The Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Publisher: Good Old Games
I have always loved the sub-genre of dungeon crawler role playing games. The Eye of The Beholder series, Swords and Serpents, the Wizardry franchise, and Shinning: The Holy Ark are among my favorite games of the genre. Unfortunately after the mid 1990s, the genre faded to obscurity until a few years ago. Shortly after the release of the Nintendo DS the forgotten sub-genre was on the rise once more. We got games like Orcs And Elves, Etrian Odyssey, and a new entry in the Wizardry series for the PS3 to lead the charge in the genre’s resurrection. However, with all these consoles dungeon crawlers, pc gamers were all but forgotten about until the release of The Legend of Grimrock. The Legend of Grimrock is a promising attempt by the good people at Almost Human, to bring back the classic puzzle solving, treasure hunting, map drawing fun that we all had back in the good old days. Does Legend of Grimrock’s classic game design manage to hold up in this day and age or does it rely too much on its nostalgic appeal?
The story to the Legend of Grimrock is actually another rehash of the prisoner escaping an inescapable dungeon. This is a storyline that has been used in multiple games ranging from The Eye of the Beholder to the recent Avernum: Escape from the Pit. The plot of the Legend of Grimrock is about a party of four prisoners who are accused of an unknown crime. Your party has been thrown into the legendary dungeon known as Grimrock, from which there is only a minor chance of escape. If your party is able to escape the dungeon, then you are cleared of your crimes whatever they may be.
During your journey through the dungeon you encounter a being who communicates to you through your dreams. As you journey deeper into the dungeon, these dreams become more frequent and you learn more and more about the history of the dungeon itself. The mystery of who this person is very intriguing and help set the pace for the game. During your descent you will find notes leaving hints at who this mystery person may be. As I journeyed through the Grimrock, I thoroughly enjoyed trying to figure out this mystery, and in fact I quite was surprised to find out who it was. Aside from finding this mystery person during your escape, you also uncover scrolls and notes that discuss the history and lore of the dungeon itself. This is a nice little side diversion as I am a person who thoroughly enjoys exploring a game world’s lore and backstory.
The Legend of the Grimrock’s dark and gritty atmosphere is enhanced by its amazingly graphical design. Ceilings, walls, and floors are all highly detailed showing cracks of wear and neglect. Cobwebs, prisoner shackles on the walls, while bones, fungi and articles of clothing are spread throughout the floor. Hallways are dimly light by torches giving off minor ambient lighting. Without light, the dark hallways of Grimrock are that much creepier. Grimrock’s lighting effects for torches, glowing gems, spell effects and even enemy monsters like Slimes all act as a lighting source on varying degrees.
One of the highlights of the graphics is the inhabitants of Grimrock. As you dwell deeper you come across an assortment of killer walking Fungi, Slugs, Trolls, Skeleton warriors and even spell casting wraiths and all are very well detailed. Giant Slimes emit a glowing aura and are transparent for the most part; you can see the details of the eyes and hairs on giant spiders and see the rust on the armor and weaponry of the Skeleton warriors. However there is one minor flaw and that lies with the animations of Grimrock’s inhabitants. Despite the fact that Legend of Grimrock is a grid based rpg, enemy movement and attack animation is robotic at best. The majority of monsters only have one form of attack animation. Slugs try to bite of your ankles, Skeletons either stab your with spears or arrows and spiders just go straight for the jugular. Some monsters like the flying gargoyles can perform melee attacks and cast party damaging spells.
As you begin your game, the title screen for Legend of Grimrock welcomes you with a strong orchestrated musical score. Unfortunately don’t expect the game to be filled with anything other and the echoes of monster footsteps and the wind blowing thru the hallways of your supposed prison. The ambient sound effects greatly enhances the atmosphere of the desolate and dreary dungeon. You can hear in the distance the footsteps of monsters as they hunt down their next prey, the crackling of torches that light the hallways, and the low hum of restoration gems. You can even hear the creaking in the mechanics of doors and gates that truly sounds as if they haven’t been used in years.
However, as good as the graphics and sound design are, Legend of Grimrock’s gameplay is what truly engrossed me. Controls-wise Legend of Grimrock is faithful to its descendants of the genre using the mouse to pick up items, navigate menus and interact with the environment. The keyboard is best used for controlling movement, checking the map and if wanted, using quick keys to access character inventory and stat sheets. What’s new for this genre is free look that allows you look in any direction in a 180 degree field of view. This helps to look around corners for possible incoming monsters and evening finding hidden switches along walls.
