Demeo is a cooperative fantasy-themed board game from Resolution Games. After enjoying a period of early access on PC and VR platforms, the game fully launched on Steam and PlayStation 5 this year. Demeo’s appeal is clear, combining the depth and challenge of a modern board game with RPG-lite mechanics and feel, a high degree of immersion, and online cross-play between all available platforms. It’s a recipe for cooperative fun, marred only by overly long play sessions and an unnecessarily high degree of difficulty.
The game begins with a mandatory single-player tutorial that lasts about 15 minutes. The tutorial explains the most basic elements of gameplay: movement, attacking, and not much else. Given that Demeo is a very hard game with a fair amount of depth, the developers should probably add additional tutorials for players to dive into at their leisure. There’s a small help section with four topics to read over, but nothing approaching what you’d get in a Japanese-developed game, for instance. Players will largely have to learn through trial and error, advice from experienced players, or the game’s wiki.
Demeo can be played in single-player skirmish mode or by hosting and joining online multiplayer games. The Quickplay option allows players to matchmake into the adventure of their choosing, whereas “Join Multiplayer” allows joining by 4-digit room code. Room codes facilitate cross-play between platforms; we had no trouble mixing players between Steam, PlayStation 5, and Meta Quest. All versions can use in-game voice chat with each other as well. The PlayStation 5 version supports PlayStation VR2 but does not require it, and the Steam version can be played with VR or without. It’s great that Demeo removes as many obstacles to playing with friends as it can (other than there being no Xbox version at present).
The host player selects from five adventures (campaigns) for the session. Each adventure has a very minimal story that is revealed through text and narration at the start and end of the adventure, but there’s much less of a narrative than an actual RPG would have. Adventures are divided into three floors/chapters. A successful adventure takes about three hours to complete, which is super long for a co-op game. The party can save between floors and resume later, but it’s hard enough to get everyone together for one adventure, let alone multiple sessions.
After joining the host’s game, everyone chooses their heroes/champions. In 2-player “2 Heroes per Player” games, both players can control two heroes. “1 Hero per Player” games support 2-4 players, with each player controlling a single character. Oh, and if you play single-player (definitely NOT the way to enjoy this game), you’ll control all four champions. The game offers seven playable characters, each with unique abilities and 1-paragraph of backstory. The characters play quite differently than each other, so it helps to have a diverse party makeup. That said, multiplayer players can choose the same character if they like.
The overall goals of the first two floors of the adventure are to move from room to room in the dungeon, seek out points of interest, find and kill the enemy with the key to the exit, and then exit safely. Between floors, players can buy and sell cards for their hands using the gold collected from the previous floor. The shop sequence is also when the team can choose to save and quit if needed. The final floor, unlike previous floors, ends when the team defeats the boss of that adventure.
Each hero gets two moves/actions per turn, so you can do things like heal and attack in the same turn. In addition to a standard melee attack, every hero has a deck of character-specific cards that can be used during an action. These are basically spells, summons, and special moves. Some are single-use whereas others recharge after the turn ends.
Cooperation is a must in Demeo. Most enemies have too much health to be killed by a single hero in one turn, so you’ll often need to attack as a group in order to avoid taking too much damage during the enemies’ turn. Ranged characters like the elven Hunter do have the advantage of being able to attack many enemies from relative safety, but even long-distance heroes benefit from having melee characters to distract the enemy hordes. Players can use healing cards on each other, and downed characters can be revived with minimal health by living players. A hero who gets downed three times in one adventure dies for good, though, so it’s unwise to rely too much on revivals.
These rules and mechanics are mostly ingredients for a fun co-op experience, but Demeo’s lack of options hurts it in several ways. Other than selecting between controlling 1 or 2 heroes per game, there are zero options when choosing an adventure. Games take three hours to complete, but why should they? Mario Party lets players choose game lengths, and so should this one.
Then there’s the problem of difficulty. Demeo is nut-kickingly hard, especially on the first floor when the team is just warming up and hasn’t had a chance to buy better cards from the shop yet. Enemies spawn endlessly all over the map, even right in front of players. As a result, the team has a fair chance of being overwhelmed and failing the adventure. Completing or failing an adventure will award XP that contributes to unlocks, but you can only unlock cosmetic items, not upgrades that make the game easier. The sense of accomplishment when the team actually finishes an adventure is mitigated by the lack of meaningful rewards.
Tough games can still be fun, but it’s a pretty big ask when you need to round up a group for a 3-hour, overly difficult session. Demeo has the challenge of a Roguelike without the metagame elements that allow players to grow stronger between runs. In the absence of permanent upgrades, players should be able to customize the game length and difficulty. That would allow casual players to simply enjoy the adventure together without worrying about endless hordes of monsters or overly long play sessions. Demeo can still be a lot of fun just as it is, but the rigid design unnecessarily limits the magic of the adventure.
PlayStation 5 and Steam download codes were provided by the publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: 2-player games can be played in "2 Heroes per Player" mode, and 2-4 players can play "1 Herp per Player" with each player controlling a single character. Multiple players can select the same character. 4-digit room codes are used to allow private and cross-platform games. Players must work together to explore the dungeon, defeat enemies, and reach the exit of each floor. Players can use healing cards and buffs on each other, and downed players can be revived a total of three times per game session. Experience earned during the game session contributes to the party's experience meter, eventually awarding all members with a card.
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