Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Legend of Grimrock 2

Post-Launch Review
Legend of Grimrock 2
Developer: Almost Human
Released: October 2014
Played: true ending in 23h


Shipwrecked on the isle of Nex, four prisoners can escape only by exploring the island's ancient ruins, fighting and puzzling through perilous dungeons, discovering powerful artifacts, assembling the four elements, and confronting the island master.

At Launch

Grimrock II was well received, earning average review scores of 85%. Reviewers enjoyed the polished take on and new additions to the old-school genre, praising the expanded scope, features, and freedom of progression from the first game. There were complaints that some of the puzzles were too obscure.

Post Launch

Several updates fixed bugs and resolved issues. Steam Workshop support is available for custom levels.

I enjoyed the first Grimrock - which was entirely an indoor dungeon crawler where progress was measured by how many levels you've descended into the dungeon. So I was very excited to find out that Grimrock 2 is an open world with non-linear progression and many ruins and dungeons scattered across the island!

Before I get to the actual game, I want to mention the difficulty options, since that's one of the first choices you'll have to make. There's the usual normal or hard difficulty, where hard mode has stronger enemies. But there are some extra checkboxes: there's an old school mode that completely disables the map, and another that makes the large save/heal crystals usable only once each instead of on a recharge timer. I didn't use those options, though.

The basic gameplay is the same as in the first: it's a tile-based exploration/puzzle/RPG where you're rewarded for quick thought, clever thinking, and observation skills. There are dozens of secrets and hidden areas with special equipment or upgrades. The statistics and skills are deep enough to mess with different character builds but simple enough that it's easy to understand even on a first look. The tile-based movement might seem a little clunky if you're not used to it, but you'll adapt quick enough.

I really enjoy the expanded scope and exploration. The outdoor areas look great and I'm very happy the game engine upgrade allows such large areas and long sightlines along with the strong textures and light effects. While the structure and layout of the island do encourage a certain path, you're never forced down a single route, and you have the option to tackle many areas or challenges in your own order. Some areas are locked behind puzzles with their solutions in other dungeons, but if you can brute force the puzzle or you already know the solution (from an earlier playthrough or a guide) you're free to pass. Even discovery of spells and alchemical recipes isn't locked to scrolls - if you experiment and have the skill points, you can find stuff early.

A few of the puzzles did seem a little too fiddly. I felt that some hints weren't hinty enough. I can't really explain without spoiling puzzles, but I did run into a few bits where I was stumped and had to look up a guide to progress. Some of those times made me feel dumb - certain puzzles used basic game physics that I forgot existed because they come up so infrequently. Rarely, though, I looked up a solution and thought "how the hell was I supposed to figure that out?". However, for the most part, puzzles and secrets are well put together and are very solvable with enough attention to detail.

But for what often feels like a slow-paced game, there are some real adrenaline-pumping traps where you're suddenly in a very dangerous position and you have to react fast. I had a few panicked deaths from getting surprised and scrambling to flip through four character inventories to find potions or equipment I didn't think I'd need just yet. One moment in particular - in the desert - really freaked me out.

Inventory management was a bit of a pain sometimes. You have both a limited number of inventory slots per character, and also a per-character weight limit based on your stats. Four inventories, each with its own different weight limit and sub-bags, require careful management if you want key items to be quickly accessible, more so if you're trying to collect armour sets or keep situational gear around.

Finally I was pleased to have more of a story this time around. It's still all told through notes and letters found in the world, but I loved that there's a full story to the island and a complete ending - and also a teased, hidden sublayer with an additional boss and alternate ending. You need to collect sixteen power gems to form four elemental orbs to gain access to the castle and ending, but thorough players might find up to twenty gems. What's that all about? It's worth your time to figure out why there are extra gems - and no, it's not just in case you miss some.

Certain elements of Legend of Grimrock 2 might feel clunky to players coming from other genres and some of the puzzles might feel misleading or obscure, but this is a long, complex, good-looking game with lots of depth, cool puzzles, and great rewards for thorough exploration, as well as interesting difficulty modes if you're looking for a bigger challenge.

Recommendation: play it.

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