Review

Long time ARPG fans have been waiting far too long for the next genre defining release. Since the days of Diablo II, we’ve been searching for that white whale of a game that would scratch the itch just the right way. Grim Dawn, after 6 years of development, mostly gets it right.

Grim Dawn 2

Gameplay:

Grim Dawn does not set out to reinvent the wheel, or to really change anything for that matter. Instead, Crate decided to keep things simple and familiar. It has just the right amount of mindless loot gathering with the right amount of challenge to keep it entertaining for hours on end. Enemy variety is fair and bosses provide plenty of challenge, almost a bit too much compared to trash mobs. Higher difficulties are not necessarily more difficult, but rather rely on larger health bars and more damage dealt. It feels cheap, but not so cheap that it really takes anything away. If you’re looking for a bit of extra challenge but still want to shred away masses of enemies, try Veteran difficulty.

Where Grim Dawn deviates from the norm is its class system and skills. You choose your class in-game and level up both your class and the skills within it. Putting more points into your class unlocks new skills, while leveling skills makes them stronger. Making things even more interesting are hybrid classes. Once you hit level 10 you can select a second class that levels the same way as your first, but provides the benefit of a larger skill pool. You can supplement the generally tanky Soldier Class with the enchanted weapons and summoning abilities of a Shaman, or make an Occultist who casts hexes on foes and the strikes with Arcanist spells. Each new character isn’t just an opportunity to experiment with one new class; it is an opportunity to experiment with new combinations, more skills, and new strategies.

Beyond your traditional skills are Devotion Points. These points are granted by completing shrine quests. You use those points to devote yourself to a constellation and putting more points into a constellation gives more passive buffs as well as the opportunity for abilities you can equip to skills, making those skills perform new functions. Some constellations require points in different trees, each labeled by a color, so pay attention to how you allocate your points so you can follow your desired path.

Of course there is crafting, which is a fairly simple and straightforward system that uses many of the random materials you’ll find on your adventure. Enemies can drop small charms that can be added to existing gear to buff stats or combined into a stronger version that provided even greater buffs. There are plenty of quests and even a few hidden areas to find, plus a challenge dungeon to test your skills. It is worth noting that the game has a habit of locking up during longer playthroughs, and it has a nasty habit of blacking out whatever display Grim Dawn is running on. Unfortunately, the game has a hard time crashing and I know a few people who have had to do full restarts of their PC to get things back to normal. This wouldn’t be a major issue if it wasn’t so reliable. I have had fewer instances where the game has not crashed than ones where it did.

Story and Modes:

Grim Dawn is a Victorian Era dystopia where vengeful spirits are wiping out humanity. It all sounds exciting in theory, but the story starts light and only becomes more so the longer you play. There are 4 acts and only the first and third present any major plot points, but even then they are hardly gripping. To be perfectly honest, and having played for several dozen hours across multiple characters, I can’t remember much of the story. Nothing about it is particularly exciting, and it hardly even drives you from point A to point B. You’ll be much more compelled to continue by the gameplay, not the story.

While the game is still excellent alone, it is in co-op that it truly shines. Friends and others can drop in and out at any time to help you slay the many evils across the land. Again, I’d urge you to play on Veteran difficulty as normal doesn’t scale well enough to challenge a group. Loot is instanced so everyone will get their fair share and may even find a few things useful for someone else in the party. Quests will always be based on the host so players can only complete quests the host has not completed, but players jumping into a friend’s game can easily go back and complete any missed quests later on in their own game. One curious decision is that certain quests are player based, meaning that each player has to not only get the quest but complete it individually even if they are in a party. If someone completes the quest before another player receives it, then the quest cannot be completed in that session by that other player. There is also a minor bug in co-op in which a player will be “stuck” on the screen in a single spot and will not show on screen even if they should be visible. This can be remedied by teleporting to town and back, but it is a strange bug nonetheless.

Grim Dawn 6 (1)

Visuals and Sound:

I probably spent more time than I should have just listening to the fantastic music to which all the hacking and slashing of Grim Dawn is set. There were more than a few tracks that gave me flashback to my Diablo II days, and several more that were plain excellent in their own right. This is certainly a game where you will think twice before playing your own music. The voice acting…not so much, it’s pretty poor. I will say that it’s better than having no voice acting, but it’s clearly an afterthought and doesn’t make the dialogue any less skip worthy. Sound effects are good and your strongest attacks sound and look powerful with slightly louder sounds and a shaky screen. The Victorian Era design is a great choice and helps Grim Dawn stand out against the crowd. Enemies are fairly diverse, though they aren’t all striking from a design stand point. There are a lot of simple, common enemies, the likes of which you see in almost every game. Think skeletons, zombies, etc.

Originality:

Choosing to place the game in a Victorian Era world was a great choice as the game looks mostly unique in a predominantly Gothic inspired genre (Thanks Diablo). While it suffers from using too many common enemies, there are a few unique foes that look great. Weapons and armor are varied and fit the setting well, plus the use of guns still seems uncommon among genre juggernauts. The Devotion system and dual classes manage to be uniquely Grim Dawn despite building on concepts from Titan Quest, a far older and under appreciated gem of an ARPG. Otherwise, this follows the tried and true ARPG formula to the letter.

Value:

There is plenty to like about Grim Dawn, its price included. It is a bargain given the many ways you can customize your character, co-op play, multiple difficulties, and great execution. What started as a crowdfunding dream has turned into one of the best games the genre has seen in years. The story is weak and there are a few too many bugs, but this is easy to overlook when everything else about the game is as good as it is. You’ll not regret your purchase, whether you’re and avid fan or diving in for the first time.

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About the Author

Chris
No hard feelings... / Chris@thosegamingnerds.com /