There will always be people who look to the past for inspiration. One of the results of their doing so is recycling and adapting old games for the modern audience, or at least they try to.
Legend of Grimrock is one such example, and as a dungeon crawler, it represents an old form of RPGs when they were about exploration and survival, instead of the (perhaps overly) narrative-driven RPGs of today.
In stories with dark fantasy settings, there is a trope about dark places of the world where unwanted things and unwanted people are tossed into. It so happens that in the fantasy world in which Legend of Grimrock takes place in, there is such a place, and it is of course the eponymous Grimrock.
The Grimrock is an old tower of rock that has to be entered from its summit, and it so happens that the entrance is a deep pit without any means of getting back up. Of course, there is the spiel about them being “forgiven”, but Grimrock is really not a place for the redeemed.
Into this pit that undesirables like condemned prisoners are tossed, with only one piece of advice for them to use as guidance when they land: go deeper. They are then left on their own to find ways to survive, and discover what is in the depths of Grimrock. Most do not make it.
Incidentally, the player happens to be (the entirety of) the latest group of prisoners that had been tossed down the pit. Of course, unlike the prisoners before them, they would have the good luck of being controlled by a player – or bad luck, if the player is just terrible.
REAL-TIME GAMEPLAY & COOL-DOWNS:
Despite its looks and any first impression that it might give, gameplay in Legend of Grimrock takes place in real-time. Every action that any character can take is subjected to a cooldown timer, and all these cool-down timers run virtually independently of each other. In the case of the player’s party, all actions can be performed near simultaneously, if the player is fast enough in handling the controls.
When the player is managing the party’s inventory or reading things, the game continues to run. Therefore, the player will need to find some conveniently isolated place to do all that, lest wandering enemies attack the party. Bringing up the functions menu does pause the game, however.
FOOD & HUNGER:
This is not a game in which the player can have all the time he/she needs to complete a playthrough. The characters are very much mortal, and they need to eat. Strangely though, they have considerably accelerated metabolisms, so they need to eat something every few in-game hours. Starving – which begins when their sustenance drops below 25% - causes them to stop regenerating health and replenishing energy (more on these later). This is generally bad.
One would think that a pit in a tower of rock would not have much to eat, but there is surprisingly a lot of edibles that are lying around or hidden here and there. They may even have been lying around for centuries, but have not spoiled. The narrative of the game also describes micro-ecosystems that can somehow sustain life, some of which can be eaten if they did not eat their would-be predator first.
If the player is meticulous about the management of the party’s inventory and its progress, there should be enough food to last through a playthrough. Running out of food can be quite bad, as one would expect.
Curiously, Grimrock is split into a series of strata. Perhaps the best word for each stratum is “floor”, because each is connected to the previous one and the next with purposely hewn staircases.
Somehow, only the party may make use of the staircases. Enemies cannot pursue the party up the staircases, and the staircases cannot be utilized in combat either.
The dungeons are composed of grids of square tiles. Each entity – the entire party counts as just one entity – can occupy one tile at any time. Each entity prevents other entities from moving onto their tiles.
This is important to keep in mind, especially in encounters with enemies. If the player is not careful, the party would be boxed in – which is usually fatal.
CRYSTALS OF LIFE:
A few floors are bookended with strange floating magical crystals. These are “Crystals of Life”, and as their name suggests, they restore the party’s strength, as well as resurrect any party member who happens to be dead.
However, they do not sate the party’s appetite. They also lose their charge when they are used, and it may be a long while before they are recharged.
Incidentally, the convenience of the Crystals does make a good narrative excuse for prisoners/explorers having managed to penetrate down to the deepest levels – where the density of the Crystals begin to thin out.
Despite the convenience of being able to resurrect dead party members, the player might want to ensure that party members stay alive indefinitely. Dead party members do not gain experience points, so they might fall behind if the player has delayed their resurrection.
The party has four slots that the player characters fill. The slots do determine their placement in the party, though the player should not expect the kind of complexity that has been in the Wizardry series. There are only two ranks: front and back. Each rank has two slots, and the party’s formation is always ever a square.
Obviously, the player should have any party member with the role of damage sponge at the front rank, whereas the support specialists and glass cannons should be at the back rank. Generally, front-rank characters get hit more often than the ones at the back, especially in melee combat. However, who gets hit is a matter of an RNG roll, if the enemy has a long reach or ranged weapons.
CLASSES – FOREWORD:
Legend of Grimrock is a throwback to early-years digital RPGs, so the player should not expect a lot of choices for the professions of player characters.
When a profession is selected for a player character, he/she can never look back. The character can only ever pursue the skills that are available to his/her class. There is no cross-training, though some skills provide similar benefits as they are improved.
Speaking of skills, each class has a set of skills. When a character gains a level, he/she gains points to invest in the skills. Each point that is invested in a skill has the character progressing down a sequence of benefits that are gradually made available. These benefits usually feed into the efficiency and effectiveness of the skill. For example, the Maces skill is an unsubtle one that does not provide much for the evasion of enemy attacks, so its benefits are mainly greater durability for its user.
