Review: Legend of Grimrock

By Dave Neumann 08 May 2015 0

As far as reviews go, this one might be the easiest one I’ve ever written. After all, Legend of Grimrock originally released for PC and Mac back in 2012. It currently holds an 82 on Metacritic and had enough praise heaped upon it that a sequel was released last year (which has an even higher score on Metacritic).

So, if you came here wondering if Legend of Grimrock was a good game, the answer is, yes. It’s fantastic. I played through it on PC and have had a couple days now to really sink my teeth into the recently released iPad version. The real question then becomes, how does Legend of Grimrock work on a tablet? Wonderfully.

Legend of Grimrock is a throwback to the RPGs of yesteryear. I’m talking about those classic RPGs in which your entire view of the dungeon was first-person and about the size of a postage stamp. Games like Bard’s Tale or the SSI gold box games come to mind. Probably it’s closest ancestor are the beloved Eye of the Beholder games that, to this day, conjure up images of dying repeatedly to a group of beholders. To be honest, however, LoG’s real progenitor are those wonderful, early Gygaxian D&D modules with their two-tone, blue and white gridded dungeons. Dungeons where monsters and traps abound, doors hide riches or destruction, and everything comes in tidy 5-foot chunks.

Not a curved wall to be found.
I spent a good part of my childhood creating dungeons like that on sheets and sheets of graph paper, filling them up helter-skelter with whatever creature from the Monster Manual caught my eye, which usually meant it would scare the crap out of my friends. This is why LoG is so good. It hearkens back to a time when dungeon crawls were just that, and not a prelude to some epic world-saving story that involves 100 hours of play time, fetch quests, and trying to score with NPCs. LoG is simple and straightforward and it’s a breath of fresh air, even if it’s the same air we were breathing 30 years ago.

The plot involves your party being found guilty of an unnamed crime and dropped into the Grimrock dungeon as your sentence. Ostensibly, your free and considered to have paid your debt to society at this point, but now you’re trapped at the top of a very deep, very dangerous dungeon from which none have escaped. Until now, of course, because that’s exactly what you are going to do.

From there, everything is pretty straightforward. You explore the dungeon, discover levers, secret doors and puzzles, and fight monsters. Your goal is to keep moving down in the dungeon, but each floor becomes its own little ecosystem, its own version of the minotaur’s maze that you’ll need to solve to move on. It’s these puzzles and secrets that make the game what it is. Monsters are fine, and combat can be fun—especially once you get a mage up to speed—but the heart of the game are the traps, levers, and buttons you need to not only find but then figure out what they do. There are hidden buttons on walls, statues you need to interact with, and walls that move when objects are put in the correct place. It’s as if one of my old D&D modules has come to life.

Abandon all hope...

The presentation of the game is excellent. No simulated 8-bit graphics in this one, instead we get everything in crisp high def. Everything looks fantastic, from the monsters to the dungeon walls and doors. In fact, the atmosphere of the dungeon itself is so well done, that there were times I couldn’t believe I was playing on an iPad. The sound is absolutely wonderful, even with the iPad speakers. You can hear the shuffling and slithering of creatures as they move in the darkness, which creates a strong sense of dread.

If there’s a downside to how realistic Almost Human tries to make the dungeon environment, it’s the hunger and light situation. Players get hungry and have to eat, or starvation will make them completely ineffective as you move forward. This isn’t too much of an issue, other than you need to carry food around with you in case someone needs lunch. Inventory space is already at a premium, so it becomes a hassle in the long run. Light is a hassle as well. Someone better be carrying a torch, or the world goes dark fast. Considering how many torches you find, and the eventual other means of light you uncover, the system could have been scrapped and I would have been fine with it. Again, it’s just another thing to clog up inventory spaces early in the game.

Need a healing potion? Make your own.
Like those pen and paper dungeons of old, nothing in LoG is created on the fly. Treasure is placed where it’s placed, so on your second run through the dungeon, you’ll know exactly where that Icefall Hammer can be found. That is, of course, if you find it on your first try. Likely you won’t. There are so many secrets that there’s no way to catch them all unless your using one of the many walkthroughs you can find online.

Totally not part of a puzzle. Just hanging out.Like in just about every RPG, your characters will level up and gain new powers as you progress. Each level you’re granted new skill points to deploy, which will open up new abilities as you add them to each skill. The most interesting—and frustrating—class is the mage, which uses magic based on the elements and a grid of runes. As you progress, you’ll find scrolls indicating which rune patterns will cast different spells, but I’ve found that you need to focus on a couple of elements rather than spreading out your skill points, or you’ll never cast the more powerful spells in each class. This is a bummer when you’re dumping points into fire and ice spells, but keep finding scrolls for high-level earth spells.

For iPad, the UI was revamped, moving character information to the bottom of the screen. Movement is done via control buttons, which works fine on the touch screen. The characters’ hands have been reduced to only having one hand “quick slot” visible as opposed to two on the PC version. At first, this was an issue until I realized I could simply put objects in my off hand on the character’s inventory screen. The game is smart enough that if the object in your “quick slot” hand disappears, the off hand object will then appear in the quick slot.

Legend of Grimrock was released for PC/Mac way back in 2012 and has already had praise heaped upon it. The iPad version isn’t going to sour anyone’s opinion of the original game. It’s a nearly perfect port of a classic PC game, something we haven’t really seen since Firaxis brought us XCOM. If you’ve never played Grimrock before, put this game on your home screen now. If you’re a LoG veteran, I think I would still recommend the game. I’m having a blast with it, having forgotten where much of the good loot was hidden and having to backtrack to find it. Simply put, there’s not a better RPG on the App Store right now.

Legend of Grimrock was reviewed on an iPad Air.

Review: Legend of Grimrock

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