I bought Legend of Grimrock in this years steam summer sale, it’s a swedish developed, old school, tile based, first person rpg. The story is fairly basic but works well as the motivator for this classic return to a forgotten style of play. You are a band of four condemned prisoners, as is tradition, you are transported by airship to the peak of a mountain top and then dropped into an open hole, the very top of an ancient network of dungeons. The objective is simple, survive to the bottom, where you can escape. Here are my thoughts having done so.

I confess, while being an old school gamer, I strangely have very little past experience of this genre of rpg. To begin, you get to create your own party, it can consist of four characters. You can choose from humans, minotaurs, insectoids and lizards, male or female in the typical three different classes, fighter, mage or rogue. You can assign stat points, choose traits, skills and select portraits then finally name them. All the things rpg fans love, your party is arranged in a square formation, two at the front, two at the back, all on the same tile for movement.

Being aware the gameplay was tile based, meant that although it appeared realtime the movement was based on units of time allowing enemies to move across a grid of squares hence “tiles”. While you could look around between squares in 360 degrees you are locked into looking forward as you move. I opted for 2 fighters at the front to soak up damage and get some melee hits in, then a rogue and a mage at the back. The characters at the back really need ranged weapons since they can’t reach to melee. There is one weapon early in the game which allows this, a spear, but it’s not going to cut it later in the game so is really only a stop-gap while your group finds better equipment.

I made a minotaur who was big on axes and hit points, a human who was big on swords and armour, a rogue that did well with bows and a mage that used ice and to a lesser degree fire magic. As long as I kept my melee fighters facing my enemies, my squishies would never get hit, harder than it sounds but it worked well enough.

The game takes units of time to take an action, move across a tile, swing a weapon,, fire a bow, cast a spell etc, there are also cooldowns for all combat actions which require you to cycle between characters or take evasive action between attacks. In some situations, you can use iron gates to put a barrier between you and your enemy, exploiting the turn based nature to open gate, attack, close gate, repeat, and most of the time this interrupts the enemy from getting a hit in. You can also move about assuming you have the room, constantly keeping your enemy at bay, swinging at their side or rear as they move to face you. This works very well against a single enemy but becomes quite a challenge when you face multiple opponents. Being hit from the side or rear is more damaging and will affect party members in those locations.

The magic system is a little clunky, it is based on selecting a set of runes to cast spells you have skill for. However the game also expects you to find scrolls to know what those spells are, you can cheat and check a website for spell combinations or randomly experiment too of course. I found this the weakest element of the game, while it was fun to click runes, doing so in the middle of combat was quite time-consuming and fiddly, especially when moving and fighting with your three other characters aswell. I would have liked to see a “repeat last spell” function, that allowed me to recast whatever spell I had prepared previously.

Potion making is fairly basic but also operates on finding recipes in the game, or checking websites/experimenting with combinations. Heal potions were the bread and butter choice here, energy potions worked for my mage and a few cure venom potions helped against spiders. I didn’t find the others to be of much use, and with limited glass vials to put potions in, they never seemed worth dropping a health potion for.

While there is a fair bit of combat within the game, and a few really hard fights that require some perseverance and thought to bypass, a large portion of the gameplay is given to puzzle solving. These puzzles can range from finding hidden buttons in innocuous walls to standing on pressure plates or falling down pits to discover secret areas on lower levels.

While some of them are comfortable to solve, some are quite convoluted and require some disjointed thinking to understand. Some gamers will love this sort of challenge but with the pressure of starvation always at the back of my mind, standing around for ages, unable to advance, trying to understand where shadows converged on the ground when they didn’t appear to, or what order you need to walk through portals to not be put back at the beginning became frustrating fast.

If you really do love solving things and spending hours purely on that aspect, then you’ll love this, if on the other hand the experience is more about moving onward, getting yourself a handy walk through guide will help you enjoy the game more, especially if you want to unlock the secret weapons or “Toorum” replay mode.

Visually the game is quite sharp and attractive, the textures and monsters are nice and while the animations are not expansive they all work well within the tile based game design. The wall textures are limited per dungeon theme but in some ways this is a benefit for learning where the hidden buttons are on the walls. The lighting is pretty good, using torches and magic to cast shadows, lighting up areas and alerting enemies to your presence are all things you have to consider.

The sound and music are decent enough, hearing enemies deeper in the dungeon or the occasional earthquake add to the atmosphere and uncertainty but as with the visuals it’s within the parameters of the game rather than anything particularly outstanding. I have heard they will be releasing a dungeon editor tool-set to the fans soon, this should provide lots of player made dungeons for replayability and would be a welcome addition to any fan of the game.

Legend Of Grimrock is a decent game, it’s not on the same scale as say Skyrim or Dragon Age but then, it isn’t trying to be. It’s a respectable nod to an older generation of rpg gaming which died out, not because it was bad but simply because new ways of doing things were discovered. For it’s price, no rpg gamer should be without it.

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