Legend of Grimrock 2
Legend of Grimrock 2 was released in October 2014 and is an improvement over the first in almost every aspect. After the original’s sales proved the existence of a market for this type of game, the team set out to make a sequel with a much larger scope, and in my opinion, knocked it right out of the park. There’s more content, more imaginative puzzles, better skill progression, more races, more weapons, extremely varied locations, and an interesting overarching set of mysteries that tie the game together. Almost Human is a development team to keep an eye on in the future.
The first thing to note about Grimrock 2 is the existence of what the layperson calls “outside”. The previous game was spent entirely inside a dungeon, and while the dungeon looked nice and did incorporate many different styles of architecture, it was still a dark, cramped dungeon. Grimrock 2 does have some nice-looking dungeon parts, but the art for the outdoors maps is gorgeous. Forests, deserts, beaches, bogs, castles and pyramids are just a few of the locales the player will visit, all while exploring the same island.
The island in question is the mysterious uncharted Isle of Nex, where the adventuring party finds itself stranded after a shipwreck. The game begins with a DnD-style character generation system similar in nature to the first game, but does not present the player with an immediate goal. Instead of “descend to the bottom of the dungeon”, the objective this time is more akin to “survive on this island; don’t starve”. Your party picks up the branch in front of them, smashes the door off the cage, and begins the adventure.
At first you’ll just be exploring the beach, but soon you’ll come across a conspicuous note on a pedestal. It welcomes you to the island and warns you of dangers in the form of monsters and traps. The note is from The Island Master, a cloaked individual who will shows up multiple times throughout the adventure, and leave behind many notes, some of which are helpful and some of which just taunt you. If you’ve ever played Half-Life, this guy is reminiscent of the G-man in the way he disappears right as you come around a corner. Also, if you played the first Grimrock, you might be like me and be worried that he is a Goromorg, as they bear a striking resemblance and also a curiously similar role (caretaker of the dungeon/island). I suspect the designers intended to draw this comparison, and I think it was really smart.
The gameplay in Grimrock 2 is pretty much the same, although I think magic casting is a bit more streamlined. Now all the runes for any given spell must be cast by drawing an unbroken line across the rune table, instead of pressed one by one. It gives magic casting the feel of actually making a hand motion, as if you were completing the somatic portion of a spell in a tabletop game.
Movement is unchanged, and the party is still four people glued together in a square, with you micromanaging who fires what skill or swings what weapon and when. I’m really glad they left the core mechanics untouched, because it looks like they spent the time saved on amazing new art assets and lots of elaborate new puzzles. Also, the game is probably twice as long or more compared to the original Grimrock. I spoke a lot about the oppressive atmosphere of the previous game, but this game is different. It has more of a mysterious and adventurous atmosphere, and you usually don’t feel like you could die at any point. This is not bad, it’s just different. The game still has plenty of areas that feel dangerous or creepy.
If pressed to say something bad about this game (because I suppose the whole review can’t just be me gushing about how great a game it is), I will be honest and say there are a few elements I hope do not return in the future. I wasn’t a fan of the underwater parts of the game, because while they are relatively short, you start taking drowning damage very quickly, and only one kind of weapon actually works underwater. Air elementals are immune to most kinds of damage and are no fun to deal with, not to mention they hit your entire group. I felt that damage in general was pretty unforgivingly high early game, and I wish that Evade wasn’t such a statistically worthless stat. Really all my issues are balance issues
I hesitate to talk about the plot development of Grimrock 2 in this post, because to do so would likely spoil some of the best overarching puzzles for the entire game, and also I have a lot to say about it. Indeed, one of my favorite things about Grimrock 2 is the mystery of the island itself, and how it ties into the secret ending. There’s a lot of cool lore and backstory to this one, mostly found in notes lying around or big talking stone heads called Philosophers. There’s even more secrets in general, and less of them are based on finding secret switches (although those are still a thing). Overall, though, the plot of the game is to find a way to enter The Master’s castle, and either ask him for a way home or beat it out of him. This is done by exploring all the different areas of the island finding Power Gems, which are used to open the castle’s doors.
I liked this game so much I played it twice in a row recently, once with a sort of joke group setup (4 Heavy Weapons users) and once with a real setup on Hard with all the optional difficulty settings turned on (Old School, Ironman, Single-Use Crystals). I’m actually going to spend the next post (and maybe the one after that) talking about my experience completing the challenge that the game dubs “Insane Ironman”. While I go through that, I will talk more about the plot and secrets of the game, and those posts will have spoilers. Thanks for reading.