Homecoming: Legend of Grimrock is out now

There's been quite a lot of excitement surrounding Legend of Grimrock in the months leading up to its release today on April 11th 2012, so it's perhaps best to start by putting this game in some kind of perspective. First off, Grimrock is obviously not the first traditional Western RPG in a long while, since the last couple of years have seen the release of more than a few excellent and deliberately old school indie roleplaying games (such as Swords & Sorcery: Underworld, Darklight Dungeon Eternity and Frayed Knights to name just a few). However, if we're talking very specifically about Western first-person/"step-based" dungeon crawlers with really high production values, polished user interfaces and proper budgets behind them, then the latest relevant releases before Legend of Grimrock were arguably DreamForge's Anvil of Dawn and Interplay's Stonekeep way back in the late autumn of 1995 (!). That is well over 16 years ago by now, and since the late 1990s just about the only companies producing this kind of RPG (either realtime or turn-based) have been obscure indie teams on shoestring budgets and Japanese developers of console and handheld games such as Etrian Odyssey, Class of Heroes and Strange Journey.

So, yes, against this particular historical background it's safe to say that Almost Human Games have achieved something historical by breathing new life into genre long since thought dead. This small Finnish developer might theoretically qualify as yet another indie studio, but in reality there's no question that the AAA-level pedigree and modern professionalism this group of seasoned veterans of the game industry bring to the table puts their product in another category entirely than most independently produced RPGs. If nothing else, the simple fact that Grimrock looks and sounds so darn good has resulted in a fair amount of attention and recognition from mainstream sites such as IGN and Destructoid which to the best of my knowledge have not previously been known to cover the indie RPGs scene much at all.

Historical or not, though, the more important question is whether this nostalgia-inducing new release is actually any good? Well, I haven't had much time to check it out yet but as I had anticipated everything about the game feels exactly like a Dungeon Master-style game from 20 years ago, except with a thoroughly modern presentation and an (even more) accessible and streamlined interface. In 1920*1080 the game simply looks stunning and modern features such as dynamic lighting and shadow effects add significantly to the atmosphere, as does the excellent sound design. The overall experience might not quite have the unique flavor of my beloved Dungeon Master 2 - and definitely lacks the goofy charm and character-rich storytelling of a game like Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos - but as long as we're talking core gameplay mechanics here I think Almost Human have really nailed it with this one. Best of all; despite being an accomplished product on its own this is just the developer's first, relatively hastily thrown together release. If Legend of Grimrock sells well enough, well, who knows what amazing stuff the future may hold...

42 Comments
43 Comments
Posted by Egge

There's been quite a lot of excitement surrounding Legend of Grimrock in the months leading up to its release today on April 11th 2012, so it's perhaps best to start by putting this game in some kind of perspective. First off, Grimrock is obviously not the first traditional Western RPG in a long while, since the last couple of years have seen the release of more than a few excellent and deliberately old school indie roleplaying games (such as Swords & Sorcery: Underworld, Darklight Dungeon Eternity and Frayed Knights to name just a few). However, if we're talking very specifically about Western first-person/"step-based" dungeon crawlers with really high production values, polished user interfaces and proper budgets behind them, then the latest relevant releases before Legend of Grimrock were arguably DreamForge's Anvil of Dawn and Interplay's Stonekeep way back in the late autumn of 1995 (!). That is well over 16 years ago by now, and since the late 1990s just about the only companies producing this kind of RPG (either realtime or turn-based) have been obscure indie teams on shoestring budgets and Japanese developers of console and handheld games such as Etrian Odyssey, Class of Heroes and Strange Journey.

So, yes, against this particular historical background it's safe to say that Almost Human Games have achieved something historical by breathing new life into genre long since thought dead. This small Finnish developer might theoretically qualify as yet another indie studio, but in reality there's no question that the AAA-level pedigree and modern professionalism this group of seasoned veterans of the game industry bring to the table puts their product in another category entirely than most independently produced RPGs. If nothing else, the simple fact that Grimrock looks and sounds so darn good has resulted in a fair amount of attention and recognition from mainstream sites such as IGN and Destructoid which to the best of my knowledge have not previously been known to cover the indie RPGs scene much at all.

