Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Legend of Grimrock (PC)

Legend of Grimrock logo
Today's game is Dungeon Master inspired retro RPG Legend of Grimrock. I'm going to find out what it's like and how to play it, and then pass that information onto you, dear reader, as that is what I do. Then I'll probably make a bunch of dumb mistakes, misunderstand some fundamental gameplay concepts, get hopelessly lost, and then quit out of sheer frustration about an hour or so into it, as I tend to do that as well I've noticed.

This one wasn't my idea by the way. I actually got a request to play this months ago and I'm sorry it took me so damn long to for me to get around to it.

(Click the pictures to view them as a big jpg compression artefact corrupted mess instead of a little jpg compression artefact corrupted mess. Handy if you want to have a fighting chance to read the text.)

Legend of Grimrock Character Generation screenshot
Hmm, nice looking interface, plenty of options... oh and an import portrait button, nice. Interestingly, despite this being a throwback to ancient first person dungeon crawlers like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, they haven't given me the standard Tolkien-inspired set of generic fantasy races to choose from. Sure I'm still stuck with fighter, mage or rogue, but I can have a lizardman mage, or a giant bloody insect-creature rogue. Though it's probably better to have them the other way around looking at their stats.

I think it's going to take me a while here to pick my team and deal out skill points and traits. Not because I'm having a hard time figuring it all out, everything is actually clearly explained in that message window when I hover over them, but more because I just want to sit listening to this theme some more. This music is pretty much exactly what you'd want to be: a proper epic orchestral fantasy theme.

Here check it out yourself on youtube, see what you think.

Once I'd selected my party, they were immediately carried up to the peak of Mount Grimrock via hot-air balloon in this intro cinematic. Well, more like an intro slideshow really, though with artwork this good I'm not complaining. You'd have to be one hell of a pedantic nit-picky bastard to find fault in that beautiful vista.

Well I suppose it is a little weird how those two flocks of birds are identical...

Sorry, I'll stop now.

Anyway it turns out that my four virtuous heroes are actually treasonous criminals, or so the court claims (and let's face it, those guys are probably all jerks). Fortunately though, the king has decreed that our crimes shall be forgiven! The only catch is that we have to break out of prison by ourselves first, without weapons or supplies. And so we're shoved down into a open maw at the summit of Mount Grimrock.

I assume they must have thrown one of those inflatable crash mats down first, or else we're soon going learn first hand why no one's ever escaped this place.

Well we're doing well so far. That must have been a good twenty meter drop onto a hard stone floor and no one's so much as twisted their ankle.

The developers may have been going for a retro style with the 90 degree turning arc and grid based movement, but the graphics definitely look a few steps above anything you'd see in the 80s. That's the prettiest boxy dungeon cell I've seen in ages! Oh plus there's a tutorial available from the pause menu, accessible by pressing ESC apparently. I'd be a fool not to check that out.

"Prisoners walk in a square formation with a front and a back row.
Only the front row can perform melee attacks."
Well, crap. I wish they'd told me that before I created my team. I've got an unarmed specialist keeping my mage company in the back row who will apparently never get to punch anyone. Time to restart and make a new team I guess. 

Oh damn I can turn the camera around freely! For some reason I assumed it was just transitioning between pre-rendered art (like in games such as Stonekeep for instance), but nope this is all full realtime 3D. I know, I shouldn't be impressed that they've managed pulled off Oblivion quality graphics in a game made in 2012, but somehow combining it with a primitive 'move one tile at a time, camera locked forward' gameplay style puts a bit of the wonder back into it.

Anyway, featured in this screenshot: me pulling a lever and opening the a gate. Progress is being made.

I found a message painted on a wall telling me to look for a hidden switch disguised as a brick, and fortunately it wasn't hard to find as it's the only cracked brick in the whole dungeon so far (it's over on the top right if you're curious). Hitting the button opened a wall revealing the key I need to get out; which is awesome and everything, but it's got me worried I'm going to have to keep an eye out for these tiny cracked bricks everywhere I go from now on.

Oh hey, turns out we're not alone down here. I wonder what the giant snail did to be thrown into Grimrock prison. Hopefully he's a real bastard though, as there's no way this isn't going to develop into deadly combat, and I'm the one armed with the throwing rocks. Well, a throwing rock. I've got a throwing knife too though, and if he survives that onslaught and comes over here to... I dunno, bite me, I'm going to whack him over the head with my cudgel.

Damn, the combat in this feels like it's been taken right out of 1987. It all takes place in real time, but characters have to take a short break after each attack. I right click each of my character's weapons in turn, then wait for their next turn to come up so I can click it again. And that's pretty much it, apparently. It seems a lot like the Final Fantasy ATB battle system, except with icons instead of the convenient command box.

To the victor comes the spoils; in this case that'd be a slice of snail meat and that rock I threw earlier. It seems like I'll want to hold onto this, as I've noticed that each character's got their own 'Food' bar, and they've been draining lower as I've been walking around. I'll slot the meat into my lead character's inventory for now and put the stone back into someone's free hand to throw again another day.

