Legend of Grimrock 2 – What We Think:
Grimrock – which really is a modernized take on Wizardry via Dungeon Master – is the closest experience I can get to what it used to feel like to play tabletop Dungeons&Dragons. I don’t mean the Ravenloft campaigns with the verbose, sprawling and emotive scenarios, or a Zak Smith odyssey; I mean the down and dirty dungeon crawls for loot and leveling. The first Grimrock – which made our top ten list in 2010 – was a tough-as-nails, grid-based hack n’ slash with equally difficult puzzles.
Whereas in the first installment you are dropped off by dirigible onto an island mountain dungeon, in the sequel, you crash ashore a remote tropical island, again, hosted by a nefarious force who wishes to see you run through his maze like Saw meets Survivor. The sequel is prettier, features some huge set pieces, and feels more varied and open.
Filled with interesting, well-integrated puzzles, lots of sneaky little traps and switches, a generous catalog of monster varietals with beautiful animations, a terrific score (that sometimes sounds like a Sergio Leone Western and others like Angelo Badalamenti), ambient soundscapes and sound effects, this is a top notch production.
There are a few problems with the Grimrock franchise, the first being (and this may be a fault of the style of game rather than the particular brand) that I can’t quite shake the feeling that, because of the grid, the way items are laid out and so on, that the whole ride is mostly on rails, which makes me feel precious hours of my life are irretrievably slipping through my fingers, especially in a world with consummate procedural generation.
Also, the placement of the 4 characters in the lower right of the screen makes me lean all the time as if I could somehow peer around them at something I am not spotting on the ground behind them.
Spells Like Teen Spirit
The spell casting system is a bit confusing and completely undocumented in the game, but it is also really cool. Spell scrolls that you find will also each show you where, on your runechart, each spell can be found. Drawing out various patterns allows you to chain runes into powerful combo spells. There is the option to also make spells a one-click as opposed to two-click affair. I opted for the former since there is already far too much clicking going on.
Which brings me to another caveat about Grimrock for the unanointed – it feels like a Rogue-like (sans the permadeath, well there is permadeath but there are some mid-way solutions), but it acts like an arcade game. Attacks and spells are on cooldown timers, but those baddies will come at you and hit you whenever they can, without hesitation, whether or not you take an action. The more technical definition is a “3D tile-based, realtime-combat RPG.”
Don’t Hate The Player
The problem with this is that you don’t really get to play inside of the mechanic this presents, but instead are fumbling about to find the solution for clicking and swapping things out, sucking down potions and rotating inside a constrained movement space all at the same time. Some would argue that the ability to strafe away from the somewhat sticky grid spaces that bad guys take up is a platform for exploit, but I didn’t find it anymore easy to exploit than any boss in any average platformer or RPG title.
I would say, you had better have a comfortable keyboard and mouse. In other words, it can be really hard. But…it never feels unjustifiably unbalanced.
The main thing though, in spite of the annoyances and suspicions above, is that Grimrock 2 is a lot of fun. I mean, sit back, order a pizza and a 6-pack of whatever, lock the door and get lost for a couple of days kinda fun. There are laugh out loud and jumpscare moments, there are nail-biting, desk-pounding battles, there are head-scratching puzzles and aha discoveries.
The creatures, though working on a tick-based grid, actually have some pathfinding intelligence, and often move at startling speeds. Combat never feels bottled or repetitive. Environments always feel uniquely crafted, rather than reused.
It’s all in there, and the sequel is a major leap forward from the already excellent, though more derivative, original. In other words, Grimrock 2 feels like something more all its own, and dungeon crawlers are all the better for it.
Going Off The Rails
In fact, once I got a better handle on things, I realized it really isn’t so much on rails; there are, in fact, multiple paths you can take through the island. There is even the dread that the one you took may have not been the better choice, since in some cases, you can not turn back. The combat system is more complex than in the original, and the Roguelike nature of the game is unbelievably cool.
Maybe I need to get out more, but I am giving it full stars because this is without question some of the most fun I have had with a dungeon crawl in the last few years.