Historical or not, though, the more important question is whether this nostalgia-inducing new release is actually any good? Well, I haven't had much time to check it out yet but as I had anticipated everything about the game feels exactly like a Dungeon Master-style game from 20 years ago, except with a thoroughly modern presentation and an (even more) accessible and streamlined interface. In 1920*1080 the game simply looks stunning and modern features such as dynamic lighting and shadow effects add significantly to the atmosphere, as does the excellent sound design. The overall experience might not quite have the unique flavor of my beloved Dungeon Master 2 - and definitely lacks the goofy charm and character-rich storytelling of a game like Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos - but as long as we're talking core gameplay mechanics here I think Almost Human have really nailed it with this one. Best of all; despite being an accomplished product on its own this is just the developer's first, relatively hastily thrown together release. If Legend of Grimrock sells well enough, well, who knows what amazing stuff the future may hold...

Posted by BonOrbitz

@Egge: The trailers and nostalgia from the Dungeon Master series prompted me to pre-order the game. I can't wait to check it out because I haven't played a classic dungeon crawler since around '98. I've been on quite the RPG kick lately with Mass Effect 3, Xenoblade Chronicles, and now this.

I'm glad to hear that the game is getting some attention on these boards and it's positive attention at that. What are your system specs?

Posted by Egge

@bonorbitz: I have a rather powerful gaming PC myself but the system requirements don't seem particularly steep in case you're wondering about that.

Posted by zaglis

Wait. Why isn't it turn based?
 
The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

Posted by tourgen

just got home. installing now from GOG.com ... pretty excited for this one. It's pretty cool that a game like this can get made these days. I read through the manual today and they're using a rune-based spell system too! Yeah I'm pretty happy.

Posted by Nick

Well I used to play Moraff's World back in the day, maybe I'll give this a try.

Posted by crusader8463

I was really interested in the game until I saw that it wasn't turn based. The combat looks really unfun because of it in my opinion. Love the idea behind the game though. Here's hoping we get a turn based version of this style of game at some point.

Posted by MonetaryDread

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

Edited by whyareyoucrouchingspock

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

Edited by MonetaryDread

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

I've been playing it as well. It's a complete ATB battle system. When you swing your sword a bar fills up before you can attack again, and like ATB if you just sit there without inputting commands the enemies will still attack you.

Posted by whyareyoucrouchingspock

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

I've been playing it as well. It's a complete ATB battle system. When you swing your sword a bar fills up before you can attack again, and like ATB if you just sit there without inputting commands the enemies will still attack you.

Thats a cool down. Not turn based.

Posted by august
@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

Nope.
 
It's based on this
  
  and this
  
Posted by Krakn3Dfx

About 80 minutes into it, on the 2nd level. Game is so awesome. It feel so fluid in what it does. Can't wait to spend more time with it tonight and this weekend.

Edited by MonetaryDread

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

I've been playing it as well. It's a complete ATB battle system. When you swing your sword a bar fills up before you can attack again, and like ATB if you just sit there without inputting commands the enemies will still attack you.

Thats a cool down. Not turn based.

Whats the difference? You swing a sword, then have to wait 5 seconds before you can attack again. Sure, my use of the phrase, "based off" was misplaced, and the games combat plays out like Eye of the Beholder (Dungeon Master was turn based). Yet mechanically it isn't real-time, or turn-based, just like Chrono Trigger when you enabled ATB. It is a mix in between the two, plus, how many people have actually played Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder? Unless you had a computer in the early 90's growing up, you probably didn't play those games.

Edited by whyareyoucrouchingspock

It's a pretty bad sign for gaming when getting stuck is a novelty.

Posted by Cirdain

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

I've been playing it as well. It's a complete ATB battle system. When you swing your sword a bar fills up before you can attack again, and like ATB if you just sit there without inputting commands the enemies will still attack you.

Thats a cool down. Not turn based.

Whats the difference? You swing a sword, then have to wait 5 seconds before you can attack again. Sure, my use of the phrase, "based off" was misplaced, and the games combat plays out like Eye of the Beholder (Dungeon Master was turn based). Yet mechanically it isn't real-time, or turn-based, just like Chrono Trigger when you enabled ATB. It is a mix in between the two, plus, how many people have actually played Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder? Unless you had a computer in the early 90's growing up, you probably didn't play those games.

