If anybody remembered last year’s list of my favorite games, Legend of Grimrock 2 was on it and I can’t sing enough praises for it. I love that game with all my heart and I still do, to this day, think it is one of the best dungeon crawlers ever made. Why that is, I have already answered, but since we are in the month of dungeons, it seemed fitting to look at the installment that would have taken its place, hadn’t it been for its sequel. Let me introduce you to a game that I love, and I had a terribly difficult time with because of my claustrophobia.
Mixing Myst and dungeon crawler
Before you start your game, you are asked to create a party of four characters, starting of choosing their class between fighter, rogue, and mage, each being quite self-explaining. Each comes with specific skills you can level up with and, by doing so, the characters will gain new ways of supporting you on top of being just more proficient with a skill. Strengthen a mage’s fire-skill will give them the ability to cast stronger magic, but also give them higher resistance to them, and similarly increasing a fighter’s skill with the mace will give them both stat-boosts and new attacks they can perform automatically. Experimentation here will be important and, should you regret investing in a skill, it will still be a worthy one thanks to the secondary effects coming along with them, which is a great design-choice. However, this is just the start of character creation. The next is to choose a race, between, human, minotaur, lizard man, and insectoid, with each having strengths and weaknesses, which are more for choosing a clear playstyle if you wish for this.
Every character comes with four stats to focus on, with them being strength, dexterity, vitality, and willpower, giving the game a simple, but effective approach to character-building. Lastly, you can also apply two traits to distinguish your character more, such as making them cold-blooded for frost-resistance. All of this is easy to understand, with the game explaining each element as you highlight over them, but should you want to not create your party, you can let the game create one for you. However, it is way more fun to experiment and create your own party of diverse fighters, due to the diverse options you have for making the character you want, such as an agile fighter or a rogue focusing more on long-ranged than close-ranged combat.
After creating your cast of four warriors, you are thrown into the prisons of mount Grimrock, where you are rewarded with your freedom if you can escape this place. In this first-person, tile-based dungeon-crawler, you will be tested in both your cunningness and skills in combat. This comes from the puzzles which will be among the most important part of the game, and these are a blast. Operating switches is never as easy as just pulling a lever. Riddles must be solved to venture further, patterns of platforming must be cleared, hidden switches can be found, and finding out how to activate a switch you can’t reach, always becomes satisfying. These puzzles can be elaborative brain-teasers, but always satisfying to solve and if you go the extra mile to find secrets, you will be rewarded with tools to survive longer in these caves.
In this mountain you are rarely in a safe spot. There are thankfully rooms you can rest in to fill up your health, as long as you have enough stamina to go on. Yes, hunger will be an important part of the game and if you go with an empty stomach, your characters will suffer both in abilities and in health, so scavenging for food will be important. You can also mix up ingredients to create concoctions to help out, such as health-potions and bombs.
Speaking of which, in combat your characters will be set in a 2*2 format, with two in front and two in the back. Combat is in real-time and you must click on the hand you want your character to use. Each character can hold one item in each hand unless it is a two-handed weapon. Each attack will need to be recharged before used again, based on the characters’ stats and while the characters behind won’t be touched by enemies in front, you can encounter enemies attacking from every side, so you must be aware of your surroundings at all times and find the best way to encounter them. Though the combat is engaging, some fights might have other solutions to them instead of direct combat, such as tricking them into traps or make them fight each other, giving combat more depth. This is a dangerous world, and seeing a single character die is devastating, as they can only be revived by one of the few blue crystals. These crystals also save the game, though do not worry: you also have manual saving.
This sense of danger and depth on how to approach enemies are fantastic elements, as these fiends come in a huge variety and every type has something special to them, such as snails having poisonous trails, undead-soldiers can hit hard with multiple joining them, and certain enemies having different weaknesses. As for other elements, the function of long-range and melee weapons are self-explanatory with special-attacks being used for the right moments such as against dangerous creatures or those that are vulnerable to certain attacks. Magic, on the other hand, is a bit more special as it has you activating runes shown in a 3*3 grid. These must be found or experimented with and can create devastating attacks as long as your character is skillful and has enough mana. Everything is so wonderfully balanced, with all classes being important and effective, despite how focused or varied you are in skill-inputs. A jack of all trades can work for using more weapons and gain more stat-building, but specializing will make you stronger with one approach, though then you need to search for the appropriate tools for the job.
