Oh, this game! To be honest, it really sucks. This is a type of game that has virtually zero storyline, a lot of repetitive action and awkward controls on top of that. There's one thing about this game, though: it's HUGE. If you're into dungeon crawlers, it could mean a lot of time spent on exploring and building up characters. It's just the game to kill a lot of time.
Yes, building up characters! It's all this game is about, unless you count exploration. But exploration is quite slow, exactly thanks to character building. When you've explored some 10 dungeon levels, you want to go to the 11th level, but when you go there, you meet some bastards that wipe out your party before you can blink. Or just hurt you bad enough to make further explanation quite difficult. So you continue to travel around level 10 until you can navigate through it with your eyes closed.
One good thing about Demise (Ascension) is that there is a lot of ways to play it. There's a lot of races and guilds to choose from, and even when the choice is made, the playing style could be different depending on other choices.
Demise is one big dungeon with about 30 levels or so, each being 45x45 (in Ascension, it's 90x90 with the old part remaining mostly the same). Each level is a huge maze that looks like a randomly generated, but some places were definitely done by hand. You can move only in four directions, and turn only by 90 degrees (ever played Eye of the Beholder?). It is also possible to look 45 degrees left, right, up and down.
The dungeon is filled up with various monsters. Some of them are too scared of your mighty party and run away. Some are just peacefully living there, but nothing stops you from attacking them anyway. And some attack you first unless you're fast enough. Some even offer to join your party!
Besides monsters, there's little of interest. Well, there's of course the loot that monsters drop or keep in chests. There are fountains and mana orbs that slowly regen your HP and mana, and there are pyramids that drain your mana away. There are deep water areas, which can kill you pretty fast unless you're playing races that are good at underwater breathing, or you have an appropriate spell. There is also a swamp that can steal your items, and it is rumored that there is even more dangerous lava deep below.
There are also teleporters. They either send your whole party to a fixed location, which could be everywhere from the city to the deepest level, or throw each character to some random place, but thankfully only within the same level.
Other than that, the dungeon consists mostly of decorations. It looks pretty nice for such an old game.
No, wait, there's also the Tea Room. It can be reached before level 16, it's a very useful place, and there are other hints how to find it, but don't ask me where it is - it isn't that hard to find it on your own!
The party can have 1 to 4 characters. The party size is pretty important as the combat is semi-realtime: usually the first turn is yours, and each character makes their best effort to defeat the enemies, then it's the enemies' turn, IF any of them survive. So when you have 4 characters, enemies have 4 times more attacks to deal with. Now, there are quite dangerous enemies around. If they get a chance to attack, they may stone your character, which means insta-kill and some troubles during resurrection too. These dangerous guys are usually encountered in groups of 1-2, so when you've got 4 characters attacking, enemies have very little chance to survive. But the more there are characters in the party, the more it takes XP to level them all up so in the end you spend more time.
I used to play with a 4 character party, but most of the time only first two characters had any action. The other two were just walking behind. Of course, I could go deeper than with just 2 characters, but that's only because they would SOMETIMES help to finish off powerful enemies.
Then I switched to 1 character. Man, was it boring! I couldn't even go down to level 3 for a while, where the real fun starts. And even when I finally could survive there, I would sometimes get killed by a sort of monster I never had any trouble with.
So I decided to go with 2 characters. This way they get the most action, and they can survive pretty deep. In fact, there's little difference between 2 and 4 characters - with 4 characters I could go to the dungeon level 9 when they were around level 50 in their guilds, with 2 character at the same level, I can still survive level 9, but with some troubles. When one of my characters dies, the other one takes them back to the city to resurrect.
Another nice thing about having more than 1 character is the ability to quickly identify random teleporters. With a solo character, you must enter it twice to figure out whether it's random or not. On the other hand, if you enter it once, and end up in a nondescript place, it's probably random. Even if it's not random, it's just as useless. If you end up on another level, it's not random. If you end up in a "special" place on the same level, it could be luck or it could be not random, you'll have to double-check.