Seems real-time.

Posted by ShadowConqueror

That seems kinda cool. Too bad it's got such a dumb name.

Posted by Etnos

It's certainly and interesting trow back. It totally justify the entry fee if you looking to play something different.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

Turn based? Have you played Dungeon Master?

This is a Dungeon Master game. Thanks for the heads up Egge, I'd forgotten about this. Myself and my Amiga thank you.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Got to the 3rd floor and the game seems incredibly solid from what I've seen so far. If anything, its emboldened me to try to get past the part in the first Lands of Lore (i.e. the one without the embarrassing FMV) where I got stuck... because that game is really hard. Also Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master, though for all of these games I have the somewhat crippling disadvantage of needing to use the mouse when I want to change where my party is facing because I'm playing on a laptop (Though when I get home for the summer I could probably just plug in one of the USB keyboards lying around and use the numpad on that.)

Really, anything is a step up from me trying to play Stonekeep like I did that one time. Wow. Dungeon Master 2 came out in 1995? Weird. That's a pretty long gap for a game that seems to be very deliberately similar to its predecessor. I dunno. As someone who's experience with Dungeon Master currently borders on the tragicomedic, is it any less... cruel than its forebear?

Posted by Camosid

This games is nutso. Super fun and I like that they built it to take new dungeons as DLC easily. It would be super cool if they were to release some dungeon making tools and people could like make their own dungeons.

Posted by Seedofpower

FAWK! GB give me a quicklook!

Posted by adam1808

10 minutes of menu probably isn't the best footage for drawing in people born in the mid 90's. Nice to see they're still making these types of games and modernising them in the process, but it's not for me. Dungeon-crawlers rarely sit well with me even when I have full control over my character, but at least people who loved this style of RPG get a more current iteration of the formula.

Posted by Egge

@ArbitraryWater: Never played much of DM1 (DM2 became my introduction to dungeon crawlers in 1995-1996, although I hear the game was actually developed in 1993 and only released in the West two years later), but if memory serves me the sequel should at least not be more difficult than the surprisingly challenging LoL1. Control-wise I actually prefer mouse-based movement in games like this, but with Grimrock specifically that does not appear to be a very practical solution.

Posted by Egge

@adam1808: Well, 10 minutes of "menu" is precisely what old school fans want to see - provided that it involves the sacred RPG ritual of character creation - so it would be remiss of me to cut such vital stuff out. In either case, people "born in the mid-90s" are still in diapers to the best of my knowledge (...or maybe that's just me being 30?).

Posted by Ravenlight

I played straight through to the fifth floor last night after work. I had to take a break because fuck spiders! Maybe building a party of all fighters was a bad idea.

Posted by NathHaw

I'm currently on the third level and dropped down a pit to find my second hidden skull. My minotaur, Toro, loves them. They increase his attack power. Game is so cool. Back to it.

Posted by Brodehouse

I'm on the third floor. Stuck at a rotating teleporter puzzle.

I could use more story. The way the story beats are handed to you is awesome, it feels almost scary when it first happens. I wonder if you can make a heavy story based dungeon crawler. I wonder if this engine/game could handle dialogue trees and so on.

Posted by FengShuiGod

I really want to see an outside dungeon, with sky boxes and stuff. Maybe some forest or something.

But yeah, this game is pretty cool. I feel the puzzles are the highlights. There are some minor things I have issues with, but overall this game seems to be a really good value.

Posted by NathHaw
Posted by Seedofpower

@nrh79 said:

Baller!

Posted by VierasTalo
@Camosid

This games is nutso. Super fun and I like that they built it to take new dungeons as DLC easily. It would be super cool if they were to release some dungeon making tools and people could like make their own dungeons.

@Camosid in regards to the dungeon making tools, Almost Human promised them if the game was a success. As it's #1 in Steam and GOG, I'd consider the tools as coming soon.
Edited by BoG

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is the same issue I have. I was considering the game until I saw what looks like very awkward combat. I think I'll get Etrian Odyssey instead.

@VierasTalo: So, this is off topic, but I really like Goya. I'm going to the Prado this summer, and I'm really excited.

