A second visit to the Grimrock
With its grid-based movement, attack timers, and a dark fantasy world, Legend of Grimrock 2 is cut from the same cloth as its 2012 predecessor. But can a change in scene and refined user interface expand the appeal of this first-person D&D adventure, or is it still just for dungeon-delving devotees?
One step forward, two squares back
The first Legend of Grimrock had you guide a team of four prisoners through the depths of a towering prison on top of a foreboding mountain. If they could navigate the maze-like dungeon, outwit its traps, and defeat its denizens then they would earn their freedom... though admittedly none before them ever had.
Viewed in first-person, its grid-based movement and combat was something of a novelty in modern gaming, crying back to the days of Eye of the Beholder. The right-angled confines of the prison proved perfect for the formula, quickly feeling like second nature as you tried to evade the perils that surrounded you.
Grimrock 2 is very much a case of "the same but different". Imprisoned on a boat, your gang of four convicts are lucky enough to survive a ship wreck and wash up on an island. Despite its tranquil appearance, however, all is not as it seems and you must once again do battle against the forces of evil to earn your liberty.\n
An oddity of this new set up is its more natural world. Beaches, coves, and forests make up just a fraction of Grimrock 2's locations, none of which conform to the right-angled movement of the game. While this does nothing to impact the cerebral strategy that the gameplay demands, it does slightly break the suspension of disbelief that was so perfectly applied in the original.
Despite this shift in scene, the core gameplay remains the same as you march around the island solving riddles and battling monsters... or should I say running away from its monsters, as going toe-to-toe with any more than one creature at a time tends to result in defeat.
This is one of the other oddities of battling in the open environments, as while fighting in a verdant forest may make of a nice change from the originals dark and dreary tunnels, it does often leave you prone to unexpected attacks. Taking on a tiny tree creature felt like easy XP when I started, but when one became two, then two in front and one behind, it all too quickly became apparent that even the tiniest of enemies could pose a threat.
The other big change over the original is the newly refined interface. The first game was a stripped-back affair that left you to feel your own way through the world almost blind. While the same "work it out on your own" mentality is certainly still present in Grimrock 2, it does try to make things a little clearer to give you a fighting chance. It’s a welcome concession especially for newcomers to Grimrock or Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), as it streamlines the learning experience without over simplifying the core systems.
The base gameplay remains almost identical. Moving one space at a time and with attacks on a cool down timer, there is a deliberate pace to the world. Movement is all handled using the WASD keys, along with the mouse to navigate menus, attack, and look around environment. Searching the world you will find various items to help you on your path. Some of these are weapons and clothes to increase your fighter’s stats, while others open the path forward.
Your team of four walk in formation around the map, with the two member upfront to provide a human shield for those at the back. While this means those at the rear are protected, they also don't have the reach to attack, so you must ensure they have ranged attacks if they are to help in battle. This dynamic saw me with my brawlers up front (in my case a minotaur and a thief) armed with clubs and swords, with the weaker magician and archer at the rear. It was a system that worked well, but still required careful management of attacks and healing items in order to survive.
Grimrock's world is a static place. While in the subterranean setting of the original game this made sense, out in the natural environments of the sequel it makes everything lifeless. The detail and vibrant colors of the world gives the island an unnatural feel when combined with this stillness. Moving through open coves or tree filled forests, the solid foliage undermines the intricate art. But for all of the island’s issues it does succeed in providing constant variety to the world, something that was lacking in the original.
While the exterior environments may look oddly dead, in the buildings and dungeons everything starts to make sense. These man-made structures, and unexposed rock walls need no movement to make them real, indeed their stillness adds to the chilling mood as you descend into their depths.
More or the same, still fantastic
If you haven't played the original Legend of Grimrock game yet then that is certainly where you should begin. But, for veterans of the series, Legend of Grimrock 2 is a fantastic continuation of the classic D&D formula.