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Legend of Grimrock 2 Review: Treasure Island

Platform: Windows PC

Developer: Almost Human Games

Publisher:  Almost Human Games

Release Date: October 15, 2014

 

When Blizzard approached the sequel to seminal Action-RPG Diablo, they expanded the gameplay beyond a single large dungeon-crawl into the deserts, jungles and forests of the larger world. Almost Human utilizes a similar design philosophy in creating the sequel to 2012’s Legend of Grimrock, a modernized but still old-school at heart first-person grid-based RPG.

Legend of Grimrock 2 still begins with a four person party of prisoners, only instead of being cast into a hellish dungeon, your ship crash lands into the mysterious island of Nex, home to a robed figure known as the Island Master, as well as a host of monsters and Grimrock’s intriguing brand of devious puzzles.

Many of the core gameplay mechanics remain the same from the original. You navigate the world one square at a time picking up items and weapons, searching for secret buttons and treasure chests and solving a myriad of puzzles. All the denizens of the island, including lots of new foes as well as some familiar faces (yes those terrifying spiders are back, and there’s a dungeon full of ’em) follow the same square moving rules, and your approach to the ‘square dancing’ method of combat as either an important part of the gameplay or exploitative will still likely determine your overall enjoyment of the combat.

legend of grimrock 2 underwater

The character and skill systems should be familiar to fans of the first game, and the fantastical races of minotaur, insectoid and lizardmen (as well as boring old humans) return, with the new addition of the ratling (who also act as a common new enemy type). Each race has specific traits that make them better for certain classes – insectoids have increased willpower, minotaurs are all about strength and vitality, but this time you can also assign up to two traits for each character. Some traits can only be chosen by certain races (only insectoids can have Chitin Armor) while most give incremental improvements to defense, attack or attributes, and it’s a nice way to further specialize each hero.

You’ll want to create a balanced party in order to survive on the island. Like the first game, the difficulty on Normal can be brutally punishing, both in its gleeful willfulness to maim or outright kill you for wandering into a trap, and that most monsters will wipe the floor with you if you try to stand toe to toe with them.

Thankfully the new class system offers much more flexibility. In Grimrock 2 classes no longer limit your skills; anyone can put points into any of the 16 skills. Choosing Fighter or Battle Mage or Alchemist determines your health and energy ratio as well as a specific trait or ability. Knights get the most out of armor and shields while Rogues can dual wield more effectively. Eight classes that can advance in any skill should help you make the dream party you wanted to in the original, and you’ll need as many skills as possible to survive.

The spell rune system returns in Grimrock 2, and I highly recommend turning on One Click Spellcasting, allowing you to essentially draw the rune combination and release it to cast the spell. It felt elegant and satisfying and a good alternative to rapidly clicking the runes in the midst of combat.

legend of grimrock 2 character creation

This time your warriors won’t be simply slashing at foes while you wait for their attacks to cool-down. Most of the weapons found on the island come with their own special attack that can be performed by holding the right mouse button, allowing you to charge a powerful blow. These attacks range from launching foes backward to rapidly slashing three times in a row, and all require a certain skill level as a prerequisite (and some just to wield). This makes your front-line fighter’s energy actually matter, and an entire class, the Fighter, is based around using these special attacks quicker and cheaper.

In addition you’ll find magical weapons and shields that come with several charges of powerful abilities, usually spells. My favorite was a crystal shield that could heal my entire party, a literal life-saver in many scenarios. These charges can only be replenished by using a certain rare crystal, and like every item you find on the island, crucial and deliciously agonizing choices must be made about when to use them.

Combat is only half the gameplay in Grimrock as the puzzles return in fine form. Hidden buttons, pressure plates and teleporters all return from the original game, as well as spike traps, riddles, codes and hint scrolls. My favorite new addition is the buried treasure. Like any good island Nex is full of them and early on you’ll acquire a shovel. Numerous hints and riddles will direct you to certain spots to dig to unearth a chest filled with useful items. It’s tricky to give in-depth analysis on puzzles while avoiding spoilers, but one of my favorite puzzles involved triangulating a fallen meteorite, then bringing the fallen star to an anvil hidden deep in a dungeon to create an epic new item.