In the case of skills that are associated with weapons or spells, they also increase the damage output and accuracy of attacks that are made with these weapons or spells. The increment is proportional to the skill level.
The highest skill level is 50, which is achievable in the Grimrock playthrough if a player character is not spending their points anywhere else. Skill-focused characters are very good at what they do, but terrible at anything else.
Fighters are the meat-shields and front-liners of the team. They have a mix of skills, all of which are dedicated to melee combat. The player has some freedom in coming up with some permutations of Fighters, such as a sword-using, heavily armored damage sponge, or a quick-dodging unarmed master. As a general rule of thumb, these blokes should be at the front ranks.
Ultimately though, there are two aspects of the game that would make only a few Fighter builds worthwhile. One aspect is the distribution of weapons that are found as loot or treasures throughout the game, and the RNG-dependent system of melee and ranged attacks. These will be described later.
Mages are spellcasters. Three of their skills concern the elemental magic fields of Earth, Air, Ice and Fire. Mages can be tooled to be somewhat skilled in each, if the player is going for versatility rather than pure hitting power. After all, there are enemies that are resistant or outright immune to certain spells.
Mages can cast more powerful spells as they become more skilled. Interestingly, they do not need to be educated on the use of spells; as long as the player knows the combinations for a spell, any mage that has the power to cast that spell can cast it. The mechanism for casting spells will be described later.
Rogues are practically archers or knife-fighters in this game. The player should not expect them to be picking locks or stealing things, much less breaking away from the party to do some reconnaissance on their own.
However, Rogues do have the Assassination skill, the primary benefits of which is the ability to eliminate flanked enemies very quickly. One would wonder how a party of four might be able to outmanoeuvre enemies for the Rogue to do this, but there are some means to do so. With the Daggers skill, a Rogue would be the fastest melee attacker in the party, provided that the player can keep up with the frequent clicking.
The staying power of Rogues is measured in their ability to dodge incoming attacks instead of taking them like Fighters would. Indeed, it might be worthwhile having rogues up front if there is an enemy that makes a mockery of armor.
Rogues are the only characters that can use ranged weapons effectively. Ranged attacks will be described further later.
The fictional universe of Legend of Grimrock is one that is made from scratch. Still, it is a fantastical one, so it has the usual trope of having multiple sapient and humanoid species, each with a penchant for something.
There are the ubiquitous Humans. As usual, they are the species with the baseline statistics. Just so that they have some advantage to compensate for being average, they have more points to spend on skills.
Perhaps the developer of the game is trying hard to make their fantastical world a tad different from the rest. Where the designers of most other fantastical worlds defer to Tolkien’s whimsical wisdom of having tall, beautiful and pointy-eared humanoids being de facto magic users, developer Almost Human has hideous-looking upright-walking bugs instead. However, physically, Insectoids are frail things that are skilled in the arcane arts, not unlike the stereotypical elves. They do have one physical difference, which is the Natural Armor trait that is unique to Insectoids only – and which is quite worthless anyway because they just do not have enough other statistics to make them effective damage sponges.
There is always one species that is just simply there for physical exertion. Where Dungeons & Dragons has set the orc as the usual stand-in for this species, Legend of Grimrock goes for minotaurs instead. Unlike the minotaurs of other fantastical worlds, they are a lot smaller so that they can fit into places like other humanoids can. In other words, the tusks of orcs had been merely exchanged for bovine/caprine horns.
Finally, there is the Lizardman species. Fortunately, it is not a stand-in for the fourth member of the fantastical quadrumvirate, the dwarf. Rather, it stands in for the Halfling, specifically the Warhammer kind. Like Warhammer Halflings, Lizardmen are generally perceived by others as being shifty folk. Of course, this means that they start with better dexterity than the other species.
Like any RPG that has an element of combat, Legend of Grimrock has a system of statistics that determine the durability of player characters and their performance in battle.
The most significant of the statistics is, of course, health; if this goes to zero, that party member is dead. However, there is no obvious penalty on the combat performance of a character as he/she gets closer to death’s door. The race of the character and his/her Vitality rating determines the amount of Health that a character has.
Speaking of which, Vitality is the statistic that determines a character’s toughness. It provides resistance to damage from cold and poison. Next, there are the usual suspects: Strength, Dexterity and Willpower, for melee brawls, dodgy evasiveness and sparkly magic respectively.
Level-ups do not provide points to spend on Attributes, but some skills provide bonuses to these as they are improved.
As long as a player character is fed, he/she can regain lost health over time. There are some items that accelerate health recovery, but these have the subtle effect of increasing food consumption too. (Healing potions do not cause hunger build-up, however.)
In addition to cool-down timers, Energy is a variable that limits the actions that player characters can perform. Specifically, energy is consumed when characters use attacks or cast spells. Energy replenishes on its own, but there are potions that can replenish them instantly, thus allowing player characters to repeatedly use attacks and spells. There are also gear pieces that increase energy reserves.
At any time when enemies are not nearby or when the party is in an isolated part of a floor, the player can have the party rest in order to recover health and energy. The player can cancel the resting at any time, especially if the player only wants partial recovery so as to min-max healing efficiency.