The guild system and leveling up
Yes, the guilds! There are plenty of guilds, and each character can join some of them depending on character's alignment (good, neutral or evil) and race. One of the guilds your character is a member of is the active guild - when the character gains XP, it goes to this guild and nowhere else. In fact, as you gain your abilities with levels, there is so-called penalty going up for other guilds. The higher your abilities in your current guild are, the higher the penalty for other guilds is. The funny thing about penalties is that they affect the total amount of XP needed to make a level, not the difference between levels. Say, you have 490000 XP and you need 500000 XP for the next level. Now you switch the guild and the penalty starts to build up. If you have a penalty of 50%, it means you now need 750000 XP for next level, which means whooping 260000 of difference, which is A LOT. But then you'll need approximately 765000 for the next level, so it's only the first time after the switch-back when you need to work out that much of a penalty.
The levelling strategy is important: you could take one character to level 999 in the Warrior Guild, then switch to Thief and have it level insanely fast, because your level 1 Thief would still be a level 999 Warrior, which means killing very powerful monsters easily. But when you level your Warrior, you'll have to ignore all the locked chests because Warrior cannot possibly open them safely. And therefore you loose all the fun of disarming traps and getting all the best loot until you've done with your Warrior Guild, and that could take MONTHS even if you play a lot.
On the other hand, switching between guilds too often isn't fun either, and it takes a lot more time. If you level your Warrior to the guild level 10, you probably can survive the dungeon level 3, especially if you have more than 1 character in your party. But if you switch to Thief then, you'll make those same 10 levels for the Thief Guild in approximately the same time or even worse, because Thief can't use the best weapons. On the other hand, if you take your Warrior to level 46 instead, and switch to Thief only then, your Thief will level up much faster for a while because you'll be able to fight more powerful monsters which gives more XP. Penalty is another reason not to switch too often, because you'll end up working out your penalty more often. It won't be that big in that case, though.
So the most fun (but not the fastest) levelling strategy is to go as deep as you can with your fighting guild, and switch to another guilds when you feel you need their abilities: for example, when your Thief fails to open chests too open or if monsters are stealing from you, or when you get stoned or paralyzed or whatever, and you decide you need a better Sorcerer.
It is a bad idea to play the game from fresh install to the end. The thing about Demise is, the game world is independent from your characters. For example, if you run characters until they are level 30, then you suddenly decide to start again, you get to keep everything your old character had. In fact, you get to keep your old character too - it's just you probably wouldn't want to use them anymore. So transfer all the money and items to your new character(s), and forget about the old one(s). You can even delete them, but it's a good idea to keep them around to store seemingly useless rare stuff - you never know when you'll need it.
So the proper way of playing Demise would be to have a throw-away party run through the dungeon, explore a bit, and bring back the necessary stuff, - most importantly, tomes and potions that boost characters' stats. Of those, Constitution should be maxed out from the 1st level, because it affects the number of HP the character gains with each level. The number of HP also depends on the guild, that's why it's a good idea to start with Warrior if available, because it gets the most HP. If Warrior isn't available, Artisan and Paladin are the next best choices, but Artisan levels up faster and has no stat requirements to join. Warrior gets that HP until level 26, Artisan until level 30, which is why it also makes sense for Warrior to switch to Artisan after level 26, and make Artisan 30 too. So the start-up levelling is:
Warrior: to level 26, then switch to Artisan and go all the way from level 1 to 30. Then level whatever you want.
Other guilds: Artisan to level 30, then whatever.
After level 30, the only guild that gains some additional HP is Warlock, but it isn't much, so it's kind of stupid to level Warlock just for that, given that Warlock levels much slower than Artisan or Warrior. Once you reach that max level (Warrior 26, Artisan 30 or Warlock whatever), you only gain 2 HP per level. In Demise it was 2 HP for every guild except Artisan (which had only 1), but in Ascension they sort of "fixed" that, so Artisan now gets 2 HP too, which is awesome because it levels insanely fast.
The maximum possible natural constitution for a race is the maximum starting constitution plus 5. For example, a human can start with CON 18, so the maximum possible CON is 23. It will be displayed in bold when you reach it, so it's easy to figure out even without the numbers. Remember, it must be boosted at level 1, when your character starts, otherwise you'll get less HP per level, and you only have time until level 30 or so to make it! It's also a nice idea to boost strength and dexterity too, but that's not as important, it just helps leveling up faster.
