Game Review: Legend of Grimrock

A legend without a story.

Developer: Almost Human Games
Publisher: Almost Human Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), MacOS
Available on: Steam

I never played the old-school dungeon crawlers of yore and my reaction towards this game is not fueled by any nostalgia I might have felt towards this long-forgotten genre of first-person dungeon crawling, so this negative review is neither colored by a feeling of “they’ve changed it and now it sucks” or “they haven’t changed enough which is why it sucks”.

And make no mistake, I did not have fun playing this game. I’ve only played around 2 hours, and I simply cannot make myself do any more of this. First and foremost, there’s not much of a story to speak of. You have a little bit of exposition for why your party is in this particular dungeon, but from then on, there’s really not a lot of narrative building up here. The first couple of levels are completely devoid of anything informing the player who built this place, why it had been built and the floors don’t tell self-contained stories themselves, since there’s very little differentiating any given tile from another one. Maybe there’s more to come later on, but the game up to now is so goddamn insubstantial that I’m not eager finding out.

Speaking of tiles, I didn’t mind the tile based movement. It’s obviously there to harken back to older games that worked the same way, and I can appreciate modern developers wanting to go back to game design ideas they had fun with in their youth, even though there is a valid argument to be made that sometimes, design conventions disappear because we’ve found better methods for engaging the player, but I don’t want to be an arbiter on that front. But what I can criticize is the way combat interacts with said tile based movement. From what I understand, in these old games, combat used to be turn based, whereas in Legend of Grimrock it’s actually done in real-time. This causes numerous problems for me.

For one, having to click on every single attack button instead of having dedicated hotkeys is quite a hassle, especially with the magic system, which requires multiple clicks and never allows for quick magic attacks. And I get that it was also designed with tablets in mind as well, but I’ve got this lovely keyboard full of buttons I could be using and yet I have to use the mouse for combat. This is especially galling since it uses an ass-backwards binding scheme, where you attack by using the right mouse button. Clicking the left mouse button causes you to grab whatever weapon is equipped in order to swap it out with something else. I can’t count how many times I ended up grabbing a sword instead of attacking. Don’t make me unlearn over 20 years of gaming experience just because you can’t program key rebinds into a game.

This is only further exacerbated by the fact that the obvious strategy to beating every monster I’ve encountered is by kiting around them. Simply lure them out of a corridor into a space with at least 2×2 tiles and you can entirely wreck the AI in this game if you stand diagonally to the monsters and wait for them to make their moves – going even so far as to turning left and right multiple times while the game tries to calculate the shortest route and deciding which of the identically short routes is the more optimal one – while you hit them during their turning animations. Then just hop along to the next diagonally oriented tile and repeat that process until you win.

This hectic approach to combat robs the game of any tactical considerations it might could’ve had, since you’re entirely focused on kiting the enemies while remembering to right click on every attack once the cooldown has worn off. Fights all feel the same and the only times they do differ is when the game sends you into an obvious death trap, whenever multiple mobs start wailing on you at once from multiple directions, so make sure to save before you open up a door, since a lot of this game is trial-and-error.

A typical RPG convention also rears its ugly head, and that’s the fact that it doesn’t matter that your enemies stand on the tile right next to you, if one of your party members isn’t specifically trained in the art of hitting shit with a stick or sword or lance, they’ll miss every single swing. RPG developers, I get it. You have to abstract mastery and proficiency somehow. But seriously, I absolutely hate it whenever I see a “skill” as simple as aiming a swing for an enemy being something that needs experience. Every human on the planet has basic hand-eye-coordination and can hit a human-sized object without fail every single time. Cut that shit out, it’s annoying. Do dice rolls for real skills that need actual training or simply for critical hit calculation. But don’t have my tank miss half of his swings for no reason other than bullshit RPG conventions while it doesn’t seem to matter how many points I’ve poured into evasion whenever enemies attack.

While you’re not in combat, you’ll be doing a lot of puzzles, though the ones I’ve encountered were fairly straightforward. The game’s limited visual design means that there isn’t a lot hidden from the player. One of the very first “puzzles” is finding a loose rock in a wall and once you’ve done so, the same mechanic keeps appearing basically everywhere with tons of “hidden” rooms being accessed by rocks in the same location every single time, all looking exactly the same.

All of this combined, the lackluster and repetitive combat, the unengaging puzzles and a general lack of narrative to draw me in made me lose interest in this game fairly quickly. Chalk it up to this type of game just not being for me. I usually try to play my way through every game I play before I make definitive statements, but every so often I encounter one that utterly does not gel with what I want out of games and the end result is that I simply stop giving a shit and instead start playing something else. And Legend of Grimrock is one such unfortunate case, where nothing about the game managed to draw me in and made me want to endure the rest of it in spite an aspect I might’ve enjoyed. Because that last bit, that aspect that I might’ve enjoyed, is simply not there.

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