Thursday, October 23, 2014

Legend of Grimrock 2 Review!

Dungeon crawl is a type of scenario used in fantasy role playing games and is focused around a party of heroes navigating labyrinth-like dungeons and battling various monsters in order to find treasures. This concept was adopted by video games in 1980 and spawned many good games, like the Wizardry series, Might & Magic series, Ultima series, The Bard’s Tale and many others.
Because they go hand in hand, most of the time this genre is associated with rogue-like games.

Legend of Grimrock is a 3D dungeon crawler RPG developed by the Finnish indie studio Almost Human. Inspired by old school games and made into a modern version of those, Grimrock managed to revive a genre of video games that was in a muribund state for several years, awakening the interest in gamers for this kind of games and familiarizing the younger gamers with dungeon crawler genre. Legend of Grimrock was quite a success for this small studio and a sequel was bound to happen and with hard work and little to no marketing the sequel is finally here.

There is not much to say about the story of Legend of Grimrock 2. The action of the game takes place on the island of Nox, where a group of four heroes are stranded on, not by accident. The island is ruled by the Master, a mysterious being, who was expecting the heroes’ arrival and follows from a distance their every step as they try to escape this nightmarish place full with dangerous creatures and all sorts of deadly traps.
The world of Grimrock 2 is huge and more open compared to its predecessor (at first this doesn’t look like such a feat) where the entire game took place in a descending dungeon. The environment is not limited to dungeons and catacombs anymore, the island of Nox has many different explorable areas like shores, forests, swamps and even underwater areas. There is a terrifying freedom of movement in this game, which gives a feeling of doubt at the first playthrough when going in a new path. The immensity and freedom of the new world can be a disadvantage for this game as it might scare off some of the players, but in all fairness Grimrock 2 was not designed for the casual gamers. Even so, the developers thought of everything and they made a hub area with unlockable portals to each major area of the game.
An interesting thing is that many of the difficult areas are accessible quite early in the game and it’s up to the players to realize that when entering such an area they can’t handle it yet, but they sure have the freedom to try
The main goal in the game is to find all the power gems on the island in order to forge them into four elemental orbs. These orbs are the keys required to open the gates to the Master's castle, where the ultimate encounter awaits (or maybe not?!). The power gems are spread all over the island and in order to find them the game encourages players to explore the island and see all its beauty and dangers.
The Master is a real joker!

The gameplay follows the same recipe as in the previous title, focusing on solving puzzles, finding secrets, avoiding traps and battling tough enemies. Each of these aspects has been improved in Grimrock 2 adding up to a much better gameplay experience. With the addition of a huge and more open world, the hunt for secrets has become more complicated, pulling a hidden lever can open a hidden pathway anywhere and finding what effect your action had can be a little tricky. On the bright side the wall scanning for secret switches doesn't take that much time now, a huge portion of the game takes place outdoors where there are considerably less walls to look at and the overall number of hidden switches on walls has been reduced noticeably, but these improvements do not completely remove the wall scanning (so if you suffer of OCD like me and want to find everything, good luck!).

The puzzles in Grimrock 2 are frustratingly delicious, each unique in its own way and using many different mechanics. Solving the puzzles doesn't require only logic, but many times attention to the surroundings and fast reactions as well. Exploration also plays a key role in this matter, as clues can be found anywhere on the island. The feeling of puzzle solving is thrilling, this game made me feel both stupid and intelligent from one puzzle to another, there were moments when I was pulling my hair off not realizing what the answer was (a few times just because I didn’t have enough information about the riddle and was not aware of it) and other times everything went so smooth I couldn’t believe how fast I figured out the answers. The feeling of satisfaction for solving a conundrum by myself was so great and was ruined only by the shame of searching for some hints on the internet when I got stuck. The number of puzzles and riddles is huge and while some of them are not mandatory in order to progress further into the game, they are the core of this game and should not be ignored.
Looks like one of the first Russian video games!
Such a friendly place!

