Review: Legend of Grimrock (PC)
Title: Legend of Grimrock
Platform: PC (Other platforms soon)
Developer: Almost Human Ltd.
Publisher: Almost Human Ltd.
TL;DR: An old-school throwback and love letter to dungeon crawling enthusiasts. Play!
Family Friendly?: Click here to skip the detail and see if this game is right for your family!
It’s been a long time since the classic dungeon-crawling mechanics of the likes of Dungeon Master or Ultima Underworld have been revisited, but this is exactly what Legend of Grimrock sets out to do while updating and polishing these aspects to a mirror shine in the process.
For those unfamiliar with the format, Legend of Grimrock begins in typical fashion by dumping you into – you guessed it – a dungeon, and setting you the monumental task of reaching its exit alive. This time around, ‘you’ is a bunch of four hardened criminals either created by you or pre-made, selected above others for their wits and strength as the prime candidates to explore Grimrock Mountain, a colossal mountain filled with riches and ancient knowledge just begging to be plundered by those brave enough to find it.
But that’s the thing, see. No one is brave enough to go get it, because Grimrock is also a hive of hideous monsters and cunning traps, tricky magic and suffocating darkness. That’s why the king of this land is forced to pick the best of the prisoners to venture forward, with the promise of freedom given to any who emerge at the mountain’s foot with their bodies — and sanity — intact.
Considerate though it might sound to offer the accused a chance at freedom, it is decidedly inconsiderate of the king to have you thrown into the dungeon with nothing – nothing – in your inventory. The first task is to scamper around looking for anything to defend yourself with, and it is here where Grimrock’s atmosphere truly shines. The dark, dank nature of the dungeon is captured perfectly by dirty, glistening rocks. Wind howls strangely and the pitter-patter scurrying of inhuman feet can often be heard in the distance.
The minimal sound design works enormously in Grimrock’s favour, leading to moments of tension. Often, the sudden appearance of an enemy from behind a hidden door had me jumping out of my seat. Jump scares in games often fall flat with me, so it’s exhilarating to become so caught up in the madness of Grimrock.
Indeed, all it takes is to unequip a torch to really see just how creepy this place is. All’s well and good when a torch is burning brightly (demonstrating the wonderful lighting tech built into Almost Human’s engine) but once it burns out you are plunged into nothingness and the vulnerability this brings is palpable.
Grimrock is most like its spiritual predecessors in how the game actually operates, but differs in some crucial ways. Like the dungeon-crawlers of yesteryear, movement is confined to a grid. Your party of four moves in a square formation, advancing one step at a time throughout the dungeon. The two characters arranged in front will bear the brunt of damage received, while the two behind will be relatively safe from most attacks but cannot deal damage themselves unless they make use of ranged weaponry, magic or certain melee equipment with “reach”.
The most important diversion is that Grimrock takes place in real time. The abandonment of turn-based combat adds a ferocity to fighting off the monsters you’ll encounter along the way, and also adds the ability to dodge certain attacks by backstepping during a monster’s swing, if you are fast enough. All abilities have a cooldown, meaning you are unable to spam attacks until the monster is dead. Instead, you must manage your attacks carefully and use the environment to your advantage where possible by sending monsters hurtling down trap doors or by luring groups of enemies into long thin corridors where they are forced to face you one-on-one.
Health can be regenerated by resting, but this is only advisable once you are sure to be in a safe area lest you are rudely awoken by a wandering nasty. Otherwise, you must eat to maintain your characters “food” bar which, when depleted, will prevent health regeneration and eventually be your demise. There are other ways to regenerate and even resurrect members of your party, but these are intentionally left obscure by the developer and are best enjoyed when discovered for yourself.
This is a theme prevalent throughout Legend of Grimrock – you’ll want to cast aside all notions of seeking help or using guides to thoroughly enjoy your time with the game. It’s all about uncovering the intricacies of the dungeon on your own merits, and succeeding because you yourself were able to defeat the dungeon. That said, you should also expect to be stumped by some of the game’s puzzles, and Grimrock certainly doesn’t shy away from kicking you while you’re down so you’ll want to make frequent saves and utilise the ability to make “notes” by annotating the game map which fills out as you explore (or not on higher difficulties, forcing you to dig out a pen and paper and become something of a games cartographer).
Overall, Legend of Grimrock is a cerebral adventure as much as it is a combative one. A complete old-school throwback and love letter to dungeon-crawling fans, Grimrock should be experienced by anyone remotely interested in the genre, especially newcomers or fans of other forms of RPG.
- A complete old-school throwback and love letter to dungeon-crawling fans
- Gorgeous looking game engine
- Developers promise additional content and the ability to install user-made dungeons
Bad times :(
- Grid based movement can feel constricting initially, but is adapted to quickly
Legend of Grimrock is full of monsters that might be upsetting for younger viewers, but there is little in the way of gore where combat is involved. If giant spiders, skeletons and angry mushroom men are too much for your youngster, Grimrock might be best left alone, though if mild fantasy violence is agreeable then you should be okay. For reference, Grimrock is not as violent as The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
The option to enable an on-screen panel with directional buttons makes this game surprisingly easy to control, with no need to interact with the keyboard at all. If you want to use the keyboard, though, it’s as simple as the standard WASD movement keys and a couple of other hot-keys, all of which are customizable.