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4 Posts

Legend of Grimrock» Forums » Reviews

Subject: After One-and-a-Half-"Playthroughs" ... a review rss

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Maddock Krug
Lower Saxony
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Hi everyone.

About three weeks ago a friend of mine has pointed me to this game: "The Legend of Grimrock". It is a RPG-videogame developed by Almost Human, a small company of four (I guess) members from Finland. The game itself addresses a certain kind of RPG-videogames which is kind of outdated, maybe was supposed to be (nearly) dead and which is very old-schoolish.

The game is available either as a standalone game-client or via your steam-account for about 15 Bucks; atm there is kind of a summer-special price. I have learned that when the game was released it soon became one of the most favorite games via steam - and that in competition with all kinds of modern games, especially with Skyrim being the "uber-fantasy-RPG-videogame" at the moment. "The Legend of Grimrock" is a huge success; and the guys from Finland are blown away by this success. Demand seems to be high for a successor; also the guys work on an editor for gamers to create their own dungeons. The official forum is pretty lively:

1. What do you get?

"The Legend of Grimrock" is basically very similar to all time classics like "Dungeon Master" or "Eye of the Beholder". In general you play a group of four characters exploring a dungeon in mount Grimrock, which spans over about a dozen levels. Each level is a weird maze of passages, smaller or bigger rooms, traps, riddles, pressure plates, and secrets of different kinds. Your movement is not fluently; you move "tile-based"; also you don't turn fluently, but in 90-degree turns, although you may look around freely with the help of your mouse.

While you explore the dungeon levels, you encounter a variety of different monsters - giant spiders, skeletal warriors, strange Cthulhuoid mages, Ogres and whatnot. (I don't want to spoil too much here). And the deeper you get into the dungeon, the more challenging the monsters become as well.

That is why your characters evolve in the game, too. There is a basic or rudimentary experience-engine in this game. By killing monsters your characters gain experience points; doing so you will automatically gain experience levels. With each new level a character gains skillpoints. And these may be used to make a character more powerful in things like Sword-Fighting, Earth-Elemental-Magic, Assassination etc.

The available skills for a character depend on what kind of profession/ character class the character has. There are fighters, rogues, and mages.

2. Although the basic, still complex

When you start playing the game, you have to decide on a few options: How hard do you like the game to be - like easy, normal or hard? And do you wish to play the default-party or a custom party? And do you prefer playing in old-school-mode or not?

The game-mode between easy and hard does not change a lot regarding riddles or basic game-concepts; and still this choice has a major impact on your game. It "only" modifies how challenging the monsters will be.
On my first play-through I chose "hard", and I can tell you: It was hard; monsters needed a lot more physical punishment to die, also they hit my party a lot better and harder; therefore I had to be "more cunning" to beat them. On my second play-through I choose the easy mode, and it is way more easy, and yet, with regards to at least some monsters, not a sugar dance though ...

Playing with the default party earns you a team of four characters of "average" quality. On my first play-through I chose this option. And it was not a bad choice after all; but having read a couple of topics about character-build on the official Grimrock-forum I learned that the default party is far from being the optimal party. And this is, actually, kind of cool. With having completed the game with the default party (again: on level hard!), I learned that your choices in the beginning allow you a huge variety in your party setup, since there does not seem to exist "the only few" valid party-setups. Also your success depends a lot more on how you play the game and how you equip your party; the items you find compensate a lot of "poor" choices on your characters.

If you decide to play with your own party, you have to create a party of four characters. You choose from four different races (humans, minotaurs, insectoids and lizard-folk) with different advantages as well as disadvantages especially referring to the classes; there are three classes (fighter, rogue, mage) for each character available, no matter what race you choose. When doing so, you will spread a couple of attribute points to things like strength, dexterity or willpower; also you will spread the first skill-points as well as two special traits (like natural brawler, tough guy, especially skilled in ... etc.). And when you have done so, you get dropped into the game.

As for the old-school-mode: Yep, on my first play-through I chose this option. Which means: no automap. I had to draw the maps myself in order to have some orienteering. And that was a joyful moment in this game. Although the game itself provides so many "old-school"-game-engine-elements, this is really what caught me and excited me. But for people not wishing to have this, the automap-function is per default activated; therefore the game monitors automatically where you are on the current dungeon level. In the automap you may add notes.