However, enemies continue to roam about as the party rests; the game extrapolates their movement off-screen. If an enemy found the party while they are resting, it makes an attack that inflicts considerable damage, possibly killing a player character. Hence, it is important to find somewhere safe to rest.
ATTACK POWER AND ACCURACY:
Player characters that are armed with weapons have statistics that show the damage that they can potentially do with attacks made with those weapons. Of course, the player wants this to be as high as possible, but there are cool-down times to consider too.
The other statistic to consider when using weapons is their accuracy rolls; for better or worse, Legend of Grimrock is one of those games with chance-to-hit rolls. The player character’s level of skill with the weapon, his/her dexterity and any pertinent buff/de-buffs determine the threshold of success for these RNG rolls. The target’s size and mobility may be a factor too, but the player is not shown how these factors affect the rolls.
Certain special attacks, such as Stabs with Daggers, occur based on the results of RNG rolls. If the rolls are successful, a regular attack is replaced with a special attack, which generally does more damage but also consume more energy. This can result in overkill, which is a waste. Manual control over special attacks would have been welcome.
PROTECTION AND EVASION:
Protection is a statistic that accumulates the defensive bonuses from gear pieces. It reduces the damage of physical attacks that hit the character.
Of course, it might be better to just avoid getting hit entirely. When an enemy makes a physical attack against a player character, the Evasion rating of that character is used as the threshold of success for an RNG roll.
Generally, it is best that a front-liner character either focuses on bumping up Protection or Evasion as much as possible at the expense of the other. Spreading out the development of a character’s defences is generally a bad idea.
Legend of Grimrock is a traditionalist RPG when it comes to inventory management; every character has to carry his/her own stuff around. Of course, if the player wants to have a party member as a pack mule, there is no stopping that.
Every character has a load capacity; the Strength rating of the character determines this. If a character is carrying stuff with a cumulative total weight that is over his/her load capacity, he/she is overburdened and cannot even move; this freezes the entire party too. Furthermore, characters that are hauling more things consume more food as they move.
Furthermore, if there is a character that is carrying stuff with total weight that is 75% or more of his/her max load, the character slows down the entire party.
It is in the player’s interest to go through the party’s stock of items, in order to discard superseded gear, consume items that do not have to be hoarded or convert ingredients into useful items. This keeps load weight to a minimum. A snail-shaped icon that appears when a character is overloaded helps a lot.
Some items, especially the late-game ones, require a character to have achieved certain levels in their skills before they can be used. More often than not, a character would need to specialize in these skills in order to be able to use these items. This is to be expected in a fantastical RPG, of course. Some of these items can only ever be used by specific classes, because only those classes can have the skills to use them.
During character creation, the player can select “traits” for party members. “Traits” are modifiers that provide benefits. These benefits are applied on a permanent basis, e.g. further changes to the aforementioned attributes or some other statistic. Compared to the character customization options in modern-day RPGs that happen to be more complex than most others, such as Pillars of Eternity, most of the traits can seem rather rudimentary and boring.
There are a couple that are worth mentioning, if only because they are race-specific. There is Head-Hunter, which is a trait for minotaurs; it increases attack power for each trophy skull that the minotaur has on his/her person. Then there is Natural Armor for an insectoid, which has been described earlier.
EXPERIENCE GAIN & LEVEL UPS:
Whenever a party member slays an enemy, the entire party gains some experience points, but the party member that dealt the killing blow gets a bit more.
After a character gains a level, the character gains points to invest in skills. The player can hoard skill points so as to have some points to spend in order to fulfil the requirements of certain weapons.
Legend of Grimrock is not a game that lets the player simply click a button and have mages shooting out spells. Rather, the game requires the player to press a sequence of buttons – while everything else continues to happen in real-time.
To cast a spell, the player has to bring up a small panel that shows a grid of runes (i.e. buttons). This is done by either clicking on the mage’s hands or on any staff or wand that the mage has equipped; this also means that the mage can never throw a punch. To cast a spell, the player has to click on the correct combination of buttons, and then the blue glowing button.
Fumbling can be a problem if the player is the kind that panics rather easily.
In addition to the consumption of energy, casting a spell sets the mage’s hands on cool-down, meaning that he/she cannot cast spell or even make an attack. The player also cannot set up the runes for the next spell, because the icons for the mage’s hands are disabled during cool-down.
Unfortunately, there is no other consideration than getting the combinations of runes right. There could have been more to the system. For example, the order of the clicking of runes could have provided subtle benefits to the resultant spell.
As another example, the speed at which the runes are set up or the length of time that the runes are left highlighted could have affected the potency of the spell. The arrangement of the runes could have been a factor too; a feature to rearrange the runes such that their adjacency to other runes can affect the properties of the resultant spell would have provided some interesting complexity.
As mentioned earlier, any Mage can cast any spell as long as the player knows the rune combinations for them. However, the first few players of the game did not know the combinations, and had to learn them by finding scrolls with the runes for the spells. Some scrolls are within plain sight, while others are hidden away. Of course, the less scrupulous of the first players could have just outright decompiled the code of the game and search it for the combinations.
