Legend of Grimrock
By: Almost Human ltd.
I can’t say I’m very good at first-person party dungeon crawlers, but I have enjoyed my fair share of them in the past. My favorites were Might & Magic 6-8. I had a blast with them, and sunk a lot of time into them, but I never actually finished any of them. I haven’t played PC games in years, but when I heard that the highly popular PC dungeon crawler Legend of Grimlock was coming to iOS, I was eager to try it. I’ve been spending a lot of time with it, but am still working my way through. Still, I wanted to give a review from the perspective of someone who isn’t necessarily a pro at these games.
You start off the game with a team of four party members who were thrown into this dungeon as prisoners, never meant to escape. You begin on the top floor and have to make your way down. You can either let the game create your party for you or you can take the more interesting route of making your own. There are four races to choose from — human, minotaur, lizard and insect. Each one specializes in a different class, except humans, who are more versatile. You can design your party around any combination of fighters (warriors), rogues and mages. Each class also has a variety of skills they can specialize in, such as sword, mace, thrown weapons, and different elemental magics. How you distribute their skill points will have a huge effect on how you play the game.
You can also choose from easy, medium or hard difficulty modes. I chose medium, and the game is not forgiving. If you’re not used to these types of games, you might want to give easy mode a try. It is a fairly long game, so you will need some time and patience to get through it, especially if you start over a few times.
One of the things I remember about Might & Magic was constantly saving to new save slots in case I made a mistake. Thankfully, Grimrock offers this same save system, allowing you to save at any point and to a new slot if you’d like. This is incredibly rare for iOS games. The only other ones I can think of that do this are Oddword: Stranger’s Wrath and Broken Age, more ports. This takes a lot of stress out of the game, and also means you can restart with several different parties to try and then stick with the one you like the best. Be careful, though — if you create too many save slots, the game will replace older saves without warning.
But in case you think that the save-anywhere system will make this game too easy, fear not. Or rather, do fear. Because this game can be scary as hell. The graphics are gorgeous on my iPad Air 2 and the lighting is just perfect — you can see just enough from the torches, but not so much to kill the mood. You do need to carry around a torch if you want to see, but if you have a mage character, this soon becomes a non-issue once you get the “Light” spell. The Light spell works exactly like a torch, so it just means you don’t have to worry about your torches burning out. But the effect is the same, giving you just enough light to see where you’re going but keeping the eerie and dreadful feeling of not knowing what’s ahead.
Adding to the suspense are the sound effects. You’ll hear each step you take, as well as those of the creatures lurking about this dungeon. Each type of enemy makes a different sound when it moves, and you can hear it when it’s nearby. Sometimes you’ll hear them from behind a door, making you dread opening said door. Spiders make scuttling sounds, while snails and slimes make more of a gloopy noise. These sounds serve the purpose of setting the mood, but also preparing you for what’s ahead. But even so, nothing can prepare you for that first spider you encounter. Nothing — not even this picture of a spider attack!
There is music in the game which reminds me of the Game of Thrones theme song. It seems to only play during the party creation screen and the opening cutscene. But I actually like that the game itself has no music. It keeps the suspense and makes every little sound that much more effective. You really feel like you’re alone in this dungeon with nothing but vicious creatures as your company.
The controls for Grimlock are fairly basic and straightforward. They’re also incredibly responsive, at least on my iPad Air 2. The game never lagged and I never felt like I couldn’t accomplish something because of the game’s response time. I do, however, wish there were some options to rearrange the user interface (UI). You move your party on a grid one step at a time, using the six arrow buttons to the right. The layout has the “up” arrow on the top row, between the two right and left turn buttons. Then the bottom row has the left, back and right movement buttons. I would sometimes find myself tapping the turn buttons when I wanted to actually move left or right. This can be a problem when you’re attempting to do something on a timer, as turning wastes time. I’m not a hundred percent sure that moving those buttons would help, but I wouldn’t mind the option to try.
Besides the movement arrows, you have your heroes’ left hands in the left corner of the screen. You drag a weapon from their inventory to the left hand to equip it, then tap that hand to use the weapon. There is a cool down time for each, so don’t expect to be able to spam attacks in this game. You need to be smart about it and sometimes find openings and weak points before attacking. Unfortunately, you cannot dual-wield melee weapons (at least, not to any effect), but if you put throwing knives in each hand, the game will switch to the right when the left runs out.
