PC | The Legend of Grimrock Review
Long before Mass Effect‘s Reapers and Skyrim‘s arrows to the knee, there were games like Eye of the Beholder: first-person dungeon crawlers that fell by the wayside with the advent of 3D graphics. Developer Almost Human has made such a triumphant return to the subgenre with Legend of Grimrock that the word “resurrection” springs immediately to mind. Grimrock is decidedly old-school, right down to including a PDF of graph paper for drawing your own maps.
You start out with a party of four prisoners who get unceremoniously chucked into a huge dungeon (the titular Grimrock) and instructed that if they can escape alive, all charges against them will be dropped. While Grimrock offers you a premade party to start with, you can dump them and instead custom create four stalwarts to suit your tastes.
There are four races to choose from: humans, minotaurs, lizardmen, and insectoids. Humans are fairly good at everything, while each of the other races specializes in one of the three classes: fighter, rogue, and mage, respectively. On top of race/class distinctions, Grimrock has a fairly simple statistical attribute system: when characters level up (by killing enough monsters), they get a number of skill points with which they can raise certain class-based skills (for example, air magic or staff defense for mages, and swords or armor for fighters). Raise a skill high enough, and you unlock a variety of perks, including stat boosts, new spells, and special abilities like backstabbing for double or triple damage.
While leveling your characters’ skills is critical for surviving the game’s many hostile encounters–some of which are brutally difficult–you need your own set of abilities, largely of the cognitive nature, for solving Grimrock’s arsenal of mind-bending puzzles. Sure, they start out easy enough–flip a lever here, jump down a pit there–but eventually they get so tough that even a grizzled vet will run screaming to the Internet for assistance. Still, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as putting the old noodle on the proverbial rack and coaxing forth the answer to a real nutcracker of a puzzle; the sense of satisfaction almost supersedes the sense of anticipation at collecting your reward of loot. Almost. Many of Grimrock’s puzzles are optional, and you can beat the game while leaving a lot of the really tough ones aside, but they do yield powerful treasures that assist you in Grimrock’s toughest (and totally mandatory) challenge: combat.
Where fighting’s concerned, Grimrock is a strictly tile-based affair. That is, you move a single square at a time, ahead, behind, or laterally. Enemies also move in this piecemeal manner, and combat generally consists of you and your foes ending up in adjacent squares and then, er, squaring off. You fight by clicking your characters’ two action buttons (one for each hand), which initiates an action based on whatever item is currently associated with that button. Swords swing, bows thwack, throwing knives hurtle toward enemies, and staves bring up the game’s rune-based magic interface. Here, you’re presented with a 3-by-3 grid of runes that you must combine to form spells that you cast by hitting the large staff button.
To the game’s great credit, these runes are logically connected to specific concepts (there’s one that signifies “fiery” things, one that signifies “projectile,” and so on), so you can experiment on your own, although the game does provide you with spell “recipes” at regular intervals, too. You’ll often make surprising discoveries, although mages cannot cast spells above their level, even if you manage to decipher the rune combinations through trial and error.
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