Dungeon Master, Wizardry, Eye of the Beholder, the mere mention of these iconic series can take a long time PC gamer back to the days when they would break out their graphing paper, fire up their PC, and spend hours exploring and mapping out a fictional world. Time has passed since then and thanks to Moore’s Law PCs are more powerful now and games are much more open and advanced, the Dungeon Crawling genre has been passed by. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for a Dungeon Crawler in today’s market and the “alleged” four man team at Almost Human Games is out to prove it. I say alleged four man team because I find it hard to believe that just four guys were able to create a game as deep and impressive as Legend of Grimrock.
It’s Old School In A Good Way
So what is Legend of Grimrock? In short it is a Dungeon Crawling RPG, where your four man party is imprisoned on the top level of a dungeon and told that if they can make it to the bottom of the dungeon their crimes will be forgiven and they will be free. Of course no one has ever made it to the bottom and escaped. The entire game is spent inside of the dungeon as you slowly make your way from one floor to the next. Along the way you will have to solve puzzles, find hidden doors, explore, and fight the various monsters that inhabit the dungeon.
Grimrock is light on story, but this game isn’t really about a lengthy narrative. There aren’t any in game cut scenes, instead you will find notes scattered around the dungeon giving you clues as to what is really going on in the dungeon. There are also dream sequences when you sleep which will slowly tell you more and more about your surroundings. The story isn’t groundbreaking, but you are at least given a reason for being locked up in the dungeon and a solid goal to work towards.
Free Moving Always On Gameplay
Gameplay is where any good Dungeon Crawler shines and thankfully Grimrock is full of solid design choices. The battles are all played out in real time from a first person perspective. You are free to move around the dungeon as you see fit and so are your enemies. This means that if you aren’t careful you could become surrounded by enemies and your party will be quickly killed. Strategy and careful use of your surroundings is often the key to avoiding enemy attacks and eventually winning individual battles. Standing still and going toe to toe with most monsters is not an option.
Grimrock’s attacking, spell casting, and item use are all done in real time. Each party member has a stamina meter, when the meter is full they can carry out an attack or use an item. Attacking is a simple matter of right clicking on an equipped weapon’s on screen icon. Spell casting is a bit more tedious, as you have to right click on the spell caster’s staff, and then right click on a set of symbols to choose the spell you want to cast, and then click on the cast button. This can get really difficult in the heat of battle and it would have been nice if there was an easy way to map specific spells. Instead you have to memorize which symbols are needed for each spell and then select them each time you want to cast that spell.
Difficult But Fair
Grimrock’s battles and party progression bring a sense of satisfaction with it. This is not a game where you will be leveling up constantly, so when you hit the next level you will feel a bit more powerful. Monster battles are all hard fought and death will come easily, but if you take your time, level up accordingly, and find the right gear you can survive. Quality gear itself is fairly sparse, but once you find a sword or knife that is better than the last one you had you will feel that much more powerful. Grimrock also comes with three different difficulty settings. Normal will be fine for most players, providing them with a challenge and giving them an automap feature. Hard will be for longtime genre fanatics and they better have some graphing paper because the automap feature will be turned off. It should also be noted that you can save the game anywhere, so a party wipe simply means that you will have to restart from your last save file.
Your party can rest at will anywhere in the Dungeon in order to regain health and magic, but like everything else in Legend of Grimrock, the resting takes place in real time. This means that you better pick a good spot to take a nap or else you will be attacked in your sleep. Potion mixing is the same way. You can mix up healing potions, poison potions, etc,. But it will be in real time, so pick your mixing spots wisely. The only time the monsters will actually take a break is if you go into the game’s main menu.
At the start of the game you can choose to either use the developer’s pre-made party, which consists of two fighters, one mage, and one rouge, or you can create your own party. There are Humans, Insectoids, Lizardmen, and Minotaurs to select from, each with several different portraits to choose as your race. As for classes there are only three to choose from, they include fighters, rogues, and mages. However, each class has several different skill pools that they can focus on, meaning that you could have two fighters with completely different skill sets. I would recommend picking one or two skill sets and putting all of your skill points into those sets, because it will not be possible to put enough points into all of them during one play through without gimping your character.
When it comes to the actual exploration I could not be happier. Each level is filled with puzzles, hidden door switches and loot. Some of the puzzles are optional, but leaving them behind as you progress to the next floor will drive completionist gamers like me insane. I found myself reflecting on several puzzles for 20 minutes or more just because I had to see what was behind the door. That’s not to say that the puzzles are unfair either. In fact almost all of the puzzles have hints of some kind and once you solve them you will wonder why you didn’t realize how to beat it earlier.
Visually Grimrock is easily the best looking Dungeon Crawler ever, but let’s face it, a proper PC Dungeon Crawler hasn’t been released in a long time. Nether-the-less the game gets the look of the dungeon right. The walls are highly detailed, with moss growing here and there, cob webs, banners, and other details to help out with the atmosphere. The game also makes use of lighting effects and fog. Perhaps most important is the fact that everything in the game is fully 3D, so there aren’t any 2D place settings that just pivot around with your point of view.
The Old School is New
If you are a fan of classic Dungeon Crawlers then there isn’t a whole lot to complain about with Legend of Grimrock. This is a tribute to games like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and Ultima Underworld. The free moving battles and challenging monsters offer a level of difficulty that isn’t seen in a lot of today’s games, but at the same time the game never feels cheap. Careful strategy, clever use of your environment, and proper preparation will win most battles and give you a sense of accomplishment. The puzzles in the game are numerous and most require some thought, but there is always a clue to solving them if you look around and think hard enough. As I write this review I have spent roughly 16 hours with Legend of Grimrock, and I have only reached level 9 of the dungeon. I don’t know how many levels there are, but at just $14.99 I can say that you will easily get your money’s worth.