Nowadays, we seem to live in a land of milk and honey, as far as CRPGs go. If someone had told me ten years ago that I’d have so many classic-style dungeon crawlers to play that I’d develop an embarrassingly large backlog of them, I would have laughed so hard I’d have toppled over the giant stack of old DOS game CDs I kept pulling in and out of my disc drive. As amazing as it sounds though, that’s exactly where we are today, knee-deep in a giant flood of oldschool roleplaying games that are too numerous for any sane person to get a handle on.
With so many choices presented to us, we now have a new problem to address: which ones do we play and which ones do we pass up on?
2012’s Legend of Grimrock was one of the former. While it was a bit too short and fell prey to that all-too-familiar indie curse of repetitive levels, it was a shockingly well-built Dungeon Master clone that ticked all the boxes required by your average old school grognard. It had amazing lighting effects, maddening puzzles, surprisingly well-animated enemies and a highly moddable engine that kept the game on players’ hard drives long after they beat it. By all accounts, the game was a success, and people wanted more than what player-made expansions could give them.
Developer Almost Human answered the call splendidly, and Grimrock 2 is nothing less (and nothing more) than a sharper and more focused version of the first game. Much of what the first game lacked, such as more varied environments and a larger world, have shown up in the sequel. Instead of altering the formula that made the original Grimrock such a successful title, they opted to build upon what they had already created.
For those who haven’t played the first game, Grimrock is the spiritual successor to the Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master franchises. Like those games, it is an RPG that pits you against the dungeon rather than the enemies within it. Traps, mazes, puzzles and lack of food kill you far quicker and much more often than an ogre or spider ever will. Like those second-generation dungeon crawlers of old, Grimrock is all about resource management and trickery. Side-stepping traps laid on pressure plates is just as important as strafing away from the enemies that guard them, and no amount of level grinding will let you avoid learning those skills.
Unfortunately, step movement dungeon crawlers aren’t very well liked, even amongst my other old school peers. They tend to be unforgiving and require a great deal of patience due to many enemies needing quick maneuvering to defeat. This is especially true with Grimrock 2, since the boss fights, while still winnable, are some of the most infuriating I’ve dealt with in an RPG.
Oh, that Mushroom boss in the mines, how I hated it so! The battle was between my weakened four-member party and nearly three dozen poison-spitting mushroom monsters guarding a constantly fleeing boss tendril which crawled around the arena taunting me as its minions slowly whittled down my character’s health. It was an exercise in patience that I dread meeting on my second trip, and even dreamt about fighting in my dreams the night after I defeated it. I’m not alone, though, since many people on the forums seemed to get stuck on that boss as well.
Or they get stuck on the ratling boss, who fires a giant cannon that knocks everyone in the party back a square. Grimrock is not the pushover the first game was, and instead of relying almost entirely on puzzles to impede your progress, this sequel throws in a lot of combat to buffer those times when you get stuck trying to solve one. While I sound like I’m complaining, I’m actually very pleased with the game’s balance.
Sure, it never seems to let you pass your enemies in power and, yes, the monsters’ AI has been improved enough to recognize when you’re trying to rope it into a corner, but this only serves to make you properly learn the game. I find it funny that the forums for the first game were about puzzle difficulty while the forums for the sequel are almost entirely about keyboard-chucking fights.
Though the crunchy old school combat is a welcomed addition to the Grimrock formula, the game’s greatest feature is the visuals.
Simply put, the game is gorgeous. Not only does every section of the game world’s map play host to a different theme, but the doors and tiles are all unique to that area’s look and help to avoid the “slapdash indie feel” that so many of these lower budget RPGs exhibit. It was always exciting walking into a new zone of the map because I knew I’d see something different than I had previously. From sandy beaches to a crystal clear lake to a misty graveyard and beyond, every square inch of the game looks beautiful and appears every bit the triple-A title it should be. I can’t stress that enough.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Grimrock 2 has a very well-crafted character creation mechanic. While I’m a bit miffed that they ditched the hand-to-hand skill (Monks were incredibly overpowered in the first game, if built correctly), a lot of what remains has been tweaked to work better within the game’s system. With the addition of Fallout-style perks that are gained through ability mastery and a much more condensed list of available skills, Grimrock 2 has more wiggle room for build experimentation than the first game.
So you have a great old school step-movement puzzle dungeon game with a large (and varied) world, along with some tight combat balancing, and a surprisingly well done character creation system … Are there any downsides?
That really depends on how good you are at this game and how willing you are, when stuck, to use a guide. Even with a guide, I doubt anyone could clear the game in under 20 hours. Without a guide? Get ready for some late nights banging your head against the wall. Maybe it was my age, but several of the doors in the game seemed completely inoperable to me.
The “Ruins of Desarune” had so many poorly explained puzzles that I actually gave up on the game entirely for two days, and only returned when a forum post sufficiently detailed what it was I had to do in order to progress. I complain about the puzzle difficulty of this game, yet I was so good at Dungeon Master I used to casually tear through that game in a weekend as a teenager.
… and that’s really where the joy of this game lies. It’s a title that probably won’t sit on the average gamer’s computer for very long, since it requires the tenacity and patience of someone who grew up laboring over these types of step movement games.
Sure, it has all the modern conveniences one would expect of an RPG made in 2014, but it never once deviates from the hardcore gameplay that made its forebears so memorable. If you’re wondering if you should buy the game, re-read this paragraph and take what I said to heart.
Grimrock 2 is also, like its previous game, highly moddable. Although the game’s 20-30 hour quest won’t disappoint, there will soon be tons of new dungeons to tromp around in once you conquer the main story.
This year has seen a lot of great modern CRPGs impersonating old school titles, and Grimrock 2 is yet another in that long list of spiritual successors to long dead franchises that have been begging to be resurrected. If you want to lose a couple of weeks to a good dungeon crawler with a thriving community and some very un-indie-like bells and whistles, Grimrock 2 is a sure way to scratch that itch.
Legend of Grimrock 2 was reviewed using a code provided by Almost Human Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.