, I am increasingly inclined to believe them.