A quest may be given to a character by the guild. If it happens, then the character must either complete or forfeit the quest in order to level up. There are mandatory and random quests. Mandatory quests are given at fixed levels for each guilds, and they are accompanied by nice descriptions that are fun to read. Mandatory quests can't be forfeited at all, but are usually somewhat easy. Some require to spend a lot of time looking for a rare monster, some require exploration in order to get a specific item. Unless you're single-guilding, it makes sense to switch the guild while you're working on a long quest, to avoid wasting XP while you can't level your character in that guild.
Random quests, on the other hand, are ridiculously annoying. You can be quested to bring back an extremely rare item, which is found perhaps once per half a year of playing. Thankfully, usually these quests aren't that bad, and even if they are, they can be forfeited - this demotes your character back some levels (and you loose all the abilities and even HP in the process), but nothing stops you from making up that demotion - unless you're unlucky enough to get quested again!
For completion of mandatory quests, there is usually a reward. Sometimes it is very nice, like a rare item. Random quests offer no reward at all, which makes them only more annoying. Maybe the developers do something about it in future releases of Ascension, like disabling random quests after the last mandatory quest is completed, or when a character reaches a certain level.
Quests are the main reason to keep rare items on your "old" character in the city. Some items can be sold to the store and bought back for a higher price later in case you need them - it's fine, but there are spell books (treatises, librams and similar) that can't be sold, and there are cursed items that can't be bought back.
For my 2 character party I chose a neutral Dwarf and a good Elf. Elves are the strongest magic users, and they can be Paladins too, who are the second best fighters in the game. So my fighting guilds are Warrior for the Dwarf and Paladin for the Elf.
Dwarf is also in the Thief Guild, because Thieves can only be neutral and because Dwarf has quite good dexterity which is useful for thieving. Both characters are members of the Explorer Guild too - it gives very useful movement and location spells, like locating lost characters, teleporting around and walking through walls. It also makes it easier for characters to find each other in case they hit a random teleporter and become lost.
As for the spellcasting, there are various useful guilds for that. Well, there's nearly useless Warlock which has a lot of different spells, all of them with rather high mana cost. It is nice for a solo character which doesn't want to spend too much XP on spellcasting - a reasonable idea because spellcasting guilds require the most XP to level up.
Besides Warlock, there are Sorcerer, Mage and Cleric. Cleric is limited to neutral characters only, that's why my Dwarf is a Cleric. Cleric in Demise isn't your typical Cleric with powerful healing magic, a mace and a shield. Surely, they have powerful magic, but they are just as limited with weapons and armor as other spellcasting guilds. To offset that, there is also very powerful offensive magic available.
Sorcerer is your typical battle mage. Besides offensive spells, Sorcerer is also very useful for their defensive magic. That's the main reason to have a Sorcerer, although for a small party Warlock would work too - their defensive spells are costly, but just as effective. I'm not much into offensive magic, but sometimes you meet a group of very dangerous monsters, and it's very nice to be able to blast them away before they start spitting acid or whatever. Speaking about acid, even though Sorcerer has a lot of defensive spells, some of them aren't available "out of the box" - you have to find spell books deep in the dungeon first. Protection from acid is one of that spells, so until you find the proper book, acid-spitting monsters are quite dangerous to your party.
The last spellcasting guild is Mage. Magi are rather specialized spellcasters - they focus on controlling monsters. With Mage, you can charm a monster and have it fight for you for a while - until it breaks the spell or until you get rid of it in one way or another. For a solo character, I believe Mage is a must, otherwise you are going to have a lot of trouble with your few swings per turn. For a party, Mage isn't that necessary, but is still nice to have for quests. Besides charming spells, Mage also has some nice offensive and healing magic, so you may want to have a Mage if you have no Cleric.
My Paladin is both Sorcerer and Mage. Sorcerers are restricted to good and evil characters only, by the way - neutrals are unwelcome for whatever reason. That makes it an interesting combination: if your character is a Thief, it must be neutral, but it can't be a Sorcerer in this case.