Though you can’t carry everything. Item-management will be important and while you can extend your inventory-slots with bags, for example, you can become over-encumbered if you carry too much, so you might have to make some harsh choices and can’t hoard items. Armors that will be useful later on might have to be thrown away, or you must make potions so consumables can be carried in another format. This makes it very dangerous to make the wrong choice, but should you do so, you can go back and fetch them again. Helping you throughout these caves and navigation is a handy map which will be made as you go, and you can leave notes on each in case you come over a strange puzzle or want to be reminded of something you see. Though if you want to go more old-school, you can turn this off and make a map of your own instead, which is also fun.
So far, this dungeon crawler is fantastic and has so much to offer in its design. Grinding is kept to a minimum as there are few areas where enemies respawn, there are usually different ways to dispatch them, and puzzles are a highlight. The only issue can come with the combat actually. While the fights are dangerous with relentless enemies, they can be cheesed at times. If you find a safe spot where you can lock the door, you can fight them, then close the door to rest, and then fight them again. This is not a common strategy and can drain your replies quickly, but unfortunately can be used whenever a safe room appears. Another issue is that for all the characters to level up, each must contribute to the fights, which I always found odd. Do I really want to waste magic just so my mage can level up? While there is no grinding and leveling up only gives points for skills, it is still a shame not all characters can get experience-points just by joining in and not waste attacks. This is not a big issue, but an oddity for me.
Though this doesn’t change the fact that this is a fantastic game for testing your survival skills. The game has a wonderful balance with all achievements rewarding you with something to make you feel confident, though always on edge. The puzzles are fantastic brainteasers, the secrets are a joy to figure out and, while the combat has this one issue, fighting enemies and seeing your characters grow is still great, with positioning or different approaches being important to keep in mind.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Why I am claustrophobic
This world gets under my skin every time I play it. The unsettling sound effects from footsteps afar or screams from creatures always keep me on edge, and whenever I hear plenty of footsteps at once, my arachnophobia arises. Being set in a cave, the sound effects echoing around create an uncomfortable atmosphere as you are never entirely sure on what you will meet and if you even want to encounter it. The limited view you have, even with a torch in hand, also contributes to this lonely and fighting mood the game sets and it is wonderful.
The enemies you will encounter are traditional, but made with a lot of attention to detail, paying tribute to familiar enemies with some more obscure creatures later down the line. All are menacing and dangerous. The caves can be slightly repetitive thanks to the same scenery and wall-textures being shown multiple times, though this adds to the setting and the feeling of isolation with the fact that you are trapped in a prison. There is some more variety the further down you go, but still keeps the repetitive style to a good effect. The eerie silence also adds to the mood as you never feel safe or at peace. You want to escape, giving you a sense of going forward and actually progressing through the game.
There is one orchestrated track played at the menu-theme and it is fantastic. The strength of the song building up, with a huge variety in instruments to convey a sense of a grand and diverse adventure, is excellent and possibly my favorite menu-theme ever.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Becoming a great DM
Even before you are done with the main adventure, you have the option to tool around with the dungeon-creator. This might be easy to guess what it does, and while you are given a bunch of options that can be overwhelming, it is actually easy to make your own custom dungeon and can become incredibly time-consuming as you are hit with “just one more”-mentality to make this adventure of yours perfect. Many others who have played Legend of Grimrock use this and share their creations online, so you can always find other works and it is incredibly fun to see many creative takes on this dungeon-crawling concept. Some are even better than the original game itself and if you’re into modding, this game has a lot of extra content to find.
Extra Score: 10/10
Legend of Grimrock is a fantastic take on the dungeon crawling experience, with wonderfull puzzle-solving and engaging dungeon-design. The combat is entertaining, though can be easy to cheese, but this is a small complaint when up against the many dangers the game provides. Combine this with a fantastic atmosphere and wonderful replay-value with a huge community that is still going strong today, you have a game that will last for a long time. No brave adventurer should miss out on this.