A game this good for $15?! Unbelievable! Wizardry, Dungeon Master, and Eye of the Beholder for the 21st century!
Don't get me wrong, I love TES and I've played all 5 of them. But there's something about the old-school, dungeon-centric RPGs (Bard's Tale, Eye of the Beholder, the early Might and Magic games, etc.) that was lost when the new age of PC and console RPGs took over. Puzzle solving and tactical, thinking-man's combat went by the wayside in favor of flashy graphics and more action-oriented click-fests.
Legend of Grimrock brings every bit of that old-school goodness back, but without the old-school, dated graphics. These graphics are GREAT. They are astonishingly good for a $15 game. If you took the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and made it a grid-based game, the graphics wouldn't be any better. Yes, Skyrim's environments are much more varied (LoG, after all, takes place entirely within a single dungeon), but on a side-by-side screenshot comparison, LoG hangs right up there. Lighting and shadow effects are fabulous, with flickering torches that cast long, dark shadows, and creatures that are well-rendered and well-animated, albeit within the confines of a square-based grid system.
With fully 3D graphics this good, LoG could have easily been a free-moving 3D game, but it keeps the grid format to not only bring back some old-school flavor, but also to open one to interesting combat mechanics. A grid-based system makes you think more about what you're doing. It makes you work to use the grid to your advantage. And you'll need every advantage you can get, because the difficulty level in LoG quickly ramps up. By the 3rd level of the dungeon, you are solving intricate environmental puzzles (and I mean INTRICATE, the likes of which you'll never find in an Elder Scrolls game), and your first dual-boss fight comes at level 4. The level 4 fight is impossible if you take the click-fest approach, but winnable if you use your head.
With regards to the level 4 dual-boss fight, LoG was starting to look like Demon's Souls on the difficulty curve, until I started using the grid to my advantage. For example, trap doors can be triggered not only to your detriment, but also to the detriment of your enemies! Furthermore, since the back row of your 4-man party cannot be reached by frontal melee assaults, you quickly learn to position your group so that your weaker melee characters (mages and rogues) are not subject to attack from the rear or sides. You learn to maneuver opponents into choke-points that are more easily managed. You learn to exploit the weakness of the larger, slower-moving bosses with run-and-gun strikes. You learn to dodge the ranged attacks, equip your characters properly, use area-effect spells to reach those that cannot be reached otherwise, the list goes on. That level of depth is not often found in today's 3D RPGs. And, if you don't learn to use each of your 4 character's unique skills together, then you are toast.
Which brings us to the puzzles. Some of them are easy, some of them are hard, but the hard puzzles are never unfair. If you study the problem out, examine the environment meticulously, and engage in some trial-and-error, you will eventually figure things out (or at least I have so far!). Each puzzle follows a logical path.
LoG is not without shortcomings. For one, there is very little environmental variety. You are essentially presented with a few types of doors, a dungeon wall, a moss-covered dungeon wall, a brick floor, a brick floor with some dirt on it, some gates and steel bars, and the occasional cave-in. There are only 3 classes and 4 races (with elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings conspicuously absent). I realize this game is only $15, and heck, you get a LOT of game for the price tag. However, I would like to see a more fleshed-out version of LoG, and I would pay $30-40 no problem in exchange for a town or two along with a few different dungeon types as well as more classes, spells, and races thrown in. However, the skill and classes you do get are well-thought out and have a moderate amount of depth, although I noted a lack of lock-picking and trap-disarming rogue skills, with only a hint of stealth mechanics. Nonetheless, each class has its own distinct set of strengths, and you'll need to use all of them together in order to make it through the dark depths of Grimrock.
So in summary, LoG scratches an old-school itch I didn't even know I had, and it does it with polished production values that are usually lacking in indie games. LoG is made with skill and thoughtfulness, and I can tell the developers are huge fans of old RPG classics. Here's hoping for a sequel that will offer everything this game does, but with a broader scope and greater variety of content.