Two years ago, an unknown Finnish developer quietly revived a long dead RPG sub-genre. Their love letter to the grid based dungeon crawler was a breath of fresh air, albeit from the dank confines of a trap-laden and monster-filled underground maze.
Combing classic game mechanics with modern visuals and design, Legend of Grimrock proved that the long-abandoned genre could still thrive in today’s hyper-competitive market. Two years and almost a million sales later, the team at Almost Human have released the sequel to their critically-lauded oddity.
Legend of Grimrock 2 takes everything that was in the first game and increases it in scope. No longer confined to the linear underground dungeons of the previous game, our party of escaped prisoners now has a large and relatively open island to explore. There are more monsters, items, traps, riddles, and – most importantly – more puzzles.
Retaining its signature grid-based movement and click-y combat mechanics, Grimlock 2 may feel archaic to some. But it works, and flawlessly so. The triumph here isn’t what’s been kept, but what been added – primarily, a skybox.
Indeed, the addition of outdoor environments and a day/night cycle are probably the game’s biggest differentiator from its predecessor. Gone are the confining walls of the Grimrock prison, and this adds some much-needed and even more appreciated variation to the environments. The aesthetic changes alter nothing mechanically, but they do lend the game a far more epic feel. Lush and detailed monster designs shine under a high-res sun and moon.
There is no hand-holding here, and carelessness or overeager exploration results in a quick death at the hands or jaw of the island’s numerous beasts. Careful and paced play is the key to success.
There are hidden stashes throughout the game, as well as puzzles, which are the highlight of the Grimrock experience. This game is far more brains than brawn, although brawn is needed. Combat retains the real-time icon clicking that is the hallmark of the genre, and while it may initially feel awkward, it soon becomes second nature. Jumping from grid to grid smacking monsters is still very satisfying, and allows for more tactical depth than its hack-‘n’- slash mechanics initially suggest.
The rune- and combo-based magic system has also been retained, but like everything else it is far more expansive here, with many new spells and rune combinations to discover and unleash on the island’s universally aggressive critters.
It would be easy to dismiss the game as hipster bait, or to accuse it of catering exclusively to the rose tinted glasses crowd, but that would not give it or the team at Almost Human their due.
The Legend of Grimrock 2 is far less an RPG than it is a first-person puzzle game. The mechanics lend themselves to the unique experience that only this type of game can provide. Puzzles and traps sit perfectly within the square grid movement system, with buttons, platforms, timed puzzles, and wonderfully imaginative brain testers can be found throughout the game.
Solving a puzzle is immensely satisfying – even more so than defeating a pack of Wargs, or dispatching a giant club-wielding troll. However, Grimrock 2 is not a narrative-focussed adventure, and here lies its only disappointment. For all of the new additions, there is simply not much Legend in Grimrock 2. As was the case with its older sibling, the story here is barebones at best.
The entire plot: you’ve been shipwrecked on an island filled with puzzles to solve and monsters to kill. That is literally it. It’s a shame, but the game succeeds by doing everything else so well.
Despite the lack of story, you still feel motivated to locate a new region, explore new dungeons, and solve the next puzzle. And while the combat can become a little stale and the punishing difficulty can push the bounds of fairness, it all works. Grimrock 2 is game that is in every way superior to the original, and a joy to play from start to finish.
Welcome to the grid.