As you can see: There are some choices to be made. And they may change the gameplay in some ways. I have learned about people already playing the game the fourth or fifth time. And people experiment a lot with different party-setups - like with four mages, or four minotaur fighters and whatnot. And these people claim: The game gets more and more exciting and does not loose so much of its "replayability", 'cause each new setup delivers its very special flaws and merits.

Truely a +1. And as it looks: Even with less capable fighters like with having four mages you may be able to play the complete game up to the deathmatch-like boss at the end of the game. This is something that did not work with old games like Eye of the Beholder. So the developers' choices on this kind of "openness" to the game is really, really great.

3. The backstory of "Legend of Grimrock"

When you start playing the game the first time (and restart it anytime after) you will have a solid, very old-school intro with still images and overlayed texts. The party of four you are playing with is a group of criminals who are thrown into the mountain of Grimrock - a gigantic, needle-like mountain with old ruins in it. When being pushed into the mountain, your party does not own anything - no armor, no weapons, no food, no lights, nothing...
The reasoning behind this punishment is that the king asks you to do one of two things: Either die in the hidden mysteries of this mountain as the rightful punishment for your crimes and sins, or explore it and reveal the secrets of mount Grimrock which none has successfully done so far; and if you do so, maybe you will be a free person again ...

That's it: You "awake" in the starting room of this mountain. And you start to search the place ...

4. Adventuring

While you explore the dungeon levels, you find more and more equipment, which gets more powerful. Also you may find new spell-scrolls explaining you how to cast spells and you may learn how to create potions to cure poison, diseases or simply wounds.

The spell-system is awkward at first, but pretty awesome after all. You don't cast spells after having memorized spells; and you don't cast spells by simply choosing from a list and throwing around with magical energy. Anytime your mage is meant to cast a spell, a small box with nine different symbols appears; these symbols represent the nine different elements which are the source the magical system. Having chosen the proper one to four different symbols for a spell, your mage may cast this spell. This again is to be related to the different magical elements skills of the character. The awkward moment here is that the handling of this system feels like being clumsy. But considering the evolving and huge power of magic in this game this is a very good means to "keep some control" over the magic. There are only about 20 different spells in the game; and in general you will only cast about three to five different spells during each game-play anyway. So there really is no trouble at all, because you get used to it very, very quickly. I really appreciate this kind of method.

Magic is something you most often use to fight monsters or to help with certain puzzles in this dungeon. Nearly each dungeon-level provides you with special puzzles - like using buttons and levers to open or close gaps, which you need to do in order to access a special location; or you need to get through a specific series of teleportation fields in order to get into special areas; or you need to activate special pressure plates to reveal secret passages or secrets. Most often you do this by activating all these things or moving in special patterns (sometimes even with only a few seconds to do so!) or by leaving items at certain places; but in a few cases you may need the help of magic as well ...

There is one interesting thing about this game: There is no healing magic available for your magical characters. Instead you will find "Blue Crystals" in certain locations of the mountain - one on each dungeon level. These are "autosave-spots" as well as universal healing-machines. They heal wounds, refresh your "mana" (which you need for magic and special attacks based on your skills), remove poisons, heal diseases and even raise the dead! That is pretty awesome. But you should keep in mind that having used a Blue Crystal will deactivate it for a while.

Although magic is kind of a nice tool in this adventure, there are a few things that magic won't help with - for instance you need to take care of food. And especially on the first dungeon levels you need to take care of light-sources as well. Food and light are diminishing resources in this game ...

5. The Endgame

No way, I will comment on this one. Help yourself, play the game and enjoy the really interesting development of things in the final chambers, which are challenging and very different from what you have learned in so many other RPG-video-games.

6. Toorum and other specials

When you play the game for the first time, you will collect a series of different notes written by a guy called "Toorum". Naturally he was a guy having explored the dungeon long before you.
If you do things right (sorry - again no spoiler!), you will be able to activate "Toorum" and be also able to play the game as "Toorum". This means: You will be able to start a new game with a one-guy-party. And that is the way to do it:
Start a new game with your custom party; enter the name "Toorum" for your first character and just hit "Enter". Voila, you are in the game with having Toorum alone on your party.
Again: In order to have it that way, you need to do something "special" during your first playthrough.
Toorum is a different class - a mixture of fighter and mage, which is called a ranger; his collection of available skills therefore is very different from the other classes.

