Legend of Grimrock PC Review
Legend of Grimrock evokes Megaman 9. It’s the resurrection of 20 year old video game sensibilities, deliberately riffing on old school presentation in order to target a specific audience equipped with a specific nostalgia. Beyond being a faithful recreation of the appeal of games like Eye of The Beholder and Dungeon Master, however, it’s modernised enough to potentially transcend its niche ambitions.
Light on story, Grimrock quickly establishes a simple-yet-powerful premise. Your party of four characters are sentenced – for reasons undisclosed – to imprisonment within the walls of Mount Grimrock. Inside, an intricate, multilevelled, maze-like construction has been converted into a gauntlet for criminals, and should they find – and fight – their way out, they have earned their freedom. Thus, your goal is immediately made tangible, and as you work your way through puzzles, combating horrific foes, the allure of entering the next floor to face the challenges to come is plenty to propel yourself forward. It’s a refreshingly video gamey reason to push on, and a potent one at that.
Before you start the game, you either select a pre-defined party or create one yourself. You define your characters in classic role-playing fashion by way of the game’s character sheets, lending them unique predispositions and traits by distributing initial skill points. Since your characters’ appearances are represented by mere on-screen icons, you simply choose from an assortment of pre-made ones, or you may even import your own image in their stead.
You also choose whether or not you want to disable the map (Classic Mode), in which case you need to create your own outside of the game. Should you opt out of Classic Mode, the game provides an auto-updating map which allows you to add points of interest and notes by clicking on it and typing messages.
Though Legend of Grimrock is viewed from a first person perspective and its world is fully polygonal, it still plays out on a grid based plane, as defined by its genre. While holding down the right mouse button, you can look around freely, but when it comes to movement you’re locked to the grid. When you step in either of the four basic directions, you move a full square, and you can also attack only in those directions. Enemies are bound by the same limitations, and you cannot occupy the same square, which makes positioning yourself a paramount aspect of combat. The number one survival lesson you learn early is to never be boxed in by enemies, instead retreating out of constricting corridors into open areas where you have room to circle and dodge opponents.
Character portraits on the lower right of the screen represent the four members of your party, and attacks are carried out in real-time by clicking their various weapons. You can bring up a character specific inventory overlay that occupies the right of the screen, and from there you can distribute earned skill points, assign new weapons and equipment, as well as use potions and items. However, even as you manage those details, the game continues in the background, so you will want to have things neatly sorted to avoid being overwhelmed in battle.
There are a plethora of different enemies, and the game introduces new enemy types through the entire length of your adventure, up until the very end. The most obvious differences between them, aside from appearance, are speed and attack range, but there are also more subtle differences like when – during their movement patterns and yours – they’re the most likely to attack. Some are more convenient to circle around, whereas others are better allowed to move into position by themselves, catching them as they arrive on a new square. If you time your attacks exactly right, you can even learn to interrupt and counter the enemy’s attack.
While combat is one of the two main pillars of the game, it’s not overly complex, nor is it particularly deep. Still, it manages to require enough attention and head space to provide a sense of accomplishment when you do well, and leave you with the determination to try again, should you be defeated.
The second pillar of the game is its puzzles. Most commonly involving pressure plates and hidden switches, they range all the way from gathering specific items to interpreting cryptic messages left in scrolls or etched on walls. Many lead to secret areas with hidden weapons or armour pieces, but you will also regularly tackle brain teasers on your main path to the endgame.
What elevates Legend of Grimrock above the sum of its modest parts is the conviction with which it delivers an authentic dungeon crawler the way they used to be made, while still infusing proceedings with an approachability and immediacy that quickly starts giving back on your investments. While the layout of each floor may be confusing by design, there’s nothing vague about your ultimate goal of reaching the ground level and attaining your freedom. It’s a remote destination that somehow conceptually always dangles in front of you, and your curiosity drives you onwards in the meantime.
As I mentioned earlier, Legend of Grimrock is a game crafted for a specific audience with the express purpose of providing a pure, faithful recreation of an old genre – though it’s appeal isn’t necessarily restricted to it. Diminishing returns on nostalgia already crippled Megaman 10 – Capcom’s attempt to go for seconds – and it’s difficult to say whether Grimrock’s allure would similarly wane, were it to receive a sequel. What is here, though, is equal parts loving throwback, equal parts a viable, enjoyable RPG – a neat package that engages the player until the end, and proves that taking a game up on its plainly articulated challenge can be motivation enough to see it through.