One of the options with which the difficult road through the dungeons of mount Grimrock can be started is disabling the level auto-mapping. I didn’t have the courage to use it. If I remember correctly, the last game for which I bothered with the hasty drawing of a map and making lists of names, items and quests was Planescape: Torment, but only after starting The Nameless One’s new life and having enough time to decide that such an activity would be worth it.
Modern games, including many from the so-called “difficult” genres such as RPG and Adventure, have made me a bit of a… slacker. The hint systems in Adventures and the constant marking of objectives in RPGs have contributed a bit too much toward the removal of true mental effort and of the satisfaction you feel when a puzzle’s pieces fall in the right place (sometimes by chance).
So does Legend of Grimrock deserve the effort of manually mapping its dark dungeons? Yes, in the context of its RPG subspecies, one very popular in the ’80s and at the beginning of the ’90s. And taking into account that it tries to make as few compromises as possible, I say it totally deserves it.
Bossman: although they have garnered a lot of attention lately, I can’t say that indie RPGs have especially attracted me, even though they usually feature find all those elements that hardcore fans of the genre would want in other, big-budged titles.
Legend of Grimrock didn’t ring too many bells either until I stumbled upon the pre-order trailer and was left scratching my head in confusion: a game similar to Lands of Lore? In 2012? Now this I HAVE to see.
On the shoulders of imprisoned giants
Alex: Following the model of classics such as Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder, in the darkness of mount Grimrock’s dungeon we find four prisoners, thrown there for their crimes and a last chance of regaining freedom. No matter their specialization and the way they approach conflict, they are forced to stay close to each other, even to the point of not being able to step as far as one foot apart from the others (the game’s manual innocently explains this through the fact that their feet are bound in chains, without commenting on this in the game, even with all the utensils you eventually find).
Among them, according to your choices, there can be humans, minotaurs, insectoids or lizards, the last three species also having human features. Thus, you can start the adventure with a minotaur rogue or an insectoid mage.
Although the engine seems capable of full real-time movement (you can keep your fingers on any directional key to move in any direction, so beware of the traps) you can only advance one tile at a time, with attacks unable to be delivered sideways but only toward the direction your group apparently is looking at. But this does not eliminate the danger that can come from anywhere, because the four protagonists can be attacked even from behind and from the flanks, unable to respond without turning to face the danger.
The characteristics mentioned until now are enough to scare (or at least surprise) anyone that is only accustomed with the modern forms of the RPG. In Legend of Grimrock you also have to make sure that the four prisoners always have enough food in their stomachs, while they can actually go by without any liquid, apart from the potions. The amount of food in the dungeon could be considered one of the compromises, because you generally find more than enough, much more than the limited number (especially at the beginning) of the damn flasks needed for making potions. Luckily, these can be recycled and used again after the potion consumption.
Alchemy (in the form that most games understand it) is a domain that I could happily ignore in most RPGs, but here I had to pay attention to every plant’s characteristics, because potions are found in very small numbers, while being essential. In no way you must ignore the ones for curing venom, or the heap of spiders residing on the third level will mercilessly show you how wrong you were (speaking of spiders, Grimrock will pose some grave problems for those with severe types of arachnophobia).
The rest of the inventory is equally important. In almost any other adventure, I could just take with me everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor, but Grimrock cured me of this habit in order to make room for truly important items. In my first hour I stubbornly tried to keep every piece of clothing found, thinking almost instinctively that “I will sell them later to a merchant”. Until I realized that my prisoners won’t meet anyone else, aside from the creatures that try to keep them there forever.
And so, a careful management of the inventory helped me a lot and I’ve learned to be aware of what every object does (torches, for example, will go out on their own after some time and must be constantly replaced) and, very importantly, of the way some pieces of armor will negatively affect character attributes if your prisoners don’t have the necessary skills to use them.
The fights will also be very demanding of your attention. For starters, of the four doomed prisoners, only the first two at the front can directly use melee attacks, the other two needing a weapon with a longer reach (like a spear), bows, crossbows, slings, throwing weapons (knives, shurikens, even rocks at the start), spells or special abilities (like the rogue’s Reach).