There are, of course, other guilds. Melee guilds include Barbarian, Ninja and Villain. Barbarian and Ninja have the 2nd and the 3rd best thieving, Barbarian is the best at critical hits, and Ninja has the most swings per turn. Ninja is restricted to good/evil characters, which makes an awesome combo with Sorcerer, but I like Paladin better because they have a wider range of weapons available, and most importantly, they get to use them much earlier! Ninja also has rather restricted set of races - they only allow humans and trolls, and troll can't be a spellcaster, so if you want a Ninja spellcaster, you must play human (which means zero resistances and possible problems with early aging). Villains, unlike Ninjas and Paladins, kind of suck because they aren't particularly good at anything - they are mediocre fighters (even Explorers are better!), have only three additional swings per turn (as Warrior, but Villain gets them much later), and they also suck at thieving, which is especially annoying. Well, on the other hand, even a good Thief can have a lot of trouble with traps at the deeper levels, which means that the 2nd best Barbarian is a mediocre thief too.
Explorers can be considered a melee guild too, by the way. They are 4th best fighters (after Warrior and Paladin/Ninja), and they can use even more weapons than Paladins (who can't use axes), not to mention Ninjas that are limited to various katana-like swords and bare-handed semi-magical attacks. However, Explorers have no additional swings, and that's important! Warrior gets their first additional swing at level 46, which by that time means 3 swings instead of 2 - that's 50% more damage to every weapon! Ninja gets their SECOND swing at level 60. Even Barbarian (who's the worst at multi-swinging among melee guilds) gets their first swing at level 59. Now, with Explorer you'll have to bear with two swings only until you find your first 3-swing weapon, which won't happen any time soon. So Explorer shouldn't be considered the only combat guild for a character, but instead as a special/magical guild with a nice fighting bonus (which allows you to stop leveling your Warrior for a while after you get your extra swing).
The last guild to mention is Artisan. It has ridiculously low thieving for whatever reason, which should be ignored. There are some special things about this guild, however: everyone is allowed there (no matter which race and alignment), they are the fastest learners AND they get to use items earliest. Say, there's a nice sword that Artisans can use at level 100. This means that Paladins and Warriors can use it at level 130, other guilds even later. The slowest "item users" are spellcasters, namely Sorcerer and Cleric. Among melee guilds, Ninja is the slowest. Now, melee guilds and spellcasters also level up approximately 2-3 times slower than Artisans, so, considering that it is harder to level up after level 100 than before it, it is MUCH easier to reach Artisan 100 than Warrior 130.
There are several types of items. First, there's equipment and there's expendable stuff like scrolls or crystals. I'm not a big fun of expendables, so I tend to only use the items that can be used indefinitely. This means armor and weapons mostly. Of course, there are quite useful items like "greenies" that teleport the party to the location set earlier by a special spell (which all the guilds have) - usually I set it up right next to the city entrance. So SOME expendables must be used unless you want the game to be really hard and boring at the same time. I also save some items that cast very powerful spells that I may need someday - like the "beast search" spell which allows to locate rare monsters for quests, for example.
There are also "class restricted" and "not class restricted" (NCR) items. This is not to be confused with guild level requirements. Say, there's a ring that can ONLY be used by Magi since level 71. It doesn't mean that it's a class restricted item - in fact, all rings are NCR. The level requirement only means that if your character is solo-guilding Warrior, they can't use this ring even at level 150 (or any). But IF they switch to Mage AND make level 71, they CAN use it even if they switch back to Warrior, because this ring is NCR. On the other hand, if a class restricted sword can be used by ANY guild on appropriate levels, then only the current guild is checked. For example, if the sword can be used by Artisan 100, and your character is currently working for Artisan Guild at level 101, they can use the sword. If they switch to Warrior 50, they can't use the sword until they are Warrior 130. And if they switch to Mage, they can't use the sword at all because Magi aren't allowed to use swords. NCR items are rings, some amulets, artifacts and - most importantly - daggers! This means if your Warrior switches to Mage, they can't use their big sword anymore, but they can still use the best dagger available, so they don't have to bother with low-level Mage weapons like staves and crosses.