In the middle bottom of the screen you see your four characters, their layout, health, energy and any status effects (such as poison or death). Tapping on their profile opens their inventory. This does not pause the game. You can keep the inventory window open the entire game if you’d like, and you won’t miss anything. The game basically cuts out the extra space on both sides of the screen to allow you to do this. That way you can quickly switch out weapons if, say, you run out of arrows for your rogue and want to give him a dagger to use.
Magic is cast in an interesting way in Grimlock. Instead of simply choosing a spell, you need to trace your finger on some runes to cast it. You’ll pick up scrolls that tell you which runes to press for a specific spell, but if you don’t have enough skill points in that specific element, your mage won’t be able to cast the spell. It also means you need to memorize a few spells and get used to casting them quickly if you want to stand a chance in battle.
When you come across items, you just tap and drag them to any of your characters and goes to their inventory. But they each have a limited number of items they can carry, as well as a weight limit. You’ll want to give your heavier items to the minotaurs. There doesn’t appear to be any use for items you’ve outgrown, so you’ll likely end up leaving some things scattered around he dungeon to make room for new ones.
Your characters also need to eat if they want to survive this dungeon. They get hungry over time and sleeping to heal makes them even hungrier. Luckily, you’ll find all sorts of disgusting “food” around, such as baked maggot and snail meat. One thing I wish I realized early on is that you don’t need to feed them as soon as they get hungry. They can function just fine on an empty stomach and won’t die just moving around. The only thing they won’t be able to do is restore health and energy. So you’ll want to feed them before or after battle, but not necessarily while running around. Because I didn’t realize this, I wasted a lot of my food and ended up running out when I really needed it. I may actually start a new game because of this.
If any of your party members do die, that doesn’t have to mean it’s game over! Grimrock is somewhat generous in that you can make your way to the blue crystal on each floor, as long as one of your heroes is still alive, and revive the whole party to full health. Granted, it might not always be possible to get to one in time, but it’s an option that’s available.
There are various ways to take advantage of your surroundings. If you play smart, you can sometimes take down enemies without getting a scratch on you. For instance, there are a few spots where you control a door that releases a creature. If you’re quick, you can use this door to your advantage, taking a shot at the spider or slime, then closing the door before it has a change to attack. It’s a slow method, but when given this opportunity, you’d be crazy not to take it.
You also have a map that tracks your progress and can be accessed at any point. This has proven indispensable, but for the truly masochistic players out there, you can choose to play the game in “old school” mode, which will force you to either memorize the map or draw it out, as you won’t have access to the in-game map.
What really sets Grimlock apart from other dungeon crawlers I’ve played is its puzzles. There are a lot of them, and they vary quite a bit. This was actually one aspect I was especially looking forward to, since I enjoy point-and-click adventure games. I liked the idea of solving puzzles, not just fighting enemy after enemy. The game has a lot of hidden switches and secret rooms that are easy to miss if you don’t look really carefully or cheat a little by reading a guide. If you miss those rooms, you’ll also miss out on items such as gear and food. Some puzzles can be tricky, though, and involve moving quickly around traps. If you get frustrated easily by skill-based puzzles, you might not enjoy these. For instance, there are floor buttons that open and close trap doors when pressed. Sometimes you need to throw a rock onto a button and run quickly over the closed trapped door before it opens again. These are not easy puzzles, and not everyone will love them, but they’re incredibly gratifying to complete.
Another thing that’s different from most other dungeon crawlers is that all items are in a set location. This means that you can’t game the system to try to get better loot. But it also means that everything is in the same place each time you play, so once you discover something, you’ll know where it is next time. This gives the game some replay value if you want to try and uncover every secret and collect every item without using a guide.
If you’re looking for a challenge, Legend of Grimrock will definitely give you one. There is no hand-holding here and any progress you make is incredibly rewarding. It’s a highly-polished game that never gets boring. But those looking for an easy time will likely get frustrated and quit early on. Either way, the game is cheap enough that even if you quit just a few hours in, you’ll get your money’s worth. I’ve already put six hours of actual gameplay into my first game and I’ve only completed a few levels of the dungeon. So if you’re interested in dungeon crawlers even the slightest bit, I would recommend downloading Legend of Grimrock.