- Control scheme takes time to get accustomed to
- Some difficulty spikes
Final score: 8 / 10
Controller support: No
Minimum system requirements
Windows XP Service Pack 3
Dual core 2 GHz Intel or 2.8 GHz AMD processor
2 GB of RAM
ATI Radeon X1600 or NVIDIA GeForce 7600 or better with 512MB graphics memory or more and support for Shader Model 3.0
1 GB of free hard drive space
Recommended system requirements
Windows Vista or Windows 7
Quad core 2.66 GHz Intel or 3.2 GHz AMD processor
4 GB of RAM
ATI Radeon HD 2900 or NVIDIA GeForce 8800 or better with 512MB graphics memory or more and Shader Model 3.0 support
1 GB of free hard drive space
The modern role-playing game is big, expansive, has great graphics and a large cast of characters offering interesting choices, and by the end of the narrative, the protagonist seems to evolve towards a state where he is the undisputed ruler of the game world.
In Legend of Grimrock, the characters are barely sketched, the choices are limited in nature, the graphics don’t shine and some of the mechanics are obscure. Yet, I had as much fun with the game as I did with Skyrim, the big RPG of 2011.
The Almost Human-developed role-playing game is one of the most interesting releases of the year so far, and I had a big grin on my face while playing it, despite the failures, deaths and complex puzzles I had to deal with.
The modern role-playing game has delivered expansive open-world experiences, like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or the more directed Dragon Age II, but it has failed to retain the soul of the genre to some extent and this is the niche that Legend of Grimrock has managed to expertly occupy.
The premise is simple: four characters are condemned for their crimes and dropped into Grimrock, where they have a chance to survive as long as they team up and use the meager resources at their disposal to defeat monsters and solve puzzles that block their progress towards the foot of the mountain.
There’s little in the way of writing in Legend of Grimrock and, after playing Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim last year, I sometimes missed getting a heavy chunk of exposition from beautifully rendered characters.
But sparse writing on a wall and a mysterious voice manage to convey a real sense of the place gamers are exploring, and the limited actual exposition that developers introduce means that players have more room to create their own narratives, something that is central to a good role-playing experience.
I might not have a backstory for my Insectiod mage, but the simple fact that I equipped him with rags and focused his abilities towards fire magic allows me to think about him and his past in a certain way, one that will be different from the way any other player does for his own similar character.
I recommend creating a party from scratch when starting Legend of Grimrock, which means spending 10 minutes with a pretty simple character generator where each class and racial type is suited for one core battlefield role.
I went with two front-line fighters, one thief and a mage, but I hear that other builds work equally well and some players have even set forth challenges like finishing the legend of Grimrock with just mages or a party made up entirely of thieves.
Once the game proper starts, the first challenges are to figure out the control scheme, which can be a little infuriating at first and continues to feel alien even after spending 10 hours with Legend of Grimrock, and to adopt a mindset that appreciates patience more than curiosity.
It’s then just a matter of exploring the levels of the dungeon while watching out for enemies, searching for secret passages, finding solutions to the puzzles and, harder than all of the above, keeping the group of adventurers alive.
Combat is real time and involves right clicking on the weapons that characters have collected while moving around the dungeon, looking for the position that can best block an enemy or for that area where it’s easy to hit and run on a particularly powerful enemy.
Magic is a little more complex because it involves runes in groups of one or more, according to a formula, and soon casters become very powerful and their survival becomes necessary in order to defeat the tougher enemies and progress.
As the game progresses, the fights become harder and harder and some enemies can make short work of the player party if they manage to gain the element of surprise although gamers can quickly find that even the toughest of them can be defeated by essentially strafing.
Legend of Grimrock is a game that lacks any pity, like the guards that throw the main characters down into the mountain. It will never try to hold the player’s hand, but it’s part of the beauty of the experience to first fail spectacularly when meeting a foe only to then refine strategies and make short work of them on the second (or ninth) try.
One small problem with the entire combat system is that luck seems to matter quite a lot when dealing with non-ranged weapons, and I often felt I only lost an encounter because my front-line fighters delivered more misses than hits.
Practice leads to a better combat performance, but puzzles tend to remain fairly challenging throughout Legends of Grimrock and some of them are actually infuriating.
There are a few sections where a solution requires hunting for different looking stones acting like levers that feel forced, but there are also other puzzles that are inspired and do not cause frustration.
No way through
The charm of Legend of Grimrock comes from the way it mixes tropes of the role-playing genre with moments of despair and delight and a constant feeling of discovery and surprise, something that bigger budget modern experiences fail to deliver despite their superior graphics and their complex stories.
Graphics and audio
Almost Human clearly lacks the resources to create a graphics juggernaut, but they make a few decisions that cause Legend of Grimrock to feel somewhat dated but never downright ugly.
The interiors recycle textures, and many enemies share the same movement animation (which leads to a chilling effect when more than one attacks at the same time), but this never seems like a big problem.
The austere look of the dungeon also meshes well with the old role-playing game vibe of the mechanics, but I would have liked to see a little more attention poured into the mini-map and into the various character tabs, especially the inventory.
The sound design is a little unremarkable, yet the lack of music and the somewhat robotic sounds of the dungeon also serve to enhance the atmosphere.
Legend of Grimrock manages to be attractive to two categories of gamers. Those who have played Dungeon Master before the ‘90’s came around will be able to relive those days, part of the Golden Age of gaming now, while those who started their first-person role-playing experience with an Elder Scrolls game will be able to experience a game that is closer to the core of the genre than any other modern one.
Legend of Grimrock is a deep game that hides under a layer of simplicity and that can be a surprise for any player willing to give it a bit of time and handle a bit of frustration.
Almost Human also has plans to launch a dungeon editor and along with other mod tools, it will allow players to create their own levels.
But players who never played the likes of Dungeon Master or the first Baldur’s Gate need to manage their expectations for Legend of Grimrock and understand that there are times when less is actually more, even in the increasingly bombastic world of modern video games.
The development team at Almost Human has already stated that the game has recouped its development cost in the first few days on sale, which probably means that they will have a chance to apply the same mechanics and concepts to other classic fantasy situations.