A Rewardingly Frustrating Game
We’ve all played games that are frustratingly easy, as if the game designer decided that their audience was not smart enough to figure out the game mechanics on their own. Legend of Grimrock 2 by Almost Human Games, on the other hand, is a game that honours the player’s intelligence through its mind-bending riddles and puzzles and uncompromisingly challenging combat. Like the easy game that holds your hand, Legend of Grimrock 2 is at times frustrating, but in the best of ways. You’ll get stumped by a puzzle and throw down your mouse in defeat, only to come back ten minutes later having deciphered the solution. You’ll get beaten by a boss three times in a row, then go off and find a buried treasure with epic loot to help you kick its butt. Its a system that makes you feel truly smart and powerful for each puzzle solved and enemy trumped. The game does not force you into any specific direction, allowing you to fully explore the game’s mysterious island at your leisure, discovering new puzzles and challenges to add to your map. If you’re willing to put in the 15-20+ hours and brain power to solve a copious amounts of riddles, and enjoy harsh combat and gameplay mechanics that often leave you without enough food or potion ingredients to see you through the next dungeon, Legend of Grimrock 2 may be right up your alley.
You play as four prisoners caged inside a ship on your way to face your fate, when a mysterious force steers the ship to crash on the shore of the mysterious isle of Nex. The four lone survivors of the wreck, You soon find that the island, steeped in ancient lore and history, is a death trap of epic proportions. Riddles and puzzles abound, dangerous monsters roam the deceptively tranquil landscapes and deadly traps line the floors and walls of numerous dungeons.
At the centre of this madness is a mysterious hooded figure known only as The Island Master who both guides you and taunts you to solve the island or die trying. Beyond this, the story of the world is dished out to you in lore which often holds the clue to solving a critical puzzle. Every tidbit of information you run across can potentially be important, and you ignore it at your peril. The prisoners themselves are completely two-dimensional and are merely there to hack, slash, and solve – the story is not the star here, it’s the gameplay.
In essence Legend of Grimrock 2 is a dungeon crawler that allows you to explore a robust world replete with lots of puzzles to solve and baddies to crush. Unlike its predecessor which had you encased entirely in a dark dungeon, Legend of Grimrock 2 features very welcome beautiful outdoor environments, but you are still constrained to moving around in a grid as if you were playing a pen & paper RPG. As a result you move one tile at a time using the WASD keys, and you use the QE keys to rotate. This rigid control scheme does not detract from the game, however, as it makes you feel like you are playing a within a visualization of one of those RPGs from which Grimrock gets its inspiration. One feature that I wish would have been included in this sequel, particularly since these new outdoor areas are so gorgeous, is the ability to look up and down. This would add an entirely new dimension to puzzle solving, and the control scheme feels just a little bit too rigid in not being able to look above or below you as there were times I definitely wanted to see something without having to back up.
To interact with the world or pick up objects you simply use the cursor to click on them. As you move about the world, you’ll discover many different environments to explore, including shrines, sewers, swamps, and cemeteries, and all of these have treasures to find, hidden switches to press, and pressure plates to depress. The game’s world is large and complex, and so your map, along with the notes you can leave on it, will become your best friend. Often you’ll find a treasure that you can’t access without a key that you don’t have, or a puzzle you might not currently have the tools to solve, and you’ll want to remember where they’re at.
The types of puzzles you can find in the game vary. Some of them require you to solve riddles, some of them require you to make use of the game’s portals to shift objects around, some of them require you to decrypt a mysterious language using a cipher, or push a block around in directions made clear through the lines of a story, or depress certain pressure plates using thrown objects. The variety of puzzles is mind-blowing, and many of the puzzles in the game are added as bonuses that allow you to find secret treasure. Sometimes, progression is as simple as finding a hidden switch on a wall. Often you can’t solve a puzzle before you complete another objective or without certain objects, and though you’re often pointed in the right direction, you’re never told outright what you need to do. Everything is oblique in Legend of Grimrock 2 and it’s wonderful.