Grimrock is a grid based game with the entire party moving as one entity on a floor separated by squares, a common feature for dungeon crawlers. This makes the combat look like a fast paced chess game.
The party can be composed of up to four heroes and while they all move at once they each take turns in hitting the enemies. Each attack has a cooldown based on the weapon used to perform this action and the order of attack is dictated by the player's commands, leaving room for tactical decisions. But the lack of a key that would make the entire party to attack at once can be felt in some situations and this feature would have been welcomed.
The combat received many improvements, making it more challenging and less exploitable. There is a wide variety of monsters on the island of Nox, some of them are familiar to those who played the original game, but many are brand new. Each monster has its own set of abilities that fits with their nature. In addition, the reused monsters have been enhanced (steroids?!) to be more challenging than they used to be. All creatures tend to run away when they are low on health and position behind a corner waiting for you to come. The overall speed of action for all monsters has been increased so their reactions to the player's movement is much quicker increasing the combat difficulty and putting a stop to the “waltz” tactic abuse. There were many challenges in the original game, but almost none of them were battles, this issue has been addressed by adding bosses to each important area and lots of ambushes in key moments of the game (be careful where you save) which keep the player on edge most of the time.
The sewers boss and his gang.
Out of arrows?

The classes system has received an overhaul and from three standard classes we now have eight to pick from, each with their own benefits fitting a certain playstyle and set of skills. To help the characters variety even more, the Ratling race was added to the game.
The skills system has been modified to be more effective for melee users, the weapon type specializations from the first game have been removed and replaced with two skills for light and heavy weapons. The spell system is using the same rune system as in the previous game, which allows casting spells by forming a combination of runes and new spells for all schools of magic can be found throughout the game.
The itemization hasn't changed that much, with many old items being reused (including the icons). Firearms are the new type of weapon and are designed to work with the new alchemist class. While they look weak at start of the game especially because of the malfunction mechanic, they sure can pack a punch later on.
Overall the combat is tactical, fun and challenging, but it is nothing spectacular, mostly because of the lack of production value. However Legend of Grimrock 2 is not so much a game about slashing enemies left and right to get the better gear, but more a game of perception and logic where combat comes as a secondary factor, a test of both mental and fingers agility.
Me smash! You die!
There must be a hoarder around here.

While many models for monsters, objects, walls or spell effects have been reused (if CoD and Bf can do it, why not this game?!), Grimrock 2 has some graphical improvements that make the game more attractive. The beauty of the day-night cycle and the water reflections, which can be observed while exploring the thick forests and the creepy bogs, are graphic effects that could be praised and really improve the immersivity adding up to an already intense atmosphere. The animations have room for improvements and they should not be overlooked if this series continues. The UI could use an artistic and functionality upgrade as well, but these problems are not major and they are common for budget indie titles.
The music is great but lacks variety (at least I couldn’t hear many different songs), but the ambient sounds are really spot on and fit every area perfectly, giving me chills while I was running around lost in some of the darkest dungeons.
So peaceful...

                For those familiar with the previous game, Grimorck 2 can offer an endless dungeon crawling experience as it includes, from release this time, a map editor, which some of the more creative fans will put to good use.

Almost Human poured their heart and soul in this game and it shows, Legend of Grimrock 2 is an improvement in any aspect to their previous title and it kept me hooked until the very end. The freedom of movement, the challenging fights, the intelligent puzzles and well hidden secrets, all wrapped up in the mysterious and creepy atmosphere made this game one hell of a gaming pleasure.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that if this game had the production value of an AAA title it could be a contender to the Game of the Year award. Even so it was a great old school like experience and I’m looking forward to more titles from this small studio.
Oh noes!!!

+ A huge island to explore
+ Lots of challenging puzzles
+ Great atmosphere
+ Day – night cycle
+ Lots of secrets
+ Bosses
+ Improved monsters AI
+ Map Editor
+ Completists paradise!

- Reusage of many models from previous game
- Average production value
- UI could use some improvements


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