Exploring each level of Grimrock is more than encouraged, it’s mostly required if you want to find all the nooks and cranies of hidden secrets. As you traverse the dungeons you will find it can be difficult getting to the next level as you are required to either solve a couple of puzzles or just simply locate keys to open doors to progress to the lower levels. To help you along the way you have an auto map that helps prevent you from getting easily lost. However, if you are truly feeling nostalgic, you are offered an “old school”Â setting that disables the automap and allows you to trace your own steps by drawing out maps on paper.
Dungeon layouts are impressively huge and filled with many items, traps, puzzles and secrets. The puzzles throughout Grimlock while not mind bendingly difficult do offer a good challenge. Most are reaction and speed based that usually rely on your pulling a lever and running through a door before it closes. Other puzzles involve more cunning like flipping the right switches in a certain order or navigating your way thru portals to make it to the other side of a room. Some other puzzles aren’t as obvious as they seem. One of first puzzles I came across required me to stay on a floor plate for an untold amount of time, until the next door to me opened. Traps throughout each dungeon unfortunately aren’t varied and the most common are pit traps. These are littered throughout the game. Other variety of traps includes hidden monsters from behind walls or from the floor grates. The floor traps can also be used to your advantage. If you are faced with too strong a foe, you can lure to them to the spot of the trap and spring it on them. Usually after making it through traps or puzzles you are rewarded for your efforts with items, like a magic scroll, new equipment, hidden journal notes, or keys to continue on your merry way.
Unlike most games in the genre, Legend of Grimrock offers a nice character customization stat sheet. Usually the majority of dungeon crawler games follow a D&D auto leveling system that didn’t let you allocate points to any attributes you wanted to master. In Legend of Grimrock, during each level up you are given four points that you can spread out to any special skills depending on your character class. Unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of character classes to choose from. You have fighter, rogue and wizard and each along with the race you picked, to give bonuses to your character and help them along in your journey. When creating your party you have the option on picking from four races and three character classes. The lack of character variety is unfortunately disappointing, but at how many games let you have a minotaur in your party?
Spell casting is a nice twist from the norm as you don’t pick a spell to cast but rather select runes to cast a specific spell. You can even use the numeric keypad to cast spells faster if you so choose. You can learn new spells by finding the hidden scrolls throughout the game and making sure you have the appropriate skill points allocated in one of the four schools of magic (fire, earth, ice, and air). Aside from casting spells for combat you have some that cast light, invisibility and some can even enchant arrows or weapons. Unfortunately one of the biggest flaws is the lack of healing spells. Another nice twist is the alchemy mechanic that allows for potion building. Throughout your travels you can find a variety of flora hidden throughout Grimrock and you can brew up healing potions, anti-venom potions and energy replenishment potions. The alchemy brewing is so easy to use that you can even do it in the midst of combat for a quick heal.
Combat is for the most part, strictly mouse based and plays like just the classic games of the genre. By right clicking on an equipped weapon you can swing your sword, fire an arrow or throw a simple rock. Continue doing this until the monster has been vanquished. It’s pretty much a no brainer. However I have found that standing toe to toe with the monsters in this game is not always a smart tactic. This is mainly in part to the game’s difficulty which spikes as you enter the third dungeon. After gaining a few levels in the first two dungeons, you truly aren’t prepared for the ferocity or the strength of attacks from monsters like spiders, slimes, or giant crabs which can easily annihilate your party with their heavy damage output and status effects. The balance seems a bit unfair especially when you tact on how often the monsters can attack as opposed to the cool down between attacks with your party.
Even though the combat is a bit imbalanced, Legend of Grimrock does offer a nice lengthy adventure. The game spans across thirteen dungeons, with each one offering harder puzzles to solve and plenty secrets waiting to be sought out. And oddly enough the game seems to warrant multiple plays. Trying out new things with a different combination of party members, time attacks, finding all the missed secrets, and even collecting Steam Achievements (if you purchased the game from steam). This is something that most games in this genre almost never make me want to do. Dungeons crawlers are usually a one and done trick pony, but something about Legend of Grimrock just made me keep coming back, and it wasn’t the sense of nostalgia that the game rode on to capture your attention.
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary:
In a nutshell, Legend of Grimrock does more than suck you in with its nostalgic gameplay and throwback to an era of great game design. Legend of Grimrock has a perfectly lengthy quest, a wonderful and mysterious stranger whom edges you along in your adventure, excellent puzzles. Even though the combat is a bit on the imbalanced side, it is challenging and forces you to use your surroundings to help defeat even your toughest foes. Legend of Grimrock manages to have lots of substance where many games lack it and prove that this sub-genre still has a place in today’s gaming world.