Of course, the game is not all puzzle-solving. Your four adventurers, who can either be the default four or characters of your own design from five different races and eight classes, have a lot of slaying to do. As you move about the world, you move in a 2×2 formation, and enemy attackers from the front will cause damage to your top two adventurers, while enemies attacking from the left cause damage to your left two adventurers etc. with spells causing damage to all. As a result you’ll want to place your tanks at the front and support at the rear, but you’ll have to watch your flanks as you can only attack the enemy you’re facing. This may seem limited, but again works well in the context of old school RPGs, and does involve some strategy as you sidestep your way around enemies while consciously trying not to get boxed in. Attacking is performed by right clicking on your equipped weapons, and the spell system involves you dragging a line through a set of runes on the screen before right clicking the cast button.
Character progression feels highly rewarding, as you have to work through many an enemy to level up and advance your skills. Every skill point you put into your character is rare enough that choosing which ability to raise next feels like an act of desperation to help you survive the next trial. You’ll want to have access to more of your characters’ potential abilities, but you won’t, forcing you to be very conservative with the types of gear, weapons, and spells, the use of all of which are dictated by your characters’ abilities. What’s more, the food required to allow your characters to rest (which allows you to restore health and mana), as well as various potions and ingredients to create them, ammo and gear are also hard to come by, forcing you to think very carefully about who wears what and whether or not to use that coveted shield potion. The entire game feels like a battle of attrition, but one which is ultimately rewarding for the secret-seeker and item-horder who are able to manage his or her possessions and abilities with minimal guidance.
Saving often is important, as you will die on many occasions and definitely don’t want to lose your progress. Of course, the seasoned dungeon crawler can choose to only save at the game’s save crystals, which completely heal your party but are also fairly uncommon. Another hardcore option allows you to turn off the in-game map, forcing you to resort to pen and paper. Grimrock is a notoriously difficult series, and you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to really commit to its witchy ways before you pick it up. Meanwhile the game comes complete with a dungeon creator tool, and I expect that within weeks of the game’s launch there will be plenty of user-made deathly difficult dungeons available to download on the web.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics are more or less the same as in Legend of Grimrock, although as mentioned earlier the outdoor environments are a nice touch, and add more ambience and general fantasy feel than the original game. The team did a wonderful job with the day / night cycle, and the lighting and shadows are gorgeous, particularly when you’re walking through a dark dungeon with a torch in hand. As the graphics are not particularly demanding, older rigs can run this game no problem.
As for the sound, all the information is given to you through text, and there is little in the way of music, with Almost Human choosing to rely mostly on ambient noise for the player to become fully immersed in the game’s world. The occasional boss fight will result in some epic smashing music, but that’s about it. As a result it’s a perfect game to play while listening to your own playlist, but then you’ll miss out on all the creaks and groans of the zombies and skeletons and howling of the wolves at nighttime. This minimalist approach works very well for a game that plays as an immersive old school RPG experience.
At its best, Legend of Grimrock 2 feels a lot like Myst (except with the added bonus of getting to shoot magic missiles at armoured skeletons), you’ll even have to whip out the old pen and paper from time to time. The game is tough, and you will have to be very careful with your equipment, items, and character abilities in order to survive the world, and when you’re successful at it, it feels great. Where it suffers is that in exploring a three-dimensional world you are stuck in a two-dimensional paradigm which does not allow you to interact with the ceiling or floors of the game’s beautifully crafted world, and that the learning curve for even the most seasoned dungeon explorer is quite high, as I was having difficulty in combat even while playing the game on the easy difficulty setting. That being said, if you’re into old school dungeon crawlers or like the challenge of complex puzzles and riddles, this is the game for you.
Legend of Grimrock 2 launches for PC Wednesday October 15.
Original Author: Jay Borenstein