If I'm thinking of buying a game, I usually make my decisions largely based on what users are saying about it in the forums. These are generally your best resource for opinions as well as potential problems. When Legend of Grimrock was released in early 2012, the feedback was very positive and so I kept my eye out for a sale. Although I tend to do a certain amount of research before buying, I try to avoid videos to prevent spoilers, so although I might get a pretty good idea of genre, story type and bugs, I sometimes don't know ahead of time the actual mechanics. This is by way of explaining that Legend of Grimrock managed to take me by surprise. Its roots lie in classic dungeon crawler style, popular before my game playing days, but it's a great example of taking something old and making it new again.
The basic concept is a group of four members that are permanently bound together in a block – two in front and two in back. If you can imagine a block of four on a chessboard, you can see the limitations of how this block can move. Since you can only see what is in front of you, the whole block must turn to see what's left, right and behind. (There is a free look, but you can't fight in this mode and will probably rarely use it.) There is no diagonal movement at all, but there is strafing. Your enemies also move in this fashion, but in singular blocks unless they also are a legion of four. To attack, you must be facing the enemy and in the same row as them, therefore the left and right turning keys become equally as important as the four movement keys. To avoid an enemy attack you can strafe or move out of the row they occupy, but must move back in order to hit them. This type of movement takes a little getting used to. In fact, I wasn't sure I had made the right decision buying this. However, after some practice, you can get pretty adept at it and move fairly rapidly. You just have to know your left from your right. LOL! Ultimately, once I grew used to the mechanics, I ended up loving this game.
In the beginning, you get to choose your four characters. There are humans, lizardmen and minotaurs, each with some different traits. Then there are three classes, which are fighter, mage and rogue. Here you are given a certain number of points to distribute into abilities and can also choose skills. You should choose at least one of each class and two that can fight from the back row with ranged weapons. Swords, maces and axes will be ineffective from the back row. However, throwing weapons, bows and spells can be used from the rear. Not knowing anything about how this game worked, I chose badly and so after a level or two of learning how to play, I started a new game with better choices.
Each member gains experience for leveling up by fighting. You will then have to choose what skill to put their points in. Your characters do not level up at the same rate. It's dependent on their fighting experience. Throughout, you can pick up items such as armor, weapons, food, spell ingredients and scrolls, which explain how to cast them. Items can be equipped to boost abilities. There are also secrets and items to be found and puzzles to solve, so check for hidden switches in the dungeon walls and in the many pits you can fall into. This could involve hidden switches, portals, placing torches, pressure plates, hitting switches in the right order or certain movements over timed pits.
The setting is all dungeons. You and your team are prisoners who have been taken to the top of Mount Grimrock and thrown into its maze of tunnels to die or survive. From here, you traverse levels, moving downward to the base of the mountain. Occasionally, you will run across notes and scrolls from a previous prisoner named Taroom. There is a sleep mode to renew health and energy, and sometimes when you activate it, you will also get someone communicating with you through a dream. This mysterious character urges you ever downward to repair a portal through which you can escape. There are also life crystals on each level that can be touched to renew health or revive a dead member, so take note of where they are so you can return to them. Once used, they take a little time to recharge.
The graphics are not overly complicated as the entire game takes place in dungeons that for the most part look similar. Combat can feel fairly difficult the first time around as you may not be sure what classes, skills and weapons give the optimal defense and offense. Having enough food on hand is also an important factor and the amount of weight you are carrying will hasten its consumption, so you must micro manage these various factions and often redistribute items amongst your team.
There is a surprise mode after you finish the game if you found Toorum's bones and took them to a life crystal. Start a new game and chose one character. Type Toorum in the name box and then push enter. You will now start the game playing alone as Toorum with certain skills and which requires some different strategy.
This is a game that needs some time to get used to, so don't give up on it too early if you're having problems. It's not the usual type of game in this day and age, but combines elements from a different era with the modern. In the end, I found it very enjoyable. Oh, and the soundtrack rocks too. I loved just sitting back and listening to it. Make sure to watch the trailer with the sound on.