The VR industry has certainly taken some vast leaps over the past several years, allowing us to transport ourselves into some extraordinary worlds that we simply could not experience in our everyday life. Whether it be the world of Half-Life Alyx, the matrix inspired action extravaganza of Superhot or even the techno barrage of Beat Saber, VR has certainly been taking us everywhere and anywhere. Sometimes, however, it is the VR games that opt to achieve a more scaled-down space for you to experience that really can impress you, which is why the setting of a Dungeons and Dragons board game held within a basement that Demeo presents, is truly a wholly unique and refreshing gaming experience for the VR market.
Demeo is perhaps about as classic a fantasy RPG can get, presenting the player with a brief intro to set up a traditional world of mad Elven Kings and whatnot, before allowing you to dive into a match either online or via the single-player skirmish mode. However the online capabilities of Demeo are far and beyond the main attraction here, allowing you to either select a quick-play match and be teamed up with up to three other like-minded adventures, or enter a room by entering in a specific room code, thus allowing an easy way for friends to team up for a match or two. Yet, before you decide to begin your dungeon crawling adventure, you are introduced to the basics via an engaging tutorial. Not only does this cover the essentials of moving yourself around the VR space, but it also provides a solid enough introduction towards the core gameplay mechanics at hand here.
The movement itself is thankfully easy to grasp, which makes sense with the very little movement required of you given the table-top nature of the game, as all that you can do within the space is move closer to the board itself, as well as being able to rotate it to best suit your current situation. You can push and pull yourself around the basement area if you are so inclined, but there is nothing worth seeing outside of the board itself, which is where you will be staring for the majority of your sometimes two-hour game sessions. Craning your neck down for two hours at a time is a quick way to get some tech-neck posture in an afternoon, so thankfully you can also tilt the board to a more suitable angle if you require, eliminating the surroundings of the room but equally allowing you to kick back and play in a far more comfortable position, at the price of some immersion.
After selecting one of four heroes to control during the adventure; the hunter, the sorcerer, an assassin or a guardian, all differing in abilities with each having their strengths and weaknesses, you are thrown into the game with your other comrades if playing online. The gameplay functions as a turn-based RPG, albeit on a table-top format, as each turn you are offered two moves before the focus moves on to another player. These moves allow you to move a certain number of spaces around the board as well as providing you with the chance to attack enemies by throwing virtual dice that can result in a standard attack, critical attack, or most depressing a missed attack. These attacks can be performed either from afar by using an ability card if your hero is capable, or by getting up close and smacking them in the jugular if you are the fearless leader of the team.
The board itself begins shrouded in darkness, with your teams’ main task being to find the enemy who holds your key to escape, as well as the door from which you can exit the level. Along the way you can find chests holding extra ability cards to enhance your skillset, as well as a magical fountain that can restore your entire squad’s health bar if you find yourself in a dire situation. Through communication and some solid teamwork, your team will slowly make waves throughout the dungeon level, with each time you jump in being seemingly random in terms of level layout and enemy placement, ensuring each run can remain fresh and potentially challenging.
The games consist of three stages, two dungeon-crawling levels which are both essentially the same in regards to your objective, with the matches culminating in a boss battle against a ruthless enemy who stands in your way of victory. Each stage is also separated by a visit to the merchant, which gives your team a chance to spend gold found within the levels on new cards such as potions and stat buffs, as well as those mentioned ability cards. All in all, I found that on average my games would last at least ninety minutes if a game was going smoothly, with that long session rewarding you with some experience points that boost your level and reward you with some new skins for the various aspects of the game, such as new dice, hero skins and so on. Thankfully these ninety minutes were no bore, and upon taking the headset off after a full run, I was frankly taken back at how long I had remained in the headset even despite some slight feelings of neck pain due to opting for as immersive a perspective as possible. Playing on the wireless Oculus Quest 2 of course brings in that issue of battery life, as a single run can push your headset down to its last legs quite quickly, so playing while plugged in may be essential for some players here, which isn’t a huge issue as the game is ultimately a stationary experience.
While there were often issues finding a populated lobby of players willing to chat and discuss tactics, thanks to a welcoming discord promoted on the home screen, I was able to find a great team in no more than five minutes in my experience with the title. Given the right team, you do get sucked into the social aspect here. Of course, the decision making and collaborative gameplay take priority, but with no time limit to the levels, you can still find time to simply get to know your fellow adventurers, which has always been an aspect of VR I have adored. Plotting your route through the dungeon, planning coordinated attacks against the tougher enemies while always aiming to be one step ahead of what the game throws it you scratches that co-op itch that only the best multiplayer titles can.
Yet the staying power of Demeo remains to be seen, due to the amount of content included at launch. As of writing, Demeo contains merely one campaign, with a promise of a second adventure dropping in the summer followed by a drip-feed of more content throughout the year. While the promise of more content is great, it is a real shame to see such little variety in the boards as of now, with the initial dungeon becoming somewhat dull the more times I jumped in. That lack of variety plays into a larger issue with Demeo too, something is missing in the way that it uses the VR medium, as I never felt like I was playing a game that I couldn’t experience elsewhere on a 2D field. Sure, being able to pull yourself right up to your hero and inspect the details of the world is great, but Demeo would truly benefit from some more bombastic effects, similar to what was seen in Pinball FX VR for example.
With what we have at launch, Demeo is still an absolute blast. The feeling of conquering a dungeon with your team does feel like an accomplishment, and if my eyes could handle longer sessions of VR, I would likely jump into numerous games one after the other. Yet once those extra maps are introduced and perhaps even a difficulty option to increase the challenge for experienced players, Demeo may find itself as a must-play for VR gamers in the coming months.
[A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review]