(On the other hand, the game seems to have been coded from scratch, so reverse-engineering the code would have been difficult.)
After the player has committed the combinations to memory, or have a cheat-sheet in hand, the scrolls are just useless junk.
EARTH IS POISON:
One peculiarity that would boggle the mind of long-time fantasy RPG followers is that Earth spells inflict poison de-buffs. This can be a tad too unorthodox for some players, though in hindsight, moving rock and soil might not be wise in what is practically a network of tunnels.
Unfortunately, that Grimrock has quite a number of enemies that are resistant or outright immune to poison, such as undead, makes Mage builds with Earth spells quite difficult to use.
SPELLS HIT ENTIRETY OF TILE:
As a general rule of thumb, spells hit the entirety of tiles that they landed on; of course, if they come into contact with enemies, they land on the tiles that the enemies are on. Anything in the tile is hit with the spell, including grouped enemies (more on these later).
HITTING WALLS WITH SPELLS:
Hitting walls or other obstacles with spells causes the spells to rebound off the walls or obstacles and inflict damage on the tiles immediately in front of the walls. This means that the player could accidentally injure the party if he/she had been absent-mindedly clumsy.
Each player character has two hands; insectoids might have more hands (or facsimiles of hands), but gameplay-wise they still have only two.
Anyway, each hand can hold something, usually a weapon. The icon for the weapon replaces the hand’s. Otherwise, the default use of a hand that has nothing is to deliver a punch (except for mages).
Clicking on the button for a hand uses whatever is in that hand, again, usually for an attack. If it is an attack, the player character makes it regardless of whether there is anything in front of the party or anything else in range for that matter.
A character can wield one weapon in each hand, but cannot use both weapons simultaneously. If the player clicks on one weapon, the character makes the attack with that weapon. However, both hands go into cool-down.
On the other hand (pun not intended), a character gains the bonuses from each weapon that is equipped, if there are any. However, considering that most weapons are things with significant weight, it might be in the player’s interest to have something else instead of having a character wield an additional weapon.
These are the province of the Fighter class. There are three types of melee weapons: the sword, the mace and the axe. The sword has the shortest cooldown, and generally does best at the RNG rolls for hitting enemies. This alone makes the sword the most favoured among no-nonsense players of the game. The axe sits in between the sword and the mace in terms of damage potential and accuracy rolls. The mace gives up accuracy for more hitting power. In fact, many maces have accuracy penalties.
There are some melee weapons that do have magical charges, which allow their users to fire off spells. These are best saved for situations in which there are enemies that are vulnerable to these spells. However, as mentioned earlier, weapons are hefty things.
There are two types of ranged weapons: missile weapons and throwing weapons. Missile weapons include bows, slings and crossbows; the Missile Weapon skill covers the use of all these, regardless of how differently they function.
Throwing weapons include shuriken, throwing knives, throwing axes and most common of all, rocks. Unfortunately, each throwing weapon is noticeably heavier than a missile projectile. Missile weapons also have the advantage of having one legendary weapon among them, whereas throwing weapons are all mundane. Furthermore, missile projectiles travel much further.
Almost any ammunition can be reused after they have hit their targets; they are not destroyed. Indeed, they neatly collect into a pile when an enemy is killed. Retrieving them is as simple as having the party walk up to the tile that has them and pick them up. Still, this can get tedious.
There is a feature to automatically pick up used ammunition. If the party runs over a tile with used ammunition after a character has just fired them (and probably killed whatever that was hit) within the next several seconds, the ammunition is automatically returned to the character’s hand. However, if the player delays the retrieval, he/she has to retrieve them manually.
Ammunition that misses its target flies past it, landing somewhere behind the latter. If the ammunition are missile projectiles, they often travel further until they hit a wall.
A Mage can support a Rogue that is using missile weapons. The player can place ammunition in one of the Mage’s hands, and then have him/her cast Enchant spells. The powered-up ammunition can be placed into one of the Rogue’s hands for him/her to use, or returned to his/her inventory for later use.
The enchantment is lost as soon as the ammunition successfully hits an enemy. That also means that the ammunition can be enchanted with something else, or used as is if there happen to be enemies that are resistant to magic. Enchanting ammunition does not turn all of the damage that the ammunition can inflict to the type of damage that is associated with the field of magic; the physical portion of the ammunition can still hurt.
Perhaps just to mollify players who like pugilism, there is unarmed combat. As its name suggests, a player character that specializes in unarmed combat would be punching the heck out of enemies. Such a character would have a faster attack rate than the others, but fists do not do much against armored enemies.
There are some weapons that are not placed in any particular category. Examples include spears and wands. These do not gain any benefits whatsoever from skills, but often have advantages that the categorized weapons do not have.
For example, the spear (and there is only one type in the game) is the only melee weapon that lets a character hit enemies from the back rank of the party. Of course, it becomes obsolete quite quickly if the party has gained the desired weapons for back rank characters.
Bombs are special weapons that are used like throwing weapons, except that their damage is dependent on the bombs themselves instead of the throwing character’s skills. Bombs usually do considerable damage, but they are at their maximum efficiency when used against grouped enemies (more on these later). Consequently, bombs are rare.
