Review of Legend of Grimrock


Avery Abernethy, 29 July 2012

Developer: Almost Human Games; Publisher: Almost Human Games

 

Legend of Grimrock is a PC game in a unique niche. It is a four character, party based, puzzle heavy dungeon crawl. Although there is some combat, the real challenge is in the wide variety of puzzles.

The Basics

The game employs many conventions of medieval/magic based role-playing games. The player can create their party of four characters or use a preset party. There are four races (human, minotaur, lizardman, and insectoid) and three character classes (fighter, mage, and rogue). There are four ability scores (strength, dexterity, vitality, and willpower).

The party of four moves around the dungeon tiles from area to area trying to get past locked doors, teleporters, moving floors, pits, hidden rooms while battling the occasional monster. There are places which fully heal the party. You can save at any time. If successful the party finds their way to the stairs leading down to the next level.

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Delving Deep

The real difficulty is not in killing the occasional monsters, it is figuring out the solution to the puzzles. Most levels require solving multiple puzzles to advance. And the puzzles come in a bewildering variety. Select the right set of buttons & leavers. Use the right timing to get through the moving walls or teleporters. Find the hidden button. Put the torch in the right holder. At least through the four levels I completed the puzzles ranged from easy to challenging. Some of the timing puzzles to open secret rooms with additional treasures were downright frustrating.

The four races have strengths and weaknesses which align with the different character types. Fighters are very straight forward, as they are in most RPGs. Mages are the only ones who can cast spells. Rogues are really either a missile weapon using lightly armed fighter, or a lightly armed assassin character who can dodge many attacks. Rogues can’t pick locks or otherwise get around the puzzles. Only your brainpower and not the skills of your characters can solve the brain teasers and get your party down to the next level.

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But the magic system is flawed. The mage has a 3 x 3 matrix of glyphs. To employ a spell the mage must know the spell, have reached the appropriate level or higher in the right magic school, and have enough spell points. So far, so good. But in combat the appropriate glyphs must be checked and the fire key hit. This seems ok in theory, but it does not work well in practice. The problem comes when the player wants to start casting even intermediate spells which require clicking three or more glyphs. The combat is real-time with a cool down period after swinging a blade, shooting a bow, or casting a spell. But because there is no hotkey system, to cast a spell requires many, many more clicks than swinging a sword or firing a missile weapon. An example clarifies this.

You have a party of two fighters in front, a rogue and a mage in the rear rank. The fighter swings their weapon with one mouse click. The rouge shoots his bow with one click. The mage has to click three glyphs plus click the fire magic spell button for the spell to go off. It takes so much time to do this that you either forgo intermediate or higher level spells or miss swinging/shooting with your other characters while frantically clicking to complete a spell.

The lack of hot keys also means that using healing potions, energy potions, changing missile weapons, and the like also involves opening up the backpack, moving the item to an open hand slot, and then clicking the item in the hand. A turn-based combat system would make all of this a snap. A real-time system just makes this a frustration. I ended up restarting the game and using four melee characters and dropping the mage after becoming irritated with the click-fest magic system.

And this is the catch-22 of Legend of Grimrock. All of the timing puzzles would be pretty meaningless if you could go turn-based. But the magic system stinks in real-time combat. Fortunately, the game can be mastered without a mage.

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Challenges, Or Not

The same basic tile set is used for multiple levels. The first four levels used one tile set. Level 5 started with a new tile set. A new monster type or so is encountered almost every level. There are thirteen levels in the game. There is no random dungeon or monster generator. You play the same dungeon every game. This significantly reduces the replay factor. Since the puzzles are the hard part, replaying the game with a different set of characters does not add much of a challenge.

I restarted the game with an all melee based party after finishing the first two levels. My new party just blew through those levels since I already knew the solution to the puzzles on levels one and two.

There are only the most minimal role playing elements. You get to level up with new abilities and powers. You find new armor, spells, and weapons. You can make your own party and name them what you will. But don’t expect any dialogue, character development, or deep story line. Your party is dropped on the top of a mountain. If you can work your way through the levels of dungeons, traps, monsters and brain teasers you get your freedom and some loot. That’s pretty much it for the role-playing.

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Denoument

You might think at this point that I would be giving Legend of Grimrock a thumbs down. But it is a very fun game despite the flaws. I bought it on sale from Steam for $5. It was a quick download. The game has operated flawlessly. No freezes, glitches, or other game play problems. The puzzles can be real brain teasers and you get a real sense of satisfaction from beating a level and descending downward.

Even with the limited replay value, at a low price Legend of Grimrock will give the player and enjoyable weekend to week of dungeon crawling puzzle solving fun. If you enjoy solving dungeon type riddles and brain teasers. If the lack of a mage will not bother you. If combat can take a back seat to solving brain teasers. Then I would strongly recommend that you pick up Legend of Grimrock if you can find it at the right price point.

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If the designers wished to make a turn-based combat system, then expanded dungeons with a much heavier combat element and far fewer puzzles would turn this game into something truly awesome. The designers have the potential to make a modern based “gold box” dungeons & dragons type game not seen since the old Pool of Radiance series in the very early days of PC RPGs.

There really is nothing else quite like Legend of Grimrock. It is a puzzle-based dungeon crawl with occasional combat. Aside from the magic system and lack of hot keys, it is a well-polished short game. I would rate it a 75 on a hundred point scale. But if you like puzzle games and RPG combat games, Legend of Grimrock would be a memorable purchase.

Grumpy Grog Says: Legend of Grimrock is almost a classic. There’s more puzzle-solving than hack ‘n slash, but if that’s your thing this is more fun than a fully loaded wand of fireballs.

Avery Abernethy is Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. In his spare time he plays computer games, hunts, shoots, and fishes.

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