Posted by Canteu

To those with an issue with the combat. It's fine, and surprisingly tense when you're up against some of the tougher enemies (fucking 6th floor mushroom menz)

Posted by Egge

@BoG: Personal preferences for particular combat mechanics are of course entirely legitimate, but it's worth noting that the realtime controls of Grimrock are just as firmly established genre standards as the strictly turn-based systems which the Japanese dungeon crawler clones such as Etrian Odyssey employ. The realtime precision/timing-based controls have tirelessly refined and perfected since Dungeon Master was first released in 1987 so rest assured there's nothing inherently "awkward" about them; I think it all comes to down to what you're previously familiar with. I too prefer turn-based systems in both Western and Japanese games, but there's no question that Grimrock's tense and fast-paced combat is extremely well-implemented and often very fun.

Posted by Egge

@Brodehouse: I agree with you that overworld locations like forests and towns would be awesome. There have actually been a few more story-oriented dungeon crawlers in the past (complete with dialogue, voice acting, story-specific characters who join your party etc), such as the great Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos which I've covered on this blog previously.

Posted by BoG

@Egge: Well, to be honest (and I'm sure you got this from my post) the only first-person dungeon crawlers I've played are... Etrian Odyssey. Your post has made me decide to reconsider, because I do love the concept of this particular game. I'll buy it as soon as their is a sale.

Posted by ch3burashka

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@MonetaryDread said:

@zaglis said:

Wait. Why isn't it turn based? The combat looks worse and more awkward than Skyrim's combat

This is a turn based game in the vein of Squaresofts ATB system that was used in Chrono Trigger. So essentially it is a turn based system where the enemies will attack you if you wait too long to input a command.

I'v been playing it, no, it's not. It's real time. It plays like a mix of Baldurs Gate and Morrowind combat wise. It's based off old CRPG's not JRPG's.

This seems to be a very polished and well made game Glad I picked it up.

I've been playing it as well. It's a complete ATB battle system. When you swing your sword a bar fills up before you can attack again, and like ATB if you just sit there without inputting commands the enemies will still attack you.

Thats a cool down. Not turn based.

Whats the difference? You swing a sword, then have to wait 5 seconds before you can attack again. Sure, my use of the phrase, "based off" was misplaced, and the games combat plays out like Eye of the Beholder (Dungeon Master was turn based). Yet mechanically it isn't real-time, or turn-based, just like Chrono Trigger when you enabled ATB. It is a mix in between the two, plus, how many people have actually played Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder? Unless you had a computer in the early 90's growing up, you probably didn't play those games.

Turn-based suggests a battle event in which both parties have 'cool downs' or 'turns', whatever you call it. In this game, there are no battle events - the whole world operates in real-time, so in this case 'cool down' is more appropriate than 'turn'.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Been playing this for days. Love it. The puzzles are what really make it shine for me. It rewards perseverance and experimentation. I've rarely played a game that had a pretty good balance of challenge and accessibility like this.
 
I wish the attack buttons had keyboard shortcuts, though...

Posted by Von

@ahoodedfigure said:

I wish the attack buttons had keyboard shortcuts, though...

Well, there's an app a script for that...

Posted by Egge

@ahoodedfigure: Personally I always dread puzzles because I have so many painful gaming memories of not being able to solve even the simplest of logical challenges (the only adventure game I've ever finished is Monkey Island 1, for example, and even that took ages). I'm still on the early levels in Grimrock and have already gotten stuck for an hour or so on several occasions, but at least so far I've felt reasonably good about the solutions when it finally dawned on me what I was actually supposed to do. Hopefully I will be able to finish the game despite the puzzles, but I'm not counting on it.

Posted by FengShuiGod

Grimrock is super cool. The QL should be great!

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Von:  Cool, thanks!
 
@Egge: I think the tougher puzzles are reserved for the optional iron doors (there's one that's really stumping me right now), although there have been a few that put me in a similar position to yours. There have been a few times where I missed a clue, but I usually have to remember to experiment and I can break through a good number of them. There's a potential for seriously meta puzzles that would basically be impossible (like some random button halfway through that opens a chamber in the very first part of the game), although I get the feeling they wouldn't be THAT cruel without some sort of hint that this was going to happen...