The consequences of RNG rolls include frustrating misses, but they also include gratuitous critical hits. As to be expected, critical hits inflict a lot more damage. Critical hits can also occur for special attacks, which is a double-dip of lucky goodness.
There is considerable clothing to be found in the dungeons of Grimrock, which is perhaps to be expected, since they are likely whatever that remained of the previous condemned. There are boots, gloves, cloaks, leggings, shirts, vests and tunics, as well as some headwear.
Pieces of actual protective armor are harder to find. Also, proper usage of them requires acquisition of Armor proficiencies, which are granted by the Armor and Dodge skills. Obviously, these are more desirable than the aforementioned civilian wear, but they tend to be much heavier.
Nevertheless, each piece of apparel, no matter how unsuitable they are for combat, gives some bonuses. The type of bonuses tends to depend on the type of the item. For example, all cloaks give bonuses to Evasion.
As mentioned earlier, the dungeons of Grimrock have local ecosystems of their own. In addition to edibles, these yield ingredients for alchemy. As expected, most of them appear to be fungi.
Alchemy becomes available after the player finds the mortar and pestle in one of the early floors. It is not easy to miss it, but the player could, for whatever reason, somehow not notice it or leave it behind. Alchemy is not possible without this toolset.
Anyway, all alchemical process in Legend of Grimrock requires flasks, which are of course the stereotypical transparent glass containers with curvaceous bodies and noticeable narrow necks. Using the mortar and pestle brings up the alchemy screen, which resembles a Minecraft crafting board or the grid of the Horadric cube in Diablo 2. The player places a flask into one of the slots in the screen, and the ingredients in any of the others. If the combination is valid, the would-be resultant potion is shown.
Conveniently, the player does not need to find any liquids for the base of the potion, even though all of the potions that can be brewed appear to be liquid and none of the ingredients are.
(Speaking of which, the player characters do not have to worry about thirst either.)
REUSABILITY AND SCARCITY OF FLASKS:
After the consumption of potions, the flasks return to inventory. They can be reused for other potions, as long as there are enough ingredients. Of course, this is convenient.
However, there is a noticeable scarcity of flasks. Therefore, the player should not expect to have more than several potions that are readily usable at any time. A very fast player can still cook a potion in the middle of a hectic situation, but this is also a sign of bad planning.
POISON & DISEASE:
There are two types of nasty de-buffs that can be inflicted on player characters. One is Poison, which inflicts damage over time (but otherwise does not cause any other debilitation). The other is Disease, which prevents any natural healing. Neither is desirable. Although there are potions that cure either de-buff, the ingredients for them are precious finite resources and threats can that inflict either de-buff can repeatedly inflict it. Waiting them out is an option, but the player is better off looking for a quicker solution, like running back to the nearest Crystal of Life.
Therefore, the player might want to consider less risky means of dealing with enemies that can inflict Poison or Disease. Of course, the player could just resort to crossing fingers and praying to Lady Luck; these de-buffs are inflicted through RNG rolls anyway.
Ranged poison attacks are always implemented as poison clouds, meaning that they affect the entire party (and grouped enemies). Poison clouds from different sources may have different durations and damage-over-time ratings, however. For example, the “spits” of small herders inflict very little damage over a brief duration, but the entire party is hit anyway. As for another example, the poison clouds made with poison bombs persist for a considerable time, making them dangerous to anything that lingers in them (and which happens to be not immune to poison).
DE-BUFFS APPLIED WITH RNG ROLLS:
Most other de-buffs are applied through RNG rolls too, whether they are inflicted by enemies or by the player characters. Improved versions of spells have higher chances of inflicting whatever de-buffs that they can apply, but ultimately this is still a matter of luck.
PICKING UP STUFF:
The player can pick up stuff off the ground or anywhere else as long as the party is within the same tile as the stuff. Conveniently, any stuff in a tile that the party walks into is pushed to the edge of the tile, making it easier to see. This is just as well, because the player cannot look at the party’s feet and pick up stuff that is directly under them. In fact, using the option to look around disables the ability to pick up stuff.
The player can also reach for any object that is within half a tile of the party, and also drop any stuff within that distance. This is used in the solutions of more than a few puzzles.
Picking something up makes the model for that object disappear, while turning the player’s cursor into the icon for that object. Amusingly, the player could just have the party move around while having the cursor be like that. Indeed, this is handy for some solutions that require speed.
The player can place anything that has been picked up into the inventory, or drop them if they are unwanted – better yet, chuck them. This can be done by placing the cursor higher than the centreline of the screen and releasing the object. This can also be done on anything in inventory that the player no longer wants. Amusingly, thrown stuff can hurt enemies, but not by much.
As the player’s party delves deeper into the dungeons, the player discovers more of its secrets. One of these is that the people who built them are at best bewilderingly eccentric, but are most likely insane.
The staircase down to the next level may be blocked by an obstacle, which has to be overcome before progress can be made. In such cases, there are usually some hints around, scrawled on walls, etched into plaques or written on paper notes, to name some examples of clues. Alternatively, the player could just look at a walkthrough, but the solution probably would make even less sense if the walkthrough lacks any statement of context.
