From Shadow of Mordor to Gears of War, most titles put the player in a gory spotlight atop a mountain of cooling bodies. The appeal is easily readable: who doesn't want a power trip every once in a while? However, the scores of beautifully rendered monsters begin to look drab as they fall at your feet and saving the world for the umpteenth time can feel like clocking out of work. Beneath these shiny sci-fi space operas, gritty grey military shooters, and frilly fantasy epics, there lies an alternative: a vast, dusty dungeon whose stale air mingles with the scent of death. This is the realm of RPGs past. For better or worse, this is Legend of Grimrock 2.
For those who don't know, the original Legend of Grimrock was a quirky little title released in 2012 that sought to revive the all but dead dungeon-crawling genre. Its gameplay was old school, but it was presented quite well with clean graphics and eerie audio. It was a rough game in every sense of the word: gameplay was regressive at times, the art and sound design was unambitious, and many puzzles were so cryptic that a guide was necessary for completing the game. Legend of Grimrock 2 seeks to address those issues and establish itself as not only a faithful love letter to dungeons of yore, but also to modernise its interpretation and create its own identity. In all respects, it succeeds-though to varying degrees.
Legend of Grimrock 2 takes place on the mysterious island of Nex, a change in scenery that is unusual given the cramped corridors of most dungeon-crawlers. The first thing I noticed about Nex was that everything looked noticeably better than the dreary dungeon of Grimrock. At first I was afraid that the inclusion of outdoor environments would be squandered by the team that produced the timid tiles and stone walls of the first game, but my fears have been dispelled. The graphical fidelity of the game is not noticeably greater than its predecessor, but the art direction is. From the tidy but impressive opening cinematic to the sheer variety of landscapes, the game looks great. To complement the visuals, the audio department has also stepped their game up. Monsters have more variety to their movement and sounds and ambient noises help differentiate the biomes of the game. Everything from the sandy tiles of the opening level to the whispering wind of a graveyard is simple, elegant, and atmospheric: a great deal more than what the first game offered. Even the character portraits have received a significant touch up, but that is the least of the changes to the character generation system.
Where there was once a paltry three classes, the roster now includes eight and they all brim with personality. Together with the five varied races and plethora of traits and skills, LoG2 encourages personalised parties of four rather than the standard "two fighters in front, a rogue and wizard in back" that the first game espoused. Furthermore, any class can train in any skill. Broad-minded barbarians can learn to cast the odd spell and paranoid rogues can suit up in plate armor. This massive amount of customisation also means increased replayability as you experiment with different class combinations and skill builds. Much like the sound and visual design, the party creation screen displays a much needed infusion of diversity. The combat, for better or worse, doesn't.
Battle in LoG2 is much like that of its predecessor. Enemies are sluggish and predictable: they move one square at a time and need to turn to attack. While the player's party needs to do this as well, the AI is slower and easily outwitted. Visual and audio impact is similarly minimalistic. Characters make some sound when using special attacks, but otherwise you'll mostly hear a few thunks, chops, and whooshes and see white slashes and linear fireballs. The spartan feedback and basic mechanics means that combat is less about flashy combos and cinematic firefights, but more about survival. An isolated enemy in an open space is easy pickings, but when ambushed or cornered, combat becomes a desperate struggle to keep your front line facing the enemy while not getting trapped or surrounded. While enemies are significantly more diverse than in the first game, the core of combat remains the same: it is a matter of endurance, survival, and trickery. Though deadly, tumbling treants and chilly wraiths aren't the only things that challenge you on the Island of Nex. Much like in the first game, traps, puzzles, and riddles litter the landscape. This particular aspect of the game is much easier than it was in the first. In the original, I had to keep a guide open at all times to solve the cryptic conundrums that blocked my path. In LoG2, I found the puzzles to be much more logical and evidence based, from reinterpreting a simple game to translating a fantasy language. There was the odd illogical outlier, but for the most part the puzzles are brain-teasers rather than hair-pullers. That is perhaps the best way to sum up this worthy sequel: a vast improvement, but still hindered by a few niggling issues.
Legend of Grimrock 2 builds upon the foundation of its predecessor and towers above it, but that isn't to say that it is without flaws. Characters who are dead (who can be revived) don't gain XP, effectively wasting it and encouraging a save scum. Enemies will sometimes hold still while they are in adjacent, but diagonal-facing, squares to you. I suffered the occasional crash when I alt-tabbed. These, and a few others, are hardly deal breakers, but they do hinder an otherwise polished experience. For fans of the original, I can't recommend this more. On top of the improvements I’ve already mentioned, LoG2 sports more game modes (Iron Man, Single use life crystals) and the included dungeon editor already has an active following. For those who have yet to try a dungeon-crawler, I would advise thoughtfulness. If you're looking for riveting, action-packed combat, then this game is likely not for you. If your mind is open to a deep, challenging dungeon dive, then I say this: fill your pack with provisions, sharpen your sword, and steel yourself for one of the best old-school RPGs out there.
Legend of Grimrock
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A large improvement over the first title that is impeded only by a few fringe issues and puzzles.