by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Return to Grimrock
The first Legend of Grimrock was released in 2011 to favourable reviews, garnered undoubtedly from reviewers like me who had spent many enjoyable nights playing games like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder in the 1980s and 1990s. The game brought the old-style dungeon dwellers to modern gamers seamlessly. It received only minor criticism, mainly for the combat system that allowed the player to sidestep and fool the AI too easily. Legend of Grimrock II makes steps towards fixing this and even the – admittedly tedious – dungeons.
The game starts with a party of four adventurers locked inside a cage in the hold of a sail ship. In a good old story-telling fashion, a storm ensues, wrecking the ship. In a hilarious turn of fate the iron cage is delivered onto the shore of a lonely island perched on a torn piece of the ship’s decking. The four adventurers get out and soon realise that they have landed on an island filled with traps and puzzles, custom designed for unwary travellers. Ruins, shrines, dungeons and mines have to be explored in order for them to survive the experience.
The adventure starts from the beach, but you soon enter a forest while swamps and dungeons are not far away either. Secret areas a plentiful and usually hide useful items for you to loot. You generally advance from less challenging areas to more challenging ones but it is not as clearly set as in the first Grimrock. On a couple of occasions I stepped into an area that was way over the capabilities of my characters – such as dropping into a nest of pirate rats – and had to turn back and find easier areas to explore before I returned.
You can either choose to play with a predetermined party, or create your own characters. If you really want to personalise the experience, you can insert your own custom-designed avatars for the party members. While some details have changed - primarily in the form of a smoothed-out skill system that is more flexible - you will not have to spend a lot of time trying to learn the differences. Fighters go in front, rogues, mages and healers go in the back. Picking the alchemy skill for the latter allows you to concoct new healing potions during your journey. They will seem generously available on the island's coastal areas, but run thinner on the ground the deeper you venture inland.
Overall you have 5 species and 7 professions to choose from. I went with the classics: all human party with a knight, a barbarian, a rogue and a mage. Two men and two women. I must say, however, that I was intrigued by the Battlemage offering and may very well try it on my second play-through. On the other hand, the Farmer – a profession that gains levels by eating rather than fighting – sounded downright silly. A must try as well especially now that I’ve learned that food is more freely available than in the first game.
Smarter AI and Puzzles
Although you will still encounter enemies that succumb to the good old ‘sidestep and flank them’ tactic, many are more devious now. They jump back to avoid your blows, attempt to flee when they are low on health and attack flanks with quick turns. The first time a giant frog jumped over my party to block my escape route, I cried out in surprise. My 6-year-old daughter (my trusty gaming companion) quickly educated me of the fact that frogs can – indeed – jump. I suspect she meant to say that I was foolish to expect otherwise...
Some of the enemies are harder for other reasons too: stone golems, for example, are very difficult to hurt with conventional weaponry, leaving your fighters relatively useless – their part being regressed to that of a barrier between the enemy and your spellcaster. Swarms of wasps fall quickly to a flame-based spell, but care little of your swords and axes. All very logical, but they can take you by surprise.
The puzzles are a big improvement from the original. Whereas they occasionally seemed like something of a bother in Grimrock I, now they blend into the environment more naturally and actually feel like serving a purpose. It still pays to study dungeon and ruin walls carefully for hidden switches, but it is not necessary for your advancement in the game to the extent it was in the original. Furthermore, the puzzles are much more varied and logical and hints are available where you need them. There are still a few of them that will stump you, but at least there’s usually some other location that you can go and explore while your gray cells work on the solution.
The biggest change from the first Grimrock is definitely the fact that you are roaming the surface of the island more than the caves and dungeons. The graphics have been improved from the previous installment, the effects are more numerous and the scenery changes more often.
However, the paths that you roam are still relatively restrictive, not providing you with that much more freedom than you had underground. But the sky is pretty and there’s a nice day-and-night cycle to keep things interesting. And when you roam the forest paths, you will see further away through the foliage than you would if the intervening matter was made of rock. This sometimes allows you to spot danger sooner and prepare for it, instead of enemies jumping at you from behind corners.
Better, but room for a third one
With all the good there’s to say about the sequel, there’s still room for further development of the concept. Given that we are now on the surface, I began to miss the sort of gameplay found in classics such as Bard’s Tale: a strong story, open vistas to explore, towns to visit, NPCs to meet, stores to buy stuff from... Perhaps I can hope for such things to be introduced in Grimrock III?
Legend of Grimrock II is better than the original in every regard: more freedom, better character progression, better enemies, better puzzles and better environmental variety. Those who liked the first one will definitely love the sequel!
Better than the first game in every regard.
Movement is not quite as free as it could be.