When a player is asked about the classic “dungeon crawl” genre, they may have to take a visit to their attic and dust off some floppy discs. When it comes to the modern day dungeon crawl, it exists as a blended genre, usually with an action-RPG. The merging of both of these worlds can create a noxious experience that is awkwardly given with the label “game.”
Legends of Grimrock attempts to blur the line between classic and modern with its old-school feel and its modern graphics. That leaves one to wonder if Legends of Grimrock up to the challenge of attracting players that aren’t just around for the sweet taste of nostalgia.
The game graces the players with a menu screen upon entering the game. When a new game is selected, a player is offered either the option of selecting a pre-made group or fully creating and customizing a party. The customization during this process was excellent. A player selects the character’s race, traits, and skills to help get the party members tuned exactly to suit their playstyle. Out of the races, it boiled down to four races, but two options: human and “ugly” (Minotaur, bug, or lizard). We say “ugly” because there are no exotic races like one may expect with this genre, such as elves. However, this fact continues to lend to the uniqueness of the game world the developers created for the inhabitants. Customization did get a small hit due to the fact that characters can be fully customized, but the game doesn’t immediately make them capable. For example, a player might make a customized archer, but they will have difficulty finding a bow in the first three levels of the game.
Traditionally, storyline and plot are not always the strong point of dungeon crawlers. This fact is no different for Legends of Grimrock. The game offsets this weak area by a concise and well-illustrated introduction and with the occasional injection of the plot when the party rests. Upon arrival into the game, a player will immediately notice the similarities to Wizardry with the strict 90 degrees turning and the rigid “moving one block at a time.” Shortly after arriving at the game, players will run into their first combat scenario: battling a snail. The initial impression is that the monsters are going to be lacking. However, shortly after this initial introduction, the dungeon will start spewing monsters that vary in both ability and tactics. For instance, the player will either battle or avoid plant monsters shooting AOE acid balls, spiders that dish out fast attacks with a side of poison, and skeletons in heavy armor that stack two by two. The final thing to note about combat, something Wizardry lacked, is players have the ability to move during it. Consequently, making use of tactics can help minimize the use of resources, and maximize the life expectancy of the party members.
The Legend of Grimrock environment is one that the player will want to become very comfortable with, for they will be seeing a lot of it. However, the graphics that make up the said environment are very detailed, to the point of even tiny rocks in the walls. In combat, players will be able to see the slime on the snails and be up close and personal to the face of a spider while the party’s mage (assuming they have one) incinerates it with a fire burst or gives it a dose of ice shards. The game provides the right diet for the gamer when it comes to graphics. It gives enough to not let a player starve without allowing for overindulgence.
When it comes to audio, Legends of Grimrock focuses on a central idea. The idea is that the player should hear what is going on in the dungeon, and not the soundtrack. Other than the great accompaniment with the game’s introduction, there isn’t a soundtrack to speak of.
Playing the game comes down to a few straightforward ideas. The first is how does a player learn everything they need to know? The game offers a straight-forward tutorial on all the games mechanics through the game’s menu. The game consists of knowing three fundamental elements. The first of these is manipulating the environment with the mouse. Picking up torches, equipping gear, and opening doors all come through the management of the mouse pointer. In addition, the mouse can be used in place of the movement keys to move the characters if the player so desires. The game becomes an entirely “fly-by-mouse” game with this option. Assuming the default controls are used, the player will manipulate movement with the classic WASD keys, with Q and E making the 90-degree turns. The third element, combat, is a combination of the first two to allow for moving the party out of harm’s way as needed, and right-clicking (or clicking a certain pattern for spells) to attack with a weapon. The spell system leaves something to be desired. Specifically, a player has to input a pattern to learn and cast spells. Inputting more complex patterns while trying to negotiate movement and attacks and opening menus for potions (if needed) creates a more complex combat environment than necessary.
When it comes down to it, the game is fun to play. The monsters are diverse enough to challenge a player’s tactics, which can sometimes lead to frustration. The puzzles throughout the game provide a plethora of stimulation for the mind, and the ever-longing lust for treasure might just be enough to see the player through to the end.
Replay value will only come in one of two forms. A player can try the challenges of the game with a different party makeup or go through the game and find the secrets that were missed the first time through. Other than those specific areas, the game isn’t going to have much more replay value.
If you were to take a mortar and pestle, combine it with modern graphics, character customization, challenging puzzles, good controls, and combat maneuverability, you would get Legends of Grimrock. Unfortunately, some of the bitter ingredients that got mixed in were unnecessary complexity with combat functions, lack of story, the absence of a soundtrack, and only decent replay value. Despite this, Legend of Grimrock still comes out tasting pretty good for both those sipping for the first time and those drinking the full flavor of nostalgia.