Legend of Grimrock makes exactly zero bones about being a tribute to old-school RPGs like Wizardry, Dungeon Master and Might & Magic. The idea behind the game is to take the core design principles found in those games, and dress them up in a shiny new suit, complete with modern user interface conventions and pretty graphics.
At the outset, players must create a four-character party from a ragtag group of prisoners. There are four races and three classes to choose from, and it takes maybe five minutes to mix and match stats before you venture off into the spooky, dank corridors of Mount Grimrock.
The first thing I noticed about Legend of Grimrock was the tile-based movement system, something I had not encountered in a ridiculously long time. This is an obvious tribute to the games which inspired it, and it’s not a design feature that will sit well with all gamers today. Your party is organized into a 2×2 grid formation, and you can interchange their positioning on the fly.
The second thing that stuck out for me is the way the story is told. There are no cut-scenes, nor are there any wall-of-text quest descriptions – two narrative devices which are seemingly a constant in RPGs. Instead, Legend of Grimrock tells its tale dynamically. You will find notes scattered around dungeons, seemingly left by some previous adventurer who was at some point stuck in the exact same predicament as you are. When you rest your character, you will hear a voice in his dreams. This voice and the notes you find are all you really have to go on in terms of figuring out exactly what is happening, and it works exceptionally well.
Legend of Grimrock’s gameplay primarily consists of puzzle solving and combat. The puzzle solving portion of the game was a strong point for me. Puzzles are challenging and varied, and most importantly, provide a deep sense of satisfaction upon completion. Combat is also enjoyable, and will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played the likes of Might & Magic. Battles are intense, and require a degree of tactical awareness, although later on it becomes apparent that the only way to succeed is to constantly kite enemies around pillars and corners, which becomes a little tedious.
The magic system is an interesting beast. It is never really explained, and you will have to refer to the digital manual that comes with the game if you want to use spells effectively. Basically, casting a specific spell involves dialling a corresponding combination of runes. As you level up you unlock new spells, but figuring out which spells require which combinations requires experimentation. It’s not the most streamlined or user-friendly system, but when you get it working it becomes incredibly satisfying.
Going into Legend of Grimrock, I was a little concerned that the locations would become tedious. It’s a dungeon crawler, so you can expect to see a lot the same scenery repeated over and over in mild variations. Unfortunately, this is probably a reality, and the mild tweaks to the tile sets as you progress through the game do little to make things look or feel interesting.
Fortunately, the combination of excellent puzzles, mostly enjoyable combat, a confusing but rewarding magic system, and an excellently told story ultimately make Legend of Grimrock a very enjoyable, rewarding and satisfying experience, especially for the $14.99 price tag.
Legend of Grimrock is available on Steam right now.