So both of my characters are Artisans too, although I level that guild only if I find a nice NCR item that I want to use right away. Right now, it's some powerful dagger that can be used by Artisan 38 - it was ridiculously easy to reach this level, and it would be much harder to reach Warrior or Paladin 52 (which corresponds to Artisan 38 in terms of items usage).
There are two ways to get companions - some of them just offer to join your party, and some can be controlled by a Mage or a char with an appropriate artifact.
I'm not a big fun of companions, and that's another reason not to run solo. In large parties, they tend to hit other members of the party by accident, and what makes things worse, their attacks are always displayed in red text, whether they hit friends or foes. However, it's a good idea to sometimes have rare monsters join your party, because you can sell them in the city and buy them back in case you need them for a quest.
Each character can have up to 4 companions, which means there can be 16 monsters and 4 characters in the party! It would be awesome, but they will start hitting each other and other characters too. The game manual recommends having no more than 6 bodies in total, which means 4 companions for my 2 character party, so my Mage can have as many as she wants.
At first, you find little gold in dungeon, and can't afford even the most basic items and realignments. The thing is, most items are aligned so that can be only used by, say, a good character. And changing that alignment costs a lot!
Then you start finding more and more gold, and finally you end up with around 200000-300000 gold per character. But then at some point guild training starts to cost a lot more than you find, so you gold begins to drop down. Switching guilds help, so you can work out your penalty and train at lower levels for less gold. That's another reason why I never single-guild a character.
There are some monsters that have particularly much gold on them. When you start running out of gold, it's a good idea to look for them using the beast search spell if you have it. If you don't, you can have the Seer in the City cast it for you, but that will cost gold too, so you'll have to make sure it's worth it.
Death and destruction
Death is temporary in Demise, although there are rather unpleasant ways to die. You may get stoned, which would mean you'll lose 1 point of CON when resurrected. And you may loose another point of CON no matter how you died - and the less your CON is, the more likely the resurrection is to fail. If your whole party is dead, you'll have to wait for rescue, which adds age and makes you loose all the gold you've found during the trip. If less than half of your characters are dead, others can carry them back to town or resurrect them right there if they can.
Surprisingly, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to your characters. Draining is much worse, for example. It permanently decreases your characters' stats, which is obviously a bad thing. If you have enough books and potions in the store and in the bank, it can be fixed, but you can't keep on fixing it forever, so the right way is either to kill drainers fast enough or to have your spellcaster cast Draining Resistance.
Even worse than Draining, some monsters and traps can destroy items. Yeah, that means that you can loose your ultra-rare item you finally found after looking for it for months. Therefore, never open chests trapped with Corrosion traps even if the chance of disarming is 99%. As for the monsters, kill them fast! That is one of the cases where offensive magic is absolutely essential - it never misses and a powerful Sorcerer will just fry all that slimy acidic bastards! Just make sure they never get the first turn.
Among the less dangerous ways to get harmed are: poison, disease, cold, fire, electrocuting, paralysis, acid and of course magic. It is especially fun when your solo character meets a group of monsters that have paralyzing AND draining abilities. If the character has a lot of HP, it gets even worse, as it will take enemies quite long to finally kill him, so they will drain the character A LOT.
At first, I was playing some ancient version of Demise. I remember reaching level 10, but it was pretty hard for me to survive there. I thought it was the last level, then I suddenly fell down to level 13 and got drained by some nasties. Then I forgot about the game for a while, and started from scratch some 10 years later. I mean really from scratch, no data left from the old installation. This time I did it right and played a 4 character party until dungeon level 18 or so, which means my characters were around level 130 by that time. Then something happened, so I forgot about the game again.
I finally got back after 2 more years. The data was intact, by I decided to install Ascension instead of the old Demise version. It meant starting from scratch again, so I did just that. Then I got tired of 4 character party, tried soloing a bit, got tired of that, and here I am playing 2 characters.
All in all, it took me many months, and I'm still at dungeon level 9. Given that I never went past level 18 or 19, it's a quite awesome game. I would certainly like to see a speedrun of Demise! I wonder how much hours will it take. 200? Maybe. It will depend on the party size and on the startup - if starting from scratch, it could take a lot to find the right tomes and potions to get the party started.