Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Legend of Grimrock

There was a time when, if you mentioned RPGs, gamers would envisage a party of brave adventurers trudging through a mysterious dungeon, armoured warriors and robed wizards slashing and blasting their way through hordes of loathsome enemies. Of course, finding magnificent treasure was part of the experience, as was dealing with frustrating lever and key puzzles that inspired euphoria when solved. What has happened to the RPG genre since then is a matter of (fiercely argued) opinion, but it has undeniably gone through changes.

RPGs ditched the tile-based movement system, and have offered us rich stories that took us through a variety of environments, even... wait for it... outdoor forests and deserts. Games like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights increased class customisation, skills and roleplaying choices. Story, dialogue and choices were a focus in these games. Other RPGs, perhaps most of them, became too action focused, losing the simple strategic appeal of the aforementioned older games such as Eye of the Beholder and The Bard's Tale. These newer RPGs focused on grinding and were too easy, turning the hero into a mighty avatar for the player to live vicariously through.

There remain gamers who think a real RPG forces players to take the role of weak amateurs, barely skilled in their chosen profession, and somehow manage to survive. Eventually your party would become impressive and powerful, but every morsel of experience, every magic sword and bejewelled arcane necklace would be hard fought for. Dungeons and enemies would constantly throw surprises at you. Oh, and you must make sure you feed your characters regularly and keep your torch supply up, otherwise you may die of more natural causes; or just get lost.

The Legend of Grimrock is for those gamers.

Very similarly to the Eye of the Beholder games, The Legend of Grimrock casts you as four prisoners thrown into an ancient and deadly dungeon, your only hope is the proclamation that should you survive to escape the hellhole, you would be acquitted of all charges and released to live your life. Despite the moodiness and quality of the introduction and cutscenes, they are simple and the story is almost negligible.

The customisation of your prisoners is complex enough to be engaging, and to make sure repeat playthroughs will yield new experiences. However compared to many RPGs, it is relatively basic. There are no excess stats or skills that are not necessary to survive. This is not a story-driven or interactive RPG. Your characters will explore every inch of the fascinating, dark dungeon ahead of them, moving tile by tile. Complex yet logical puzzles involving levers, pressure plates and placing gems in sockets, abound. They do not get boring, and the difficulty of these conundrums slowly escalates. The puzzles are largely satisfying to solve.

Of course, the dungeon is populated with all sorts of deadly denizens, both beastly, demonic and humanoid. The fauna of the aforementioned hellhole is very diverse, with each and every floor bringing forth beautifully designed creatures and requiring different strategies.

Speaking of strategy, this extremely difficult game does encourage you to exploit the system as much as possible to survive, attacking enemies with all four of your characters, and then retreating. This is a result of the countdown tied to all of your attacks, from simple swings of steel, to spells. Some monsters, such as ogres, are  capable of decimating your intrepid adventurers in short order, and usage of items such as potions, and conservation of spells and abilities, is essential to survive your stay in Grimrock prison.

Graphically, the game is old, but only by a few years. Fans of this kind of game will find the graphics more than acceptable, considering how old-school the gameplay is. The design of the dungeons and creatures is intricate and, in the case of the creatures, colourful. The dungeons are dank and tend to repetitive, but that is the nature of dungeons. Overall, the graphics are relatively new and they present the enjoyable old-school gameplay of yore with tolerable and easy-on-the-eye visuals.

Sound-wise, the game is fine. Footsteps, the snarls of enemies, weapons and spells, are all crafted aptly. Music is somewhat lacking, but this was likely a deliberate decision, in order to increase tension and encourage players to pay attention to noises- which is actually important in this game.

The Legend of Grimrock is tailor-made for people who enjoy games that provide a basic framework for fun, and lets users use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Being willing to use your noggin to persist at some of the harder puzzles and encounters, is also helpful. Character creation lets you choose four races: Human, Minotaur, Insectoids and Lizardmen. Enemy designs are equally imaginative. However, the bulk of the game is exploring labyrinthine dungeons inch by inch, dealing with sometimes repetitive, yet challenging puzzles, fighting wave after wave of enemies (but note, there luckily is no respawning except in a few areas where it is necessary for puzzles). On top of surviving the dangers of the dungeon, torches and food supplies must be kept up. It is a brutal, difficult game of survival and resource conservation. It is also very fun. You must fill in the blanks about what your characters did to be thrown into the dungeon, and what the world you inhabit is like. The cutscenes provide additional motivation to keep on moving, but the gameplay is the real treat.

Though the game is unforgiving, your characters can become equally mighty and intimidating. Skills can be levelled up as experience is gained, and gradually your characters will be decked out in more and more impressive gear. But, and this is the mantra for games of this nature, you must earn every inch of ground you take and you must earn the treasures awaiting you, by staring danger in the eye. For $15 on Steam, for about twenty hours per playthrough, the price is much more forgiving.

Look out for the epic, dark fantasy ebooks of Goodreads-rated author T.P. Grish at: 

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