Artful fantasy RPG Arco has a demo with a dangerously moreish Arena mode

I’ve played certain demos for longer than I have many full games, eking every last atom of enjoyment out of a single level or character, to the point that the final release felt like unnecessary bloat. I am already concerned the same might be true of Arco’s demo, which is now available on Steam. You’ve hopefully read Katharine’s breakdown of this “triptych of revenge stories set across the deserts, plains and forests of a fantastical, South American-style landscape”. Well, now’s your chance to get to grips with its nifty combat system, which is broken into turns with each turn’s actions unfolding in real time.

Arco: A Closer Look at Gameplay

The demo includes a tutorial, a story section which sees you investigating a forest temple, and a generous arena mode. The latter has absorbed all of my attention thus far. It lets you pit several of the game’s characters (with handy labels such as “Glass Cannon”) against a tidy selection of enemies, grouped by challenge threshold. At the beginner end, you can pair a beefy melee fighter with an uppity lizard – minimal cunning required. Going up against a legendary bandit sharpshooter as the aforesaid brawler? That takes a shade more planning.

In each turn, you can have a character move, which restores magia points, or perform an ability, which spends them. Combat accordingly settles into a rhythm of advancing or evading then attacking. It feels simplistic, at first. But then you factor in projectiles, which you can dodge without interrupting your offensive by dragging a line to curve your movement path, and groups of foes who attack in swift succession, forcing you to really work for the breathing room you need to squeeze off each attack.

And then there are each character’s signature skills – a jumping attack that allows you to AOE snipers while simultaneously avoiding their bullets, a very satisfying but not infallible Jedi parry, and the ability to summon a magic ball for later detonation. These grander feats may drain your character’s entire magia bar in one go. You can have a character wait to restore three whole magia points, and engineering opportunities for these interludes seems crucial to the harder match-ups, which are almost like chess puzzles in that every single move needs to be the right one.

Arco launches later this year. If you like games that play fast and loose with the real-time/turn-based distinction, Phantom Brigade is also worth a peek.

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