Hmm, a trap door with a pressure plate over on the other side of it. I think I may have found another use for my rock here.

I turned around to read that text on the right hand wall and it basically says to use something that flies to cross the gap, pretty much confirming that my brilliant solution is the right one. Then I went to turn back around to the left and accidentally hit the 'strafe left' key instead, dropping my whole team down the pit.

Good news though! My fall was broken by solid stone floor, costing me considerably less than all my health. Plus at the bottom I found a teleporter leading back up and a helpful message informing me that I can't fly. So that's one ambiguity finally cleared up.

I've found a magic scroll just lying in an alcove! I have a theory that I can use this to give my mage a permanent Fireburst spell if I level her Fire Magic up to the appropriate level.

It seems that instead of being able to improve a character's attributes, health etc. directly on level up, I can increase them through progressing through the levels of my skills. Continuing to invest points in Fire Magic for instance will give me the potential to use new spells and a lot of extra strength and fire resistance. Though I can cast more of the spells I already have each battle by putting points into Spellcraft instead, or increase my health and evasion stats by going with Staff Defence.

Each of the three classes has their own set of skills to pick from though, so there's no way a fighter is going to learn magic and sadly mages will never become a master of unarmed brawling. Though my lizardman rogue totally will.

Oh shit it's a... mushroom thing and he's looking right at me! Possibly.

Fortunately I just so happened to have learned a Fireburst spell, which I presume to be highly effective against living things. Now I just need to figure out how to use the damn thing.

Right clicking my mage's hand switched her little window to this grid of nine runes and... oh crap, I'm going to have to enter the spell combination each and every time I want to cast it, like a bloody keycode aren't I? They are definitely going old school with this game. Senselessly old school!


Alright, I've explored the passages in the area, killed off all the snails and mushrooms I could find, and retrieved two giant gems. They're probably worth a fortune, so of course I have to shove them both in this statue's eye sockets to open up this door before I can escape the room. Oh well, I probably wasn't going to find a shop down here anyway.

Oh shit! As soon as I put the gems in, the door opened and this dead legionary came lunging right out at me! He could have at least given me a second to close my inventory. Annoyingly the game doesn't pause when I'm messing with my gear, so mid-battle item usage is really awkward. Fortunately I can right click on weapons all I like with my character page open just fine, so I managed to win the fight regardless and claimed his spear and shield for my own. Hey, I wonder if the spear has enough reach for my bow-less archer wannabe in the back row.

Wow he actually can use it. 'Only the front row can perform melee attacks', my ass! I lost way too much health against the guy though, so I'm going to have to hang around here for a while and rest. I mean I have to click the rest button and wait for their health bars to fill up. It should bring back my mage's mana too, though I'm sure it must be really draining my food bars.

Whoa, that's the first time that's happened during rest. I'm having cog nightmares and something's trying to contact me telepathically. Funny how the only dialogue in the game so far has taken place while I'm unconscious.


Oh shit, so that was the mechanical sounding noise I've been hearing behind the walls: it's a four man undead spearman squad stomping down the hallways in metal boots and I am almost certainly absolutely fucked if it manages to corner me. Fortunately all movement in this is grid based, with the edge of each square marked by the pillars along the walls. So the squad is going to have to step away from that corridor to get into an adjacent square before it can attack me, which will give me a chance to dodge around them and make a run for it.

I wonder if that's what my team would look like now if you saw them in third person. Most of my people have shields now (except for the mage who gets to carry the torch), and they're just as determined to stand in a goofy fixed 2x2 formation. Well, better than single file I guess.

Hey here's something new: I've found a portable mortar and pestle kit, which opens up a new window to let me mix potions. One bit of plant and one flask seems to be enough for a potion and it even lets me reuse the empty flask afterwards, which is awesome. It's funny how many RPG heroes take just one swig, then throw their empty glass bottles away afterwards.


Fuck fuck fuck, I'm not doing well here. I managed to kill two guards in a row, but three turned out to be too many for me and now my lizardman is dead. I tried opening up the inventories and moving a health potion across, but it's kinda hard to do that when a guy's constantly poking you with a spear. I can't even concentrate enough to key in a spell right now. I accidentally hit two runes by mistake and the spell fizzled.

So with my lizardman dead and my mage firing nothing but fizzles, I just didn't have the damage output to kill him in time. On the plus side though... the game has quicksaves! A single push of a button and this never happened. And we will never mention it again.

And then I turned a corner and ran right into a implausibly scaled antagonistic arachnid. The fun thing about giant spiders is they like to poison my party, and by 'fun' I mean 'incredibly annoying'. Sure I've got antidotes, but there's no quick way to drink them I'm aware of, so I'm leaving the inventory closed for now. I'm busy right clicking on weapons here and I don't need anything to interrupt my flow.

