Legend of Grimrock
So sometimes, life happens. All the time, really. You get involved in a new job or a family issue, and then it’s 3 years later and you’re like, “hey, I miss doing that blog!” I think we can all relate. Anyways, I wanted to talk about the Grimrock series of games! Let’s jump right in.
Legend of Grimrock is a PC game made by Almost Human. It is a real-time, grid-based, first person dungeon crawler. If you haven’t heard of this kind of game, it’s probably because the genre hasn’t really been a thing since Eye of the Beholder 3 back in 1993. In this game you are dropped (literally down a pit) into a dungeon and tasked with managing four characters; you must keep them fed, healthy, and well-equipped. The goal is to descend through the mountain dungeon Grimrock as punishment for crimes your party committed previous to the game. No one has ever been known to escape alive. There really isn’t a whole lot more to the story until the very end, and the majority of the game is gameplay-focused.
Before the game begins, you’re prompted to create characters from a few classic DnD classes and races and spend their stat and skill points. Grimrock is not a very fast-paced game, you spend a fair bit of time managing your inventory and considering skill tree choices. Your party of four moves as one unit due to being shackled together, and the grid-based nature of the game means your movements are very specific in distance and direction. Combat is short but heavy on interaction, because you have to use each individual character’s weapons or abilities with the correct timing, while also using WASD to move to avoid the enemy’s pursuit and attacks. Spellcasting in a fight can be especially distracting, as you must input the correct rune combination every time. The game can be fairly unforgiving with combat later, and you’re not expected to stand in front of an enemy and tank all the damage they are putting out. Failing to dodge a lightning bolt or a troll’s charge might leave you with half the party down.
When you’re not fighting, the game is mostly about solving ancient puzzles using hidden switches, pressure pads, teleports, holes in the ground, and a lot of other elements of the dungeon. They never seem to re-use puzzles, and there’s lots of interesting notes left from previous adventurers lying around to add flavor and hints to the dungeon. I think the puzzle design is one of the game’s strongest points, because usually the puzzles don’t even impede your progress, but instead lead to useful items or treasure. There are secrets everywhere if you pay attention, but you don’t need most of them to complete the game. They mostly exist as rewards for thorough explorers.
All of that may make the game sound tedious or overly complicated, and it’s true that it can be at times. However, I feel like that sort of granularity in actions and attention to detail fits really well with the rest of the game to create an atmosphere of dread and ineffectiveness. The dungeon feels unfathomably old, and you can definitely get a sense of loneliness and isolation from the ambient music, lighting, and general art design. It’s not a horror game by any stretch of the word, but if you become invested you’ll start to get nervous about what monster might be ahead, what is waiting at the end of the dungeon, or how helpless you feel, like a mouse caught in a maze.
There are a lot of people who will complain about the game being boring or the controls being clunky, but I actually kind of like the slow pace and the importance of micromanagement. To me, the only true weakness of this game is how it sometimes becomes the dreaded “looking at walls simulator” due to the amount of secret switches. They are often hard to see unless you’re looking right at them, and the designers like to use them in place of puzzles sometimes. However, one element I like about them is how they usually open walls, and you can listen closely to hear what direction the new path is. Walls make a really distinctive sound when they open, and then you get a really satisfying jingle when you find a secret. I think the effect could be done better without the hard-to-spot switches, but I’m not sure how.
So overall, the game has great atmosphere and fun puzzles, and can be very immersive, but can also be criticized for too much micromanagement. Legend of Grimrock and its sequel are very niche kinds of games, and as such, only appeal to a niche crowd. I personally have at least ten gamer friends that tried Legend of Grimrock and hated it, which is disappointing because I’m in love with the series and always want more. I’m going to talk about Grimrock 2 next time. Thanks for reading.