Developer: Almost Human / Publisher: Almost Human / Played on: PC / Price: $15 / ESRB: Not Rated
As generations of videogame consoles come and go we see vast improvements in many categories: graphics get a huge overhaul, the complexities of gameplay increases, and entire genres are redone to take advantage of each new system’s capabilities. A few casualties are left behind in this transition like the point-and-click adventure game, 2D platformers, and dungeon crawling role-playing games. However each generation has a select few titles that stubbornly stick to the old formula and emulate the magic of games past, which is the case with Legend of Grimrock for the PC. A difficult, retro style RPG, Legend of Grimrock challenges players to fight for their freedom and escape from Mount Grimrock or be left to rot like countless others.
Life couldn’t be worse for you and your fellow party members: you’ve been escorted to the peak of the ominous Mount Grimrock after receiving a pardon from the king for earlier acts of treason. The good king informed you that should you reach the bottom of the mountain you can have your freedom. Plenty of other prisoners seeking their freedom have attempted the same fate you seek but to no avail, and they have never been heard from since. Reluctantly, your group plunges deep into Grimrock wanting to find the exit swiftly and avoid the same tragic end as your predecessors. Aside from the introduction that outlines the start of your journey, the rest of Legend of Grimrock’s story is told through notes and scrolls found on the dungeon floor giving hints of past prisoners’ adventures. Occasionally you’ll hear a voice in your head revealing that Grimrock holds a dastardly secret but these clues are always cryptic and leave you with only a bit more knowledge than you had before. Ultimately, the mysterious doesn’t get too captivating and will leave you wanting much more.
The game is a nod to much older RPGs, so this sort of cliché story does a good job recreating the atmosphere of RPGs like Eye of the Beholder (which is a big inspiration for the entire game). The narrative loosely forms a union between characters and gameplay, but you’ll probably blow off the story entirely and just enjoy crawling through each area of the dungeon not giving a care in the world as to why you and your partners are there.
Legend of Grimrock looks, feels, and plays like a classic role-playing game. The first-person view puts you face to face with each monster you come across. Each level of the dungeon is essentially a big grid and can only be traversed one tile at a time. You can only move in forward, backward, or side-to-side at any given time. Enemies move on their own volition and if you’re not careful you can become surrounded by foes and meet a quick death. This grid-based movement allows for an experience you don’t see in many RPGs today, because, well, we’ve pretty much moved past this navigation limitation. But this classic scheme captures the feel of 1980s/1990s RPGs perfectly and is still engaging and exciting to play. The fear that I felt after seeing that first giant spider in the distance and the adrenaline that pumped through my veins as I desperately tried to escape its mandibles was unlike anything I’ve felt with current RPGs.
When starting up a new game you are presented with a few options that drastically alter the gameplay. First you have the choice of using four pre-created heroes for your adventure or creating your own companions. Creating your own heroes is the way to go because you can sculpt each character the exact way you want, very similar to how you would create a character in Dungeons & Dragons. After selecting your race (Human, Minotaur, Lizardman, or Insectoid) and class (fighter, mage, or rogue) you need to distribute each character’s skill points. Tweak strength, vitality, and willpower to make the perfect warrior, and give them traits like Tough to increase health or Cold Blooded to increase cold resistance. Leveling up allows you to put points into class-specific categories, such as the mage’s different schools of magic, or the fighter’s varied weapon proficiencies. I was impressed with the depth of the character creation and leveling system: each level is hard earned but worth the trouble for the reward you gain. As you start up the game you’re given the option to change the difficulty and even turn the map feature on or off. I honestly cannot even imaging how one would play without the map because dungeons can get so complicated as you play trough the 14 levels the game has to offer.
Puzzle solving is a big part of gameplay. You’ll spend a good deal of time figuring out how to unlock the door to the next level. Each area’s puzzles are well thought out and challenging almost to a fault: I was left scratching my head many times without a clue on how to figure out what to do only to resort to forums to find the answer. Killing enemies is just as important as puzzle solving. Some enemies block paths to vital keys and chests. On top of that, some puzzles require you to withstand an onslaught of enemies in order to progress. This is a good place to talk about the games incredible difficulty. Make no mistake; you’ll be reloading your last save countless times as one wrong move can spell doom for your entire party. Trial and error is sometimes the best way to figure out what exactly needs to be done. Cheap deaths and the grueling difficulty can be killer and will steer many away (even on the lower difficulty setting). I recommend saving often to avoid a frustrating reload later. However, the constant loading of past saves gets to be very bothersome as you’ll frequently pause the action to save the game, breaking up a lot of the tension. Also there isn’t much in terms of post-game replay value other than running through the game again with a fresh set of heroes. There is an option to play additional dungeons, but at the time of release these are not available. On the whole, Legend of Grimrock nails the look and feel of older RPGs that it was going for, and subsequently retains the challenge most of these games presented.
Movement in the game will take some getting used to. The W, A, S, and D keys move your character forward, left, backward, and right respectively, with the Q and E keys turning them 90 degrees. I had to play around in the game’s starter level a few minutes to get the hang of everything. Attacking is done strangely as well. In the lower right corner of the screen is your characters’ portraits as well as what they’re holding in each hand, and you have to right-click on a weapon to use it. Whether it’s casting spells or swinging a sword, you have to right click on the item. There were plenty of times I accidently left-clicked on an item and removed it from the character’s hand instead of attacking, leading to yet another reload. The non-intuitive nature of the controls makes an already hard game even harder but for the wrong reasons.
Legend of Grimrock tries to recreate to classic RPG and succeeds. The retro gameplay is an ironic breath of fresh air for the genre. A high challenge and rewarding leveling system makes each enemy kill worthwhile and addictive. Solving puzzles is just as satisfying as slaying ogres, but sometimes the difficulty can get the better of you with a particularly hard puzzle of fight. Overall Legend of Grimrock is an entertaining treat for classic gamers and RPG fanatics that dares to do something new (or rather, old) with the genre.