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Middle-aged nerds will love this game. Back in the primeval past of the 80’s and 90’s, video game designers were constantly trying to make computer games that would recreate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Among the first successful attempts were Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. These put players inside dungeons that were filled with treasure, and monster just like in D&D, but without the hassle of interacting with other humans. Legend of Grimrock takes all of the gameplay from these classic adventures and puts them in a shiny new dungeon.
As with the dungeon crawlers of yesteryear, in Legend of Grimrock, players control a party of adventurers of various races and classes. Players can create their own party, assigning race, class, abilities and more to each of four characters, but there is a default party as well which is well-balanced and ready to go.
The quest is viewed from the first person perspective, but the movement system is different from a typical first person game in that pressing one of the direction keys (Mapped to WASD) will move the entire party one square on the map. Enemies move in real time, and each member of the party attacks in real time too, with a recharge for each character.
Even though everything is happening in real time, this grid system adds in a good deal of turn-based tactical thinking. The four members of the party are in a formation that is set by the Player; two in the front, and two in the back, with the front two taking the brunt of the damage, and the rear two only being able to attack with projectiles or magic.
The entire party occupies a single square on the grid, while enemies can split up and flank. This is a bit of a cheat for the bad guys, but the Player’s party also has some unfair tricks to exploit. It’s very easy to simply sidestep the enemy’s attacks. This applies to both projectiles, and to melee attacks. Diagonal attacks aren’t allowed, so as the foes move from grid to grid trying to position themselves next to the party, players can sidestep while waiting for their own attacks to recharge.
The designers have embraced these gameplay mechanics, flaws and all, and put in modern graphics with a modern user interface . The result is a game that will delight players who enjoy dungeon crawls but will probably bore or frustrate gamers who aren’t into this genre. While it was made with a great deal of enthusiasm and competence, there are issues that will keep it from achieving mass appeal.
The story is very limited for example. Players are given some text and still images explaining that their characters are prisoners who’ve been given the opportunity for freedom if they brave the depths of Grimrock. In general, though, the game is all about puzzle-solving and combat.
Players accustomed to the vast array of choices in modern RPG’s are likely to find the options in Grimrock to be rather small too. There are more than enough options to create a compelling group of adventurers who each serve a purpose on the team, but the options are no where near what most RPGs offer now.
Where Legend of Grimrock shines is in the challenge. This game doesn’t coddle players; it has the bare minimum tutorial needed to explain the basic first steps, but after that, players will need to figure out everything for themselves. And by “Everything” this means things like how to attack, and how to revive fallen party members.
The characters are thrust into this adventure with virtually no loot at all - not even a Rusty Dagger, or Tattered Rags to protect them. This makes the early parts of the adventure difficult as the party makes do with whatever equipment can be scrounged.
The puzzles can be quite tricky at times too, offering an even greater cerebral challenge on top of the tactical maneuvering. They start off easy with simple fetch quests, and key hunts, but eventually they get more complicated. Unfortunately too many of the secrets require the player to hunt down a couple of “Loose stones” by looking at the walls for bricks with the telltale sign of a hidden switch.
Younger gamers without fond memories of this sort of old school dungeon crawl might want to try Legend of Grimrock to experience how gaming was done back when 16 Megs of RAM was considered “A lot”. Gamers who were there the first time will certainly find it to be a rewarding return to classic adventure.