Some other puzzles are optional, and consequently more obscure than the mandatory ones. These often reveal goodies for looting.
Some of the puzzles involve the ages-old sort that utilizes weight and pressure plates. Then there are some that have magical sensors that detect the presence of specific things, which are really just a variation of key-finding puzzles.
The solutions and the level layouts are set in stone and can thus be found on the Internet, but the developer of the game suggests doing them the hard way. Indeed, one of the assets that is in the game package is a PDF file of a grid and lines for notes that purist players can use to map out levels and mark things.
Pressure plates are implemented in the game in a manner that is simpler than one would think. For example, pressure plates that are clearly raised above the floor can be activated by anything, including a piece of paper. It can be a bit unbelievable at first, especially for players who are used to more complex physics, but it works in this game.
Then, there is another kind of pressure plate: this one is depressed below or close to the floor line, by default. These ones are only ever triggered by the player’s party; their presence more than suggest that something bad is in store for them.
The influence of Valve’s Portal on the design of indie games is still considerable, long after its debut.
Anyway, portals are commonly used as components of puzzles and obstacles. As to be expected of video game portals post-Portal, they allow things to enter and pop out of the exit. In the case of this game, two portals may be linked to each other, or the exit is not necessarily another portal; it might just be a tile in a corridor.
However, the thing that is exiting is always dumped at a tile that is adjacent to the tile with the exit; the coding for the portal determines the direction of this tile relative to the latter tile. If an entity is exiting the portal, it is always facing away from the exit tile, along this direction. If the object that enters the portal is a projectile, it comes out of the portal moving along this direction too.
Portals may persist semi-permanently, or they may be activated through certain triggers, like buttons. For the latter case, the portals often appear in puzzles and obstacles, flickering for a short while to test the player’s skill at timing.
Interestingly, monsters will not pursue the player’s party through portals.
TRAPDOORS & FALLING:
No classic dungeon would be one without trapdoors. There are lot of them in Grimrock.
Fortunately, almost all of them are noticeable; they look like stone flaps on the floor, and most of them are already open, showing deep dark pits. Therefore, it should be easy to avoid them, if the player is not planning to have the party fall down one. That said, the player should anyway; there are some secrets and loot that can be obtained after falling onto wherever they lead to. However, the entire party takes considerable damage from the fall, and there are often enemies where they landed.
Generally, there are portals close to where the player’s party ended up. These portals bring the player’s party to the level where they fell from.
Interestingly, falling down trapdoors bring the player’s party to the next level below. However, there are generally very few means of accessing the rest of that level from where the player’s party are – which is perhaps for the best because the player’s party could run afoul of the more powerful enemies on that floor.
One of the sources of glee from playing fantastical RPGs is finding magical or ancient moolah that are worth entire fortunes. There are such things too in Legend of Grimrock, and they are well-hidden.
They are also quite useless, because there are no shopkeepers or vendors around to take them off the party’s hands. Legend of Grimrock is a purist dungeon-crawler that is about survival instead of profit; it is not some present-day indie dungeon-crawler that has shopkeepers whose only customers are the player characters who are reaping gold from the dungeons.
Of course, there are still incentives to find them, namely achievement. Unfortunately, there is a lost opportunity to provide an expanded ending that describes what happens to the player characters if they manage to survive with these treasures in their pockets.
USING GRATES & DOORS:
There are some grates and doors that can be raised or lowered with levers and chains. These can be used to cut off pursuit by most enemies. The party can even rest in front of the grate, in full view of enemies that would be seething over their impotency to handle door mechanisms.
Some of the goodies and shiny things in the dungeons are well-hidden, such as the aforementioned treasures. However, some others are more noticeable, or at least the barriers between them and the party are noticeable. Some of these barriers are the “Iron Doors”, which are emblazoned with the sigil of Grimrock. The sigil, and the goodies of practical nature behind them, strongly suggest that they are meant to reward those who are resourceful and tough enough to survive the challenges in Grimrock – the ultimate purpose of these tests are heavily implied in the finale.
Anyway, the method to open these doors are not immediately clear. It takes considerable observation as well as good memory to understand the clues that are either close to them or found in written hints.
The party and other entities move about in cardinal directions, and have to deliberately make 90-degree turns in order to move in other directions. However, the player’s party has the advantage of being able to move from side to side and to backpedal.
Eventually, a skilled player would learn to have the party shuffle around for tactical gain, usually to retreat to a chokepoint. Experienced players might also learn to practice the tactic of moving the entire party out of the way to dodge an attack, and then moving back to reoccupy the tile that they were on. If the enemy is slow enough, the party might even be able to step around behind it.
However, moving about also causes the characters’ sustenance to deplete faster. In fact, every move incurs a bit of loss. As mentioned earlier, characters that are carrying more things get hungrier faster than their companions.
Therefore, it is in the player’s interest to keep the party’s burden as low as possible; frequent reviews of their gear and discarding of unneeded stuff helps. Of course, the player might be exchanging durability and versatility for mobility this way. After all, the player might need to keep some things around just for pressure plate puzzles.
