Back when I was young, there was a game a game on Atari ST and Amiga that was simply sublime and spawned a whole genre of dungeon crawlers; Dungeon Master. It was a heavily puzzle-driven real time first person adventure in a massive dungeon filled with traps, monsters and shiny loot, visualized with 2D bitmap graphic tiles. Yet with the advent of proper polygon-based 3D visuals, the whole genre evolved out of existence by 21ca transforming into larger and more complex RPG adventures - I mean why do just a dungeon when you can model a whole fantasy world? I guess you might consider Skyrim as the most recent descendant of this long line of fantasy adventures that all descend from the days of Dungeon Master.
Technological advancements are nice and all, yet during the decades of game evolution, something was lost along the way... square tile based adventuring of Dungeon Master offered unique logic puzzles that rarely transformed properly into free-roaming 3D. As gameplay and visuals moved towards real life, games were... less games. Pretty visuals and uncompromising realism is nice and all, yet many of the best games build things around artificial limitations. Like moving from grid square to grid square, turning in 90 degrees at a time and having a complex dungeon built on these basic assumptions. Dungeon Master did that because the technology at the time was limited, yet it turned that limitation into a gameplay element. Legend of Grimrock goes back in time and embraces the grid-based map and the puzzles and is effectively a modern Dungeon Master remake with a whole new adventure.
Welcome to Mount Grimrock
To kick things off your group of four prisoners is delivered to the top of Mount Grimrock on an airship and tossed into a dungeon. And that's it... a simple and quick sentence for all those unspecified crimes. You are free to go. There is just this one minor problem - the only way down the mountain is through a massive dungeon filled with traps and deadly creatures. Since nobody who has been thrown into the same dungeon has been seen or heard ever again, maybe it is a big problem.
There are no cutscenes or other cinematic bits beyond a short opening but there is also a story being told. At times when you rest to regenerate health, you are greeted with cryptic fragments of text in a dream and you sometimes find notes from a guy who seems to have passed through the dungeon before you. Minimalistic, open to interpretation and relying mostly on the imagination of the player, reminding me slightly of the style of original Portal and all those scribblings on the walls of various hidden areas. Just the way it should be.
There is a pre-generated set of characters available or you can roll your own. Classes and races are fairly bare-bones; Human, Minotaur, Lizardman or Insectoid who can be either Fighters, Mages or Rogues. The default party has two fighters, a mage and a rogue and in general you want two melee characters for the front row and two ranged characters in the back row even if other non-obvious mixes of classes can be used. You also get to customize the stats and perks of each character but there is no starting equipment - everything has to be scavenged along the way. This includes weapons, armor, food and various plants that can be turned into potions.
As seen on the trailer, movement and combat, while real time, is strictly built around the grid-based movement. Your party of four is arranged by just dragging and dropping the character icons with those melee guys up front while the rear flings spells and projectiles of various kind. Some weapons allow even melee guys to hit from the back rank and rogues can learn to abuse their daggers even from the rear as well but in general you want a mix of talent so all your guys can participate in combat.
Against single monster pack in a large room, combat is fairly easy - just circle around and hit from the sides. Tight spaces and multiple enemies, on the other hand...
Each attack takes a while to cycle and monsters also move and attack in cycles so on the most basic level if there is room to maneuver, you can keep sidestepping and moving to the side of the monster for a quick attack or two and quickly dodge to a tile situated diagonally from the hostile before it can pound you back. That's the theory anyway. In practice you may end up fighting in narrow corridors or against multiple enemies at once and should you end up getting cornered by hostiles all you really can do is take the beatings and try to kill the monster before you are history.
Spells are cast also in real time by selecting 1-4 runes and clicking the cast button - rune combinations are found in scrolls but you don't need the scroll to cast a spell. You just need enough skill points in the relevant line of magic and you can just experiment with the runes to find the proper combinations - which are all quite logical once you understand what each rune represents. In a way this system balances spellcasting - spells have powerful effects but it takes more time to get one off compared to a quick swing with a weapon.
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