Besides having "Toorum" as a special game-mode, the game provides you plenty of special extras. And the nice thing here is: None of them are necessary to play the game. They are the sugar on top. For instance you may collect skulls or special treasures as well as very well hidden special weapons or items. It is like having a good collection of spice in a very good meal - you can live with it or simply leave it.

7. As for my personal opinion

I think I have covered a lot of things here - not everything.
And between the lines you will have recognized that I like certain things about the game.

And it is true: This game is kind of a time-travel for me. 20 years back I enjoyed playing games like Eye of the Beholder, Might and Magic III, IV and V and some others. And to be perfectly honest: The more modern RPG-videogames became, the less I felt inclined to play them. Although the graphical developments and new strategical options or new means of character-development or more and more complex schemes of dialogue were tempting for some time (I really played a bunch of games!), none of the more modern games up to things like Skyrim or MMORPGs really caught me as much as "The Legend of Grimrock" does or the old games did. Having said this:

If you like colorful graphics, Hack'n'Slash, fluent movement, epic dialogues and stories, rich fantasy-worlds, or whatever, then Grimrock is not the game to choose. Although you have state of the art graphics, you lack anything else: a very limited gameworld, no dialogue, no story in the sense of subplots, no Hack'n'Slash like within Diabolo or MMOs ...

What I don't like about the game? Basically that sometimes it can be frustrating, especially, if you play when being very, very, very tired late in the night. And sometimes you don't recognize an item on a floor or in a niche. But is this different to other games? Naturally not.

Using the "old means" of tile-based movement allows you to experience movement-based riddles or puzzles to be solved. These are challenging. And yes, sometimes you really need to think about what or how you approach a problem within a game. It is not about simply consuming awesome graphics and listening to delicious sounds and watching incredible cut-scenes.

Also this game does not evolve around the concepts of how to tank the best way incoming damage and dish out the best possible damage; the enemies in this dungeon are terrible and dangerous. And you will have to learn how they behave in order to incorporate tile-based movement into your combat-style; this may be half valid for the easy-gamemode, but absolutely mandatory for the hard-style.

Speaking of which: I played the game in hard and I am really happy to having done so; right now I play it on the easy-mode because I want to focus a lot more on about 1/3 of the mysteries I have not solved on my first play-through. Regardless of that choice the game has not lost any of its magic and impact on me.

And that is actually something I would like stress out as the bottomline of this huge wall of words:

8. Bottomline

The game has its magic, and the few choices you have don't change this, but actually emphasize the "replayability" of "The Legend of Grimrock".
One thing to note though is it is a very "Old School" style of game, and for those of you used to newer RPG's like Mass Effect or Skyrim, you could potentially be dissapointed, give it a try though and you may just love it! (Thanks a lot @Darklord on the Grimrock-Forum for your considerations about the review.)

If this review was of some help or needs some changes or clarification, please drop me a note on the comments section ...
And if I was able to "convince" you or make you at least "curious", and yet don't feel like going over the edge to buy it: Check YouTube - there are many, many, many, many well done videos about "The Legend of Grimrock". This, by the way, reflects the huge acceptance of this game by gamers like me.

All the best!
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Olaf Buddenberg
Lower Saxony
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Hey old-timer...

if I had known the consequences I would never have mentioned LEGEND OF GRIMROCK to you! Heh, just kidding. A very good and substantial review, I enjoyed it a lot. Gives a good impression about what to expect and, well, what not. Even though I started playing it earlier than you I have not yet finished it. Too many other games on my plate.
Again, Kudos to you for doing this review.

Greetings, Argamae
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Maddock Krug
Lower Saxony
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Hi there.

Argamae wrote:
Hey old-timer...

if I had known the consequences I would never have mentioned LEGEND OF GRIMROCK to you! Heh, just kidding. A very good and substantial review, I enjoyed it a lot. Gives a good impression about what to expect and, well, what not. Even though I started playing it earlier than you I have not yet finished it. Too many other games on my plate.
Again, Kudos to you for doing this review.

Greetings, Argamae

Thank you very much. This is very kind of you.
And yeah: Somehow I have burnt your soul a couple of times considering the time I have spent playing this game by now. But let me tell you: I saved your soul at least as often, because you actually recommended my playing this game.

All the best!
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Great review... I am currently on my second play through with Toorum...

My first was on Normal difficulty with a custom party - 2 fighters a thief and a mage - as that seemed like a good 'mix' for what I anticipated the game would involve. My thief became a ranged weapon expert, but on reflection I could have done with a second mage instead, due to the spell specialisations.
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