Grimrock may be a dungeon from which the condemned cannot climb out of, but that only applies for humanoid people. It is not a sealed dungeon, so there are plenty of things that managed to get in and call it home. It is also part of a mountain range, so mountain-dwelling creatures might have ventured into it too. There are also curses and enchantments that had been put in place to create creatures and entities that fight any condemned that have managed to delve deep.
In other words, the player should expect a smorgasbord of enemies to fight. The game contains little in-game documentation on them, so the player would have to make his/her own observations – unless he/she is using a guide, of course.
One of the most important observations that the player should make about enemies is how frequently that they make actions. There are enemies that are quite slow; the party can run away from them quite easily, or even side-step around them and flank them.
It is also important to keep in mind that enemies that can only fight in close combat can only attack the party if they are in tiles that are adjacent to it. This means that the player can attempt to have the party back away before a laborious attack lands. The player is also wise to consider retreating to a chokepoint to avoid getting attacked from multiple directions, or worse, boxed in.
It might be tempting to try to kite enemies, because most of them do not have ranged attacks. However, this requires a lot of space for moving about, and most floors happen to have not a lot of space for this. Moreover, the player could run afoul of other enemies, especially if the player had not been systematically clearing floors. Eventually, if the player is just persistently reckless, the enemies within a floor will eventually box the party in.
It is possible to dodge an enemy’s melee attack just in time by backpedalling or sidestepping. However, the player must be familiar with when the attack animations of enemies make their rolls against the player’s party. If the player can get the party out of the way before the rolls happen, the party is safe.
Some enemies can appear in groups, all of them occupying the same tile. This is not unlike the player’s party, albeit the player cannot see the models of his/her own party. The most common enemies that are encountered in such a manner are undead legionnaires, who move in perfect lockstep. Since all of them use spears, all of them can make attacks; this can be very nasty if all of their attacks land on the same person.
When the player makes any attack that affect individual targets (i.e. anything that is not a spell), one of the enemies in the front rank is hit, not unlike the player’s party. The rear rank can only be hit after the front rank members have been killed. However, spells, bombs and certain melee special attacks hit all enemies on the title.
There are some enemies that can hit the entire party with their melee attacks, by the way.
Throughout a playthrough, the player might come across notes by previous explorers and/or prisoners of Grimrock. The most prominent of these unfortunate characters is Toorum, whose only last bit of luck is having his spirit cling to his mostly-gone corpse. Through some shenanigans that will not be mentioned here, the player could unlock the opportunity to play as Toorum.
Toorum is a special player character that circumvents a lot of limitations in the system of character development. Firstly, he moves about much faster. Secondly, he has more skills and statistics than starting characters, even across the three main classes.
However, the player only ever has Toorum; there are no other party members. There is a narrative disconnect here, because the story-telling does not change if Toorum is being used.
VISUAL DESIGNS - FOREWORD:
Legend of Grimrock relies on hand-drawn and –painted cutscenes to explain its premise (and ending). The rest of the game uses the developer’s “own engine”, to quote their own words. Indeed, the structuring of the files in the game’s install directory does not resemble anything that is typically made with well-known engines, such as Unity or Unreal. It is also quite efficient in loading assets.
The presumably made from scratch visual designs are used to mostly good effect, but also reveals some differences in the design efforts of the developer.
DARKNESS, LIGHTING & TORCHES:
Legend of Grimrock does not use dynamic lighting. Instead, it uses scripted normal mapping to generate shadows and light bloom.
Upon beginning the playthrough, the oppressive darkness is the first thing that greets the player. The darkness makes far-away things hard to see and indeed, could obscure enemies, leaving little more than silhouettes if they are more than several tiles away. Some players had been spooked enough such that they resorted to mods that apply uniform lighting to everything. Of course, that is just defeating the intended goals of the gameplay designs.
There is the light that some magical enemies produce. This might help the player spot them and dodge their attacks in time.
Having a light source is important throughout the game. Torches are the most common and reliable of these, but they must be held, meaning that someone has to use a hand for any torch. Also, torches do eventually burn out – unless they are placed in sconces, which let them last indefinitely. Fortunately, resting time does not count towards the burning duration of torches.
There are other lighting sources, but most of them are not as reliable as torches. For example, the Light spell does not reach as far as torches, and they consume energy when cast anyway.
BEING SPOTTED & SNEAKING:
If the player’s party is within the illumination range of light sources, any enemies that are within a distance of several tiles can spot the player’s party and will respond according to their scripted behaviour.
The player could attempt to sneak around by removing any light source, but there are no means to see in the dark without using illumination – or without cheating. Furthermore, if an enemy is in a tile that is adjacent to the player’s party, that enemy will detect the party anyway. However, they do not share this knowledge with each other, so the player could attempt to run away. On the other hand, if the player stays and fights, the player’s party would be revealed to the other enemies.
MOSTLY BORING ICONS AND PORTRAITS:
Every player character is represented with a portrait. The variety of portraits is rather limited, especially for minotaurs, but that ultimately does not matter much because the portraits are not used anywhere else. The player can import more portraits, if the player bothers to.
