Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11 2012 (PC) / December 19 2012 (Mac & Linux)
Legend of Grimrock is a dungeon crawler built like some of the old classics. A party of four is tossed into the dungeons of Mount Grimrock, told that they're absolved of their crimes... if they can make it out alive. The group must solve puzzles, defeat monsters, and bypass traps in order to survive and discover the hidden truth behind Grimrock.
Legend of Grimrock was well received, earning average review scores of 82%. Critics enjoyed the old-school feel and mechanics, and especially the game's clever puzzles. The combat system came under fire for being too exploitable with dodge-and-stab tactics.
A few patches have been released for bug fixes and improvements. More importantly, a dungeon editor was added in a free patch, so you can create your own levels.
The dev team has also teased some new environments and enemies that they're currently working on, with no word as to what they're for (but the likeliest option is new dungeon editor assets, and possibly official bonus levels).
Grid-Based Movement & Tactical Combat
Before I actually played the game, I thought that grid movement would be clunky and bad, but it actually provides an interesting dynamic: party facing. Your party of four occupies one grid square, and you choose how they're ordered - a simple setup is fighters in front, rogue and wizard in back. If you're fighting an enemy in front of you, it can only hit your fighters, which is what you want. But if an enemy gets behind or beside you, they can attack your squishies. So combat isn't just about mashing attack buttons - positioning and movement are extremely important to protecting your team, controlling monster movement, and avoiding attacks entirely.
The monsters are pretty well modelled and animated, but it really struck me when I saw my first troll. The trolls use detailed skin textures with bumps and pores, and they move fluidly. Trolls look awesome! Also, the hooded tentacle guys are also pretty neat.
There are 71 secrets throughout Grimrock's dungeons. That's a lot! Some are easy to find, some are simple but hard to spot, and others require you to solve some tricky puzzles. Of course, all the best loot is hidden in the secret areas, so it's worth your while to keep an eye out for hidden switches or paths.
Grimrock gives you the option to start with a default party selection, or to customize them yourself. The default option is nice to have if you want to get a feel for the game before jumping right into the math and mechanics, while the custom option is great for RPG veterans. The stats and levelling systems are easy to understand but fairly diverse. Strength affects carrying capacity and damage, dexterity affects accuracy and dodge, etc. When you level up you gain four points which can be allotted to your skills, which vary by class. Each skill gives you a bonus every two or three points, so you can gain something every time you level up, but you don't have to (if for some strange reason you don't want to).
Speaking of options for veterans, there's a very old-school option for the game's map. Normally the map fills itself out as you explore, but with the hardcore option on, you get no map, and you can't change the setting after you've started - if you want a map, it's pencil and paper. The grid system makes it easy to map on graph paper. Most people probably won't use it, but it's a nice option to have, especially since you can't cheat and look at the game map if you think you took something down wrong.
Dungeon Editor + Steam Workshop
Not only can you build your own dungeons, but you can share and download them via the Steam Workshop. If you loved the game and wish you had more, just take a look at the top-rated content in the Workshop, and there you go!
Also, the editor includes a cool feature where you can immediately test the level you're building without leaving the editor, which is very convenient.
Strong Premise, Little Plot
I really like the premise of Grimrock: in this one country, those who commit crimes are flown to the top of Mount Grimrock, where they are absolved of their crimes... and then thrown into the dungeons, which no one has ever escaped. Basically, if you make it out, you're free! Except no one ever has.
There are two plotlines that carry through the game: the story of a previous prisoner, Toorum, which you find in scattered notes that help you out in small ways; and the mysterious voice in your dreams, leading you further down into Grimrock's dungeons. But neither of these are really plots or stories - they're really more like the audio or text log collectibles you find in many games, at least up until the end.
Basically what I'm saying here is that there's no real story short of "You've been thrown in a dungeon!". If you like dungeon crawls, that's fine. If you want a story, you won't really find one here.
Across thirteen dungeon levels, there are only four environment types. Within an environment, every wall (or floor or ceiling) uses the same texture, with a few decorations added to some tiles. The engine does a good job with lighting and textures, but the environments do feel kind of monotonous. Monsters look nice, but everything else gets boring after a while.
Earlier I talked about how I liked the facing dynamic even though I feared that the game would seem clunky with its movement system. Well, it still is kind of clunky. Monster animations are good, but when they're moving around the dungeon, they advance, stop, advance, stop as they move across grid spaces. You also need to press a move key exactly once for each square you want to move or rotate the party. Pressing the button more than once, or holding it, can cause you to move too many or too few squares, which can result in death. But most of all, it's the animation that bothers me. It's weird to see the spider move forward, stop, turn right, stop, move forward, stop, turn left, stop, move forward, stop, and then attack me.
This fault is a combination of poor AI and the limitations of the grid system. Every monster in the game can be easily defeated by simply sidestepping between attacks, potentially preventing enemies from ever hitting you at all. Granted, sometimes you don't have space with all the monsters around, but if you play smart you can almost always restrict combat to a single enemy at a time. Once you figure out the timings, combat is simply an exercise in attack-dodging until the monster is dead, with little threat to your party.
Recommendation: play it.
Legend of Grimrock is a great dungeon crawler with a classic style. It's easy to pick up, but has some depth to it. Customization options are cool, and a level editor is always a great tool to have. Grimrock is well-built and full of secrets to discover, and with the Steam Workshop, offers plenty of quality player-created extra content. Play Grimrock because it's awesome.