Grimrock 2 – Final Thoughts
This is my last post about Grimrock until a third one comes out. I want to explore the subtleties in the story and talk about the overarching mysteries that aren’t required to beat the game. Grimrock has 2 endings, and one of them asks the player to combine game mechanics with lore to figure out what’s really going on. There’s spoilers here, but realistically, if you’re taking the time to read this then you probably already know them. I’m going to discuss all the important lore and plot of Grimrock 2 here, so it’s a bit longer than usual.
First, I want to cover a little bit of this game’s backstory. We can infer some of the history of the mysterious isle of Nex from the frescoes on the walls inside the Pyramid. As best I can tell, a long time ago, an Egyptian-like group of people lived on the island. They built the Pyramid and all the other buildings and ruins, which means they had quite the diverse taste in architectural style. At some point, all of these people were enslaved by an Island Master, and apparently the mantle of Island Mater is passed down through the centuries. Their reasons for wanting to rule the island are clear, Nex is a nexus of magic in the world, and all the world’s knowledge is stored there.
Other lore on the island tells the tale of a captain Kilhagan, a pirate captain who wound up trapped on Nex after a shipwreck. His crew was killed by the traps and monsters, and he spent years of his life hoping to get revenge for their deaths, though he was never able to find it. Eventually, though, we learn that Kilhagan abandoned his rage and “sought enlightenment”.
As I’ve said previously, the main objective of the game is to gather together the Power Gems that are scattered all over the island and bring them to the four elemental shrines. This process is referred to in the shrines as “seeking enlightenment”. The elements are the classic fantasy fare: fire, wind, water, and earth. Power Gems are usually hidden at the end of very long dungeons or after killing bosses. It takes four Power Gems to forge an Elemental Orb, so to get the required 16 Power Gems entails exploring almost everywhere on the island. Once forged, bringing all four Elemental Orbs to the Castle of Nex’s entrance and placing them in their correct statues gains you entrance to the castle. This is where the Island Master lives.
The Island Master is a mystery that hounds you for most of the game. Sometimes he leaves helpful notes and maps for you to use, and sometimes he leaves insulting notes that imply you don’t have a snowman’s chance vs a fire elemental of surviving the island one more day. There’s even one part of the game where he entices a giant crew of ratmen to come murder your party. However, he never attacks you directly until the end of the game. The (not actually final) boss of the game is you fighting the Island Master while he rides his Lindwurm. This battle takes place on top of the castle, and even then the Master alternates between congratulating you on making this far and learning certain spells (if you cast them) and trying to kill you himself or with summoned monsters. Winning the fight causes the Master and his Lindwurm to disintegrate, and leaves behind a Power Gem.
This Power Gem from the supposedly final boss is the true hint that there’s more to do here. If you like, you can just go through the ending portal and get a cutscene of your party leaving the island on an airship. The end of the scene shows the Island Master watching you leave. The other option is to take the Gem and figure out where the hell to use it. We know that searching for the Power Gems is a part of seeking Enlightenment, and we know that Kilhagan and many others have attempted to walk this path during their time on Nex. What happens if you succeed is unknown.
A truly thorough player will find that there are exactly 20 Power Gems on the Island. This would imply that there is a fifth element; a fifth shrine where we can forge another Elemental Orb. At a few points during the game, there are notes that posit a theory that, since the four classic elements cancel each other out, there must be a fifth, hidden element. The game refers to this as Balance. Without balance, nothing would exist, and to truly seek enlightenment, one must find balance for themselves. One last note about Kilhagan claims that he did indeed eventually find the hidden Shrine of Balance “by casting the most balanced spell of all, in the most balanced place of all”.
I know this is a ton of lore, but I think it’s brilliant, and the most interesting part is here, where the game starts to fold game mechanics into puzzle design. Let’s take a look at the runes used for spell casting. They always look like this.
The symbol for fire is the one in the upper left, we see it on pistol ammo boxes and on fire bombs. Similarly, we see the other corner symbols on their respective types of bombs, air is upper right, etc. Any spell of a particular elemental school uses its own corner rune, and maybe other runes as the complexity of the spell increases. For instance, Fireball uses the runes for fire and air, as well as some middle runes. If you stop and think about the rune page in this way, then it’s not too hard to deduce that the rune in the middle must be Balance.
We get hints that the rune page is a sort of representation of the physical laws of magic in this world when we read things like “fire’s magic is strongest in the northwest” in each element’s respective shrines. Not by coincidence are the statues outside the front gates of Castle Nex arranged the way that they are. They are laid out as if they are the corners of a rune page when seen from above, and they correspond perfectly to their own compass directions. So here’s the true secret. Standing in the middle of all these statues and casting a spell that consists solely of the rune of Balance transports you from here:
The Shrine of Balance. Hidden from sight and inaccessible through normal means, here is the place where you may forge the Elemental Orb of Balance, assuming you have the Power Gems. But once you have it, your characters aren’t instantly enlightened, and they don’t ascend or indeed have anything happen to them. So you take your Orb and exit the shrine. And that’s when you see this guy.
This is the Trickster, he’s been showing up at different points in the game to attack you and cause you to fall into traps. He doesn’t seem to have much motivation other than being a jerk, and he always throws a smoke bomb and disappears like a ninja once you’ve wounded him. This time though, he runs away immediately. Following him takes you through a door that has been locked all game, and down into a trap-filled place called the Lair of the Trickster. He doesn’t seem to be here, but you do find a statue that looks like it would hold the Orb of Balance.
Placing the Orb here begins the final battle with the Trickster. He will assault you mercilessly with bombs and throw every trap in the area (spikes, darts, randomly opening and closing gates, etc.) at you. If you beat him, he reveals his true form as that of the Island Master! You have to defeat him again while he launches every powerful spell in the game your way. Defeating him yields three items. His Key of Nex, his staff, and his last will and testament. In it, he outlines things that you will mostly know by now; how the island is a nexus of magic and knowledge, and the whole thing is a giant test to see who is worthy to become the next Master. Also, apparently he lived almost 200 years. The staff can cast an insta-kill spell, and his key takes you to the true ending, where your party enters the Nexus of knowledge and ascends to become the new Masters.
I really liked all the setup for this sort of ending. There’s constant clues that are designed to make you think about how magic works in a real and tangible way in this world, and also hints about how this is really just a test, challenging you with a chance of failure and death, while also teaching you. Grimrock 2 doesn’t treat you like an idiot, but it also won’t give you the true ending if you don’t stop and think (or read a walkthrough). This is some smart storytelling, with a good mixture of in-game mechanics and environmental storytelling combined with notes in the form of ancient scrolls and carvings. All in all, Grimrock 2 actually made me feel immersed in the world, and I cannot wait for the next game. Thanks for reading.