In the case of human characters, their portraits are associated with the appropriate voice-over assets according to their apparent gender. Other than that, the other races have no gender-specific voice-overs (not that these matter much anyway, due to the lack of any conversation system).
Weapon icons are approximately based on their 3D models, though they are a tad small, especially after they have been equipped on the person of the player characters.
The user interface with character portraits and weapon icons does not have any visual indicators for when a player character is dying. The player has to keep an eye on the health and energy of characters. This might not be easy during battle, because hits on the characters causes blood splotches to appear over their portraits and weapon icons.
At least the user interface has some visual cues for when a player character is affected by a buff or de-buff. Yet, if more than one buff or de-buff affects a character, the visual cues cycle between themselves, resulting in a visual mess.
Still, there are some minor but interesting touches that can be seen if the player is a discerning person. For example, although the flasks for potions are the usual glass containers with necks, they do have practical flat bottoms – something that many potion flasks in other RPGs lack.
DUNGEON VISUAL DESIGNS:
Legend of Grimrock takes place in a dungeon that has been deliberately built, so the player should expect Grimrock to be mostly composed of artificially-made structures. All corridors and rooms are also perfectly square, which is perhaps expected since the floors are made of square grids.
The claustrophobic environs start out spooky at first, but they can become stale rather quickly. After all, there is little cause to look anywhere but ahead. Speaking of which, the player could look up to spot certain details such as the vertical tunnels under trapdoors that the player’s party has, but there is not much to be gained from this other than appreciating the believability of these features.
The dungeon floors do appear to change in terms of textures and building materials as the player goes deeper. They also reflect how far the floor is from the erosive effects of lichen growth and wild-life incursions.
Important things like torch sconces and throw switches are rendered quite differently from the dungeon walls and floors. This makes them stand out, sometimes in stark ways that do not exactly match in terms of weathering.
The developers have kindly included (a likely modified version of) the level editor that they used to create the floors in the main campaign. Since the floors are based on grids, building floors is as simple as filling out an “empty grid”, and then attaching additional functions to squares for the creation of puzzles and obstacles. Of course, they can also be populated with enemies.
Incidentally, the option to import player characters from existing save-games is only available when playing fan-made designs. Furthermore, the editor could not be used to open files that belong to the main campaign.
ENEMY VISUAL DESIGNS:
The visual designs of the dungeon may not be varied, but the game’s designers have invested some effort into the models of the enemies. Each type of enemy is almost immediately recognizable from their silhouettes and sizes; there is no palette swapping.
However, their animations are rather limited. They even look goofy, especially how they shuffle from one tile to another. Most enemies have only a single attack animation each. When they die, they implode/explode in a deluge of sparks, ember and what seems to be a facsimile of dust.
The remaining health of enemies is not shown in any way, unfortunately. This could have been helpful in limiting overkill.
The game has only a few music tracks, which it uses for the main menu and the cutscenes. The mostly orchestral track for the main menu (which is perhaps the only full-length track in the game) is notable for its prominent use of bowed string instruments, especially the low-pitched cello. As for the ambience of the dungeon floors, they are just spooky audio, like the hum of air flowing through caves.
There are no legible voice-overs. However, perhaps for gameplay purposes, the player characters do groan (in the case of humans), grunt (in the case of minotaurs), creak (in the case of insectoids) and hiss (in the case of lizardmen), just so know the player knows when they are hurt. Other than different groans for humans of different genders, there are no further variations.
As for death and falling down trapdoors, the game resorts to stock screams that long-time game consumers might find all too familiar.
Enemies do not utter anything outside of combat, but they do make noise as they move about, which help the player know if they are in the vicinity. In combat, the noises that they make serve no gameplay functions, other than to indicate when they are killed.
Then there are the sounds of combat. The player can expect the usual clashing of steel, the sounds of meat being beaten or sliced and, of course, archetypal/stereotypical sparkly plinking of spells being cast. There is nothing notable or peculiar among these.
As a dungeon-crawling title in the present day, Legend of Grimrock could hardly even challenge even the most basic of modern RPGs in the matter of complexity. The power progression and creation of player characters are linear and close to bare-bones.
There is some lost potential for more sophistication in the spell-casting system. On its own, having to make clicks in rigid sequences just to cast a spell can become tedious.
The item-wielding hands of player characters is of course a throwback to the days when there were no conveniences such as auto-attacking. Yet, in addition to all the amusement that the player could possibly have from going purist manual, the player would be getting higher risks of repetitive stress injury too. Worst of all, the game depends on a lot of RNGs for its combat.
Nonetheless, there is room for strategic decision-making and planning in the gameplay, especially in how to position the party for maximum efficiency, when and how to use the user interface for having party members perform actions, and what to use limited resources such as ingredients on. There is some gratification to be had from systematically clearing every floor and overcoming hordes of very stupid enemies, especially after the player has worked out how to work with the deliberate limitations in the gameplay.
Overall, other than purchases of whimsy, the only other reasons to play this game are an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for the old days when RPGs were so much more simplistic, or just fatigue from having played complicated RPGs.