I suppose I could always take a step back every time he's about to make an attack. But movement in this is so clunky that it almost feels like cheating to try, like I'd be abusing the game mechanics. Plus if I wanted to dodge monsters I'd be playing something like Skyrim.

A giant healing crystal! Sure, I'll give that a go, especially as I've got a character dead and another one about to expire from poison. Resting will eventually cure poisoning (very eventually), but it annoyingly never seems to cure death. If a character falls in battle my only real options are to run and find a crystal, or reload, as if I can't keep my toughest character alive while I have a full team, I definitely won't be doing so well with him dead.


Okay, now I'm stuck. Most of the other puzzles I've come across so far in this have been solved by basically throwing a rock at a pressure plate, but this room has sparkly blue teleport fields rotating around it. If I throw anything in there it just gets teleported right back to my feet when the pillar of light reaches it and if I go in there myself I can't avoid them for long either.

Wow I am really honestly stuck here, I can't figure it out at all. I'm far too stubborn to check a walkthrough though, not for this. I can solve this, it's just going to take a little bit of thought and some logic.


Well I got bored of logic and travelled all the way back through the dungeon to allow my weary team to die a hero's death agaist that four skeleton spearmen squad I bravely ran away from earlier. Annoyingly though I seem to be winning.

I survived the battle, then went back and figured the teleport room puzzle out in the end. It turns out there was another pressure plate I couldn't see from where I was standing. I had to be standing inside the room with the teleporters and facing left before I could see where to throw my stone. Sorry for spoiling that solution for you, it just took me forever to work that out and I wanted to be smug for a second.

Shit, wrong room! Still, nice lighting though.

Actually wait, even though just one of these guys can give my team a good fight, I reckon I can take a room full of spiders no problem; for this time I have the most powerful weapon in the game on my side: a door switch. Only one enemy can fit on a tile at once, so I just need to kill a single spider before its poison finishes me off, close the door, rest to full health, then repeat. To be honest, it's probably more tedious than it sounds, but perhaps that's an inevitable side effect of trying to replicate a combat system that was already considered clunky by the mid 90s.

Oh by the way, I finally found an bow for my archer! I've only got the five arrows though, which is less than optimal, but they're reusable so it's not a major disaster. The downside though is that I only get the five attacks and then he's useless for the rest of the fight, as I know better now than to start trying to swap weapons around during combat.

Legend of Grimrock Level 3 Pillars of Light map
And that's floor 3 completed! Seems a good place to quit as I'm getting tired now. Tired of resting for 10 seconds after every kill that is.

By the way, this automap is entirely optional and can be disabled on the 'new game' options screen. In fact, the game actually comes with a Grimrock-themed graph paper PDF file so you print out your own sheet to draw your maps on as you go, which I think is awesome. I don't understand why anyone would want to do that, but what I think is irrelevant really. Some people obviously do like drawing their own maps and those people have been catered for.

(Though how you're supposed to know what square to start drawing the map from I have no idea.)

Legend of Grimrock Dungeon Editor
Before I turn the game off though I should probably mention it's got a fully functional user friendly level creator built right into it. I only played around with it for a minute, but that was enough time for me to figure out how to draw out a map, place items and monsters, then set up switches to trigger multiple doors. You just paint the floor in one tile at a time on the 2D map and it automatically adds the walls for you, you even get a 3D preview window to explore your new dungeon as you go. I gotta say, I'm impressed.

To be honest I came into Legend of Grimrock expecting to find it unbearable, as I'm not exactly part of the niche audience it's been laser targeted at, but the game's just too likeable. I did actually enjoy it for the most part, before killing monsters started becoming time consuming. I'm sure there's ways to speed things up, tactics that didn't occur to me, maybe even a pause button to give me a chance to swap weapons and use potions in a fight without getting my ass kicked, but at my current level of knowledge I'm finding it becoming a bit of a grind. Hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, kill an enemy, rest... hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, kill an enemy, rest... get woken up by a surprise spider attack, hit hit... etc.

Not to say there any actual grinding for XP in it, as there's only a limited supply of monsters around and they seem to firmly remain dead once you've released them from their Earthly existence. There's no obvious way to over-level in this, so you have to be smart about where you spend your finite skill points. There's only a limited amount of food and torches around as well, but thankfully it doesn't feel like a race against time, and you can chill out and solve the puzzles at your own pace.

In conclusion. Grimrock's the best retro grid based first person dungeon crawler I've played from 2012 so far and seems pretty good at doing what it does, if you're into that kind of thing.

Anyway, I'm done typing now, so if there's anything you want to say about Legend of Grimrock now's your chance. Also criticise my post if you want, that's fine too. Feedback is always appreciated, as long as you're not a big jerk about it.

1 comment:

  1. My experience with this game is the exact opposite of your conclusion; I came in already liking it, but ended up finding it unbearably boring.
    Dungeon crawlers' game mechanics were already bad at the time, so transposing them into a modern game could never turn out well.

    This became the most disappointing game I played in a long while, along with Reprisal (DON'T play that one).


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