Legend of Gimrock may best be described as a “blast from the past”. Released by developers Almost Human, Legend of Grimrock is a dungeon-crawling role-playing game which plays almost exactly like dungeon-crawling classics such as The Bard’s Tale, Eye of the Beholder, Phantasy Star and Dungeon Master. It’s a traditional, old-fashioned dungeon-crawling RPG with a modern take. It has everything a veteran dungeon-crawler fan would expect including grid-based movement, real-time combat and a maze-like environment filled with monsters, puzzles and traps. With the Legend of Grimlock, Almost Human hopes to take a classic role-playing genre that provided gamers with hours of enjoyment and challenge into the new generation of video gaming.
The story begins in a rather grim manner. The game opens with an airship heading towards the notorious Mount Grimrock. Four prisoners have been tried for crimes unbeknownst to the player and are cast into the depths of Mount Grimrock as punishment. Here you must help them survive the labyrinth of the Grimrock dungeon as you combat monstrous enemies, solve mind-bending puzzles and even fight back the pain of starvation. You’re able to begin with a pre-determined party to begin the adventure or choose your own party members to specify their race, class, attributes and special traits for a more personalized experience. There’s also the option to turn off auto-mapping, encouraging players to map their surroundings using pen and paper. Veteran dungeon-crawler players will rejoice at this feature as this was how dungeon-crawling RPGs were played back in the day, however for the newcomer this feature is best left unchanged.
The conventional gaming mechanics of classic dungeon-crawling are present in this game and it’s been given a slick 7th generation makeover. The graphics look great and present the gamespace in high quality. The environments look detailed and impressive, as well as dingy and depressing. The elaborate and dull corridors of stone, moist and moss act as a constant reminder that the depth of Mount Grimrock is a cold, heartless and unforgiving place. The lighting effects strengthen the ambience of the dungeon, where light sources are scarce and the rest is blanketed with darkness, concealing the horrors that await. The corridors are narrow in their design which is perfect as it makes the player feel trapped and helpless, giving the player no choice but to confront whatever stands in their way. The auditory aspect of Legend of Grimrock also helps create the tense and grim atmosphere of Mount Grimrock’s dungeon. Small, scurrying creatures can be heard beneath the player. The snarls, moans and roaring heard from down the dark passageways act as a chilling prelude of what’s coming, melee and magic attacks sound subtle but impactful, the soft winds echo throughout the dungeon and the lack of music adds to the already intense and lonesome atmosphere, reminding the player this less of a magical adventure and more of a fight for survival.
Combat is done in real-time and makes for some intense and frantic battles. Your character’s weapons are not visible during combat, yet in a game such as this, the impact and the amount of damage your weapons do is much more important than how your weapons look. Once you strike your opponents you are given a brief cool-down period before you are able to attack again. This does leave you vulnerable to attack, however this gives you the perfect opportunity to doge incoming attacks and re-organise your party though a dynamic and easy-to-use interface. You’re able to switch between characters by holding the left click on their portrait icon and dragging it to the front or the rear of the party. Left clicking on the portraits also opens the character’s page where you can view their inventory, skills and experience. The inventory window is very important as supplies are scarce and you’ll have to manage your character’s items very carefully.
Melee attacks are done by right clicking on the character’s hands where they use either fists or whatever is in their hands. Some enemies leave behind consumables when they’re dead which you can use to feed your party members and hold back starvation. The magic system works by using runes. You arrange the runes in a different order to initiate the spell and you learn the correct patterns as you gather scrolls which show you different patterns for certain spells. All these mechanics require you to strategise before going into battle and act quickly during battle. The entire combat system is a lot of fun to interact with and once you’ve mastered this system, you’ll be slaying even the strongest of foul beasts with ease.
Monsters aren’t the only problem you’ll be facing in the unforgiving dungeon of Mount Grimrock. Much like its dungeon-crawling ancestors, Legend of Grimlock features nefarious puzzles where you’ll have to use your cunning and wits if you are to pass safely and continue. There are many puzzles which includes using pressure-plates to open gates in the correct order, navigating a maze of teleporters and searching for a key-item which unlocks a door halting your advance. Some of these puzzles involve deadly traps such as pitfalls and teleports leading to ambushes by monsters. In some parts of the dungeon there are inscriptions on the walls which give you clues on how to solve the puzzles. These puzzles can prove just a deadly as the monsters and can be notoriously difficult to solve, however using your wits to overcome these puzzles leads to a fulfilling and satisfying outcome.
Once you have completed the game, there’s plenty of reason to return for another play-through. The game is rather short but it has plenty of replay value to offer. Play in a different party configuration and crank up the difficulty by turning the auto-mapping feature off. Solve puzzles you couldn’t solve the first time to find secret treasures that you didn’t come across in your first play-through. Also with promised DLC and mod support on the way, there may be a very good reason to continue playing this game for a very long time.
The game captures the age-old feel of dungeon-crawling very well. Yet this game is by no means perfect. There are some noticeable imperfections such as the combat which can get very frustrating during the heat of the moment. You may be facing a tough enemy and desperately trying to dodge it’s attacks, only to find that you’ve hopped in front of a dead end or onto the path of another monster. Many times you’ll be fighting monsters in narrow corridors giving you no room to avoid attacks and where the only option is to stand your ground. The magic system isn’t explained in-game either and you have to read the digital manual that comes with the game to find out more. The difficulty spikes may perhaps be the most frustrating aspect of the game for some. Constantly encountering stronger enemies, falling for traps and getting stuck on puzzles can get frustrating for players who are not ready to expect the unexpected.
Thankfully, everything that’s positive about this game outweighs what’s negative about it. This game delivers so well that it’s hard to find any fault. This game does not hold your hand and treat you like a fool. It’s punishing, it’s challenging but it’s also rewarding and overcoming the impossible using your skills in battle and in enigmatic situations makes your triumph all the more sweeter. Almost Human has shown with Legend of Grimrock that even an age-old formula such as dungeon-crawling has still got what it takes to provide gamers with a solid, exciting experience in this new gaming generation. Whether your a dungeon-crawling veteran or someone looking for a fun and challenging RPG, then Legend of Grimrock may certainly be just for you.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Almost Human Ltd.