I’ve never played the games that Legend of Grimrock is inspired by. Dungeon Master, Land of Lore, and the Ultima series were before my time, and I've never felt the urge to try them. Legend of Grimrock has been marketed as being fun even to those who haven't experienced its spiritual predecessors, and that's been true for me. Legend of Grimrock is a game that has caught a lot of attention for its style of gameplay - grid-based, first person dungeon crawling -and I’m going to cover how it does this and whether or not fans of the genre can enjoy it as much as they say.
These tentacles will follow you as you descend lower into Grimrock..which doesn't make a whole lot of sense
You control a group of four prisoners, who have been cast into the prison that is Mount Grimrock. That's all for the story, and that's fine, since story isn’t really a necessity in Grimrock, as there isn’t really room for one. You will meet no shopkeepers, no NPCs and no fellow weary adventurers, because, well, it’s a deserted prison, and you and your group of criminals can't leave. Notes from a previous prisoner are strewn throughout the dungeon, and you will occasionally be talked to by a mysterious voice in your dreams, but that is basically the extent of the entire narrative.
When you first begin the game, character customization is optional. You can choose a preset group of adventurers, or customize your own party with members of Insectoids, Minotaurs, Humans, and even Giant Lizards. The race of your characters confers different base stats.The Minotaurs, for example, have higher strength and vitality, but lowered dexterity and willpower, which makes them the best choice for Fighters. The combat is pretty simple; there’s sword swinging, spell casting and ranged combat, which is each class's respective manner of fighting, all done with the single click of a mouse.
The three classes you can choose from are what you would imagine. There’s the Fighter, Rogue, and Mage, and each one does what’s expected. The Fighter has high strength and health, and is proficient in whatever weapons you decide. Mages are given a choice of what kind of magic is best for them, each time a level is gained points can be put into ice, fire, earth, or air magic proficiencies. Rogues can level up projectile weapons, like crossbows and bows, throwing weapons, or daggers. The rogue also invites some stealth gameplay, with the “Assassination” skill set granting bonuses for attacking from behind, among other bonuses.
The four characters all have portraits on the right of the screen, and your party moves tile-to-tile in a 2x2 grid. The order of your characters' portraits in the HUD represents the order in which they're standing. As such, the portraits should be arranged strategically. Typically, I put my Fighter at the front to tank damage, and the mages at the back to deal damage safely. It is possible to be attacked from behind, but usually the rearmost party members only take damage from falling or magic attacks. Attacking is as simple as right clicking an individual character’s weapon. A cooldown limits the amount of attacks per character, so often times it’s a matter of cycling through each party member’s attack, while backpedaling away from whatever enemy you’re facing.
The RPG-management portion of the game involves maintaining party member’s stats, a food meter, weight carrying limits, and torches that run out quite often. These are all familiar elements, and are usually pretty easy to manage. Food is found throughout the dungeon, as well as torches. Rarely are there stretches where neither can be found.The unique challenge that arises with grid-based gameplay is when you are facing multiple enemy units. Oftentimes I found myself stuck between two enemies and a wall, with all my attacks on cool down, which essentially guarantees death.
Legend of Grimrock is not afraid to completely outnumber you: instances of gathering innocuous treasures and then having the walls peel away to reveal 20 monsters is not uncommon. Situational and locational awareness are a requirement when fighting, as well as traversing the dungeon, due to various pitfalls and traps placed around Grimrock. While falling down a pit can give you a small respite from the monsters above, it damages not only the front characters but the whole party, and mages are quite squishy.
Exploration, puzzle solving and dungeon crawling are the game's main attractions, and Grimrock exceeds at these spectacularly. The traversal of the various floors of the dungeons is very satisfying, and seeing the map gradually fill up until completion, floor by floor, gives a sense of accomplishment. For the more hardcore players out there, the “old-school” mode disables the map completely, and supplies you with printable grid paper that you can draw your own map on. If you enable this at the start of the game you cannot turn it off for that save, so be wary if you’re not completely up to it.
The atmospheric dungeon coupled with the tough enemies makes Grimrock a very tense place to traverse. Often heard are the cries of others echoing off the walls, or the patter and scuffling of creatures you can't see. The torch mechanic really shines in this area, as running out in the middle of an area without any light source can be quite unnerving. The feeling of scrounging in the dark for another torch while being completely vulnerable to an attack is an experience, to say the least. The levels you traverse through don't change a whole lot, but the environment presented is excellent and consistent throughout.
The dungeon's puzzles are a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re engaging and require a bit of thought, but other times it’s simply a matter of mindless trial and error. The most common puzzles are riddles, teleport mazes, or simply finding a hidden switch somewhere on the wall. Secret areas and puzzles are everywhere in Grimrock: they appear as either golden treasures or glorified closets dubbed “Iron Doors” that are found on every level and contain high-level equipment. All of the secret areas in the game are completely optional, and require a bit of thinking to find the solution to, but will result in very good loot. A statistics page on the main menu gives a complete rundown on exactly what has happened so far, such as attacks done, tiles traversed, notes found, and secrets discovered, which invites players to scour every inch of the game to search for secrets.
A somewhat unique experience coupled with a low price point makes Legend of Grimrock well worth checking out, for both fans of the genre and newcomers. Grimrock can be purchased on Steam, Good Old Games, or the developer’s website for $15. It is well worth the price.