Another memorable puzzle tasked asked me a simple Which of These Is Not Like The Other, using monsters and items from the game. Very few times did I feel frustrated and stumped though your mileage will certainly vary. Thankfully unlike the first game you can easily leave and return thanks to the myriad of areas to explore (as well as a fast-travel area known as the Hub).

Once you emerge from the ship-wrecked beach, the Island beckons you with a fairly linear path that fooled me into thinking this was simply another dungeon crawl but with the occasional forest and sky overhead. However once you emerge from the forest and come upon the castle by the river, the island opens up in an incredibly exciting way (you’ll know the exact moment when you see it).

legend of grimrock 2 sleet island

Immediately you have the choice between half a dozen places to go exploring, many of them quite large and containing their own equally large multi-level dungeons. Yes, the island is absolutely huge and it easily took me twice as long to beat as the first game. Each major area is nicely segmented by the intuitive mapping system (unless of course, you select old-school mode, turning off the map and beckoning you to break out the graph paper) and most areas have their own look, flora and fauna. Keelbreach Bog is full of mushrooms, giant frogs and swarms of bugs, as well as an oppressive green smokey atmosphere, while the Crystal Mines present a large, multi-level chasm in the middle that must be carefully navigated.

Even more uniquely in the sequel is the concept of multiple levels. Stairs up and down that bring you to new areas and dungeons still exist, but Legend of Grimrock 2 also offers multiple levels within the same area, creating areas and dungeons that are much larger physically than anything in the first game. Ceilings can stretch overhead, creating foreboding antechambers for boss battles, while a large pit stretching out in front of you full of zombies lets you prepare for the onslaught before you dive in. This concept also extends to water – you can jump in the water and explore, so long as you find a ladder before your energy runs out. It really opened up the dungeon designs and many areas take advantage of this new verticality in both puzzles and monsters.

Of course I took full advantage of this as well, as most foes can’t climb up and down ladders. There were many times where I went up a ladder, quickly unleashed an attack or two, and dropped back down before they could retaliate, creating a modified square dance method. I think the developers realized this, and in many cases unleashed flying foes in the more vertically heavy areas, especially the creepy new eye-bats and flying squids.

legend of grimrock 2 slimes

Other new enemy types use new tactics to disrupt your square dancing evasion, like the giant frog that jumps in the air and lands behind you, or the mer-creature that can quickly dodge backward to avoid your strikes. Most terrifying were the saber-tooth beasts that howled and summoned several of their buddies to quickly overwhelm you. Like the first game, if you get surrounded you will quickly die, and several of the most challenging situations pitted me against a large number of foes. It felt like every new enemy forced me to change my tactics ever so slightly, and despite the series’ already tough difficulty I found it a welcome challenge in most cases.

Legend of Grimrock 2 also introduces boss battles. Normally I’d find that a haphazard way of adding a tired gaming device to a series that didn’t need it, but in this case the boss battles are done quite well, and give a nice sense of closure to each major area. Surprisingly I found most of the boss fights a bit on the easy side, mostly as the game gives you fair warning when approaching one.

I won’t spoil the final boss fight but it was easily one of the most intense gaming moments I’ve ever experienced, as I utilized just about every skill, spell and ability I acquired as well as most of my consumables. It’s a strong and epic climax that felt much more satisfying than the first game’s somewhat silly final boss.

legend of grimrock 2 crystal mines

The sequel doesn’t really break any new ground when it comes to story-telling. You’ll occasionally spot the Island Master in the distance as he sets a trap, leaves you a taunting note or simply watches your progress. Giant stone statues litter the island and speak to you, often dropping puzzle hints and cryptic clues. That’s about the extent of your friendly NPC interaction, but because of the wider environments the experience feels like a less lonely affair than the first game as you dig into the history of the island and the Island Master’s motivations.

Legend of Grimrock 2 not only improves and builds upon the first game as every successful sequel should, but expands upon the gameplay to create a full on RPG world to explore. While the scripted puzzles and monster encounters still limits replayability, the sequel comes packaged with a full on Dungeon Editor, allowing intrepid dungeon masters to craft their own adventures using the developer’s own tools, theoretically creating infinite replayability. As a fan of the original game the sequel was on my radar but Grimrock 2 quickly became one of my favorite games of the year. If you’ve ever been a fan of classic first-person puzzle-RPGs you owe it to yourself to play this game. For fans of of the first game, Legend of Grimrock 2 is everything you could’ve wanted.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

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