Grim Dawn Early Access Review

Truth until dawn.

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GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

There’s something so soothing, so familiar about clicking on monsters until they fall over dead. Of course, isometric role-playing games are more sophisticated than such a simple description communicates, but when your onscreen avatar wields a giant cudgel, cutting through legions of the undead with repeated presses of a single button is hypnotic. Given the amount of blood spraying about the dungeon corridors and the bushels of treasure erupting from corpses, the typical action RPG piles on the rewards with relatively little risk.

For the reward-hungry role-player, Grim Dawn is a familiar temptation, even as an early access purchase on Steam for $29.99. Its development studio is helmed by Arthur Bruno, the lead systems designer of the well-regarded clickfest Titan Quest, further making an early purchase difficult to resist. And so I capitulated to temptation by forking over the dollars and checking out this work in progress. And it clearly is a work in progress, as betrayed by an abrupt conclusion after eight hours or so and a number of yet-to-be-implemented features, such as additional difficulty levels and cooperative multiplayer, though both options are on their way.

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As it stands, Grim Dawn has the basics clearly down. Its dark, demonic world mixes guns, swords, and magic into a “greatest hits” compilation of role-playing tropes, letting you choose the kind of role that best suits your playing style and sends you across the land in search of fame and fortune. As is so often the case with these kinds of games, the purpose of your adventure isn’t all that vital: the shrugworthy story is just an excuse to get you moving. But where Grim Dawn might have made a mark by depicting a unique world, it’s perfectly content to be just another fantasy kingdom. In a genre where Path of Exile, Diablo III, Torchlight II, and even Akaneiro are recognizable on sight, Grim Dawn sticks with the slithering creatures and snarling wolves we’re used to, and a generically attractive land that doesn’t evoke any mood in particular.

For the reward-hungry role-player, Grim Dawn is a familiar temptation.

But make no mistake: Grim Dawn is attractive, and it executes its tried-and-true formula with just enough panache to keep you clicking. The open-ended class system has you venturing down the talent trees of two different professions, so if you’ve wanted to be a pistol-wielding creature summoner, here’s your chance. Further skills are afforded by rare equipment that grants you even more abilities, and I found myself mixing and matching skills in ways I didn’t initially intend, leveling my strength more than a spellcasting pistoleer probably should, if only to fit into the most durable armor. Mix-and-match character builds aren’t always effective in games like this, but I never felt particularly challenged, at least not until I made my way to Grim Dawn’s final extensive dungeon, which had me and my summoned minions battling legions of undead attackers in the cramped darkness.

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And so the future looks bright for this glum adventure. Developer Crate Entertainment states that the current content represents about one-third of the campaign, with Act II rolling out in the early months of 2014. The first act plays around a bit with a faction system that has you aligning with various sects, but the choices were so inconsequential as to seem unnecessary. I'm looking forward to seeing that system deepened, however, in the hopes that it might darken Grim Dawn with the tonal shadows the game demands if it is to live up to its title. Luckily, this system should see more play in the second act, perhaps around the same time that you will be able to bring friends along on your fantasy trek.

In a world where you can download the great Path of Exile for free, it’s difficult for the developer of a Diablo-esque role-playing game to grab your attention. With $29.99, you aren’t just buying an early access game, but also making a statement of trust in its maker. Grim Dawn has earned my trust in a viable future; its foundation--the refined action and rock-solid character progression--is so sturdy that from moment to moment, there’s little to remind you that you’re playing an unfinished game. My greatest worry, however, is that the full game built on this foundation is just another fantasy adventure in desperate need of a strong identity.

What's There?

Several hours of slick but formulaic single-player dungeon crawling in a pretty but formulaic world.

What's to Come?

Cooperative multiplayer, additional difficulty levels, additional acts, a crafting system, a new character class, and more.

What Does it Cost?

$29.99, available via Steam.

When Will it be Finished?

Developer Crate Entertainment has yet to announce a target date for when they may consider the game to be "released."

What's the Verdict?

Cautiously recommended. It may not be feature complete, but from moment to moment, Grim Dawn plays like a finished product.

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