Legend of Grimrock II
Legend of Grimrock II is a meatier, more involved version of the first title from Almost Human Studios, and it succeeds at offering a customizable, nostalgia-laden quest through a number of interesting dungeons with swarms of enemies and puzzles. Like the first title, it attempts to bring a fresh perspective to old PC dungeon crawler franchises like Wizardry, The Bard’s Tale, and Might & Magic. It has more content, a somewhat open world environment to explore, and more interesting weapons and encounters.
Character customization and creation is one of the best things in Grimrock II, offering players meaningful, interesting race choices and perks. Your mission is to compose the ultimate team in four party member slots. Bulky minotaurs make excellent front line tanks, while agile ratmen make good backline options with double daggers or projectile weapons. You have opportunities to come up with cool combos after your first playthrough, like four melee builds (using skills to be able to hit from the backline) or four casters.
After you’ve rolled up your party of intrepid adventurers, you’re placed on a beach to discover how things work. The beach and introductory island serve as a tutorial, offering up a selection of weapons, consumables, and spells alongside helpful hints as to how the game works – a formula that remains constant during the lengthy playthrough. You start learning how to flip teleporter switches, find keys, and fight your first boss monster. It all feels pretty sleek and polished, but the best games in the core dungeon crawler genre break up the inevitable tedium inherent to the formula by throwing new things at the player.
Despite new environments and minor changes to enemies over the course of the game, what you’re doing in that first zone is what you’re doing for the full game. Repetition is not uncommon in dungeon crawlers, but the fact that you feel the tedium soaking in does damage to the otherwise enjoyable systems in place. By the tenth time you encounter a similar weight/teleport puzzle, you’re wishing there was some way to skip it and get back into battle instead of reading accompanying signposts and notes, trying each button multiple times before things click. Although the enemies have a pretty solid variety, you’re moving from cube to cube either completely dominating or being completely slaughtered most of the time as you execute your swings, spells, and slings.
Your characters can learn weapon skills allowing them to use special abilities in combat, from swinging heavy axes to throwing a melee dagger, and this is all backed up with careful spell selection and party positioning and placement. Characters in your back row are difficult to hit from the front but vulnerable to blows from the back and side, so finding the right spot to turtle can be essential. Fights with giant, lumbering enemies could involve repeated backpedaling while hurling stones, arrows, and anything else on hand to avoid a physical encounter. Combat is crisp and clean, and serves to highlight the game’s strength as a classic crawler. The fact that you’re constantly managing your strike and spell cooldowns during combat makes things more action-oriented in a format that traditionally adheres to rigid turn-based tactics.
Although there are some open-world elements to enjoy, things progress in a fairly linear way. You’re able to backtrack and explore from a central hub to farm for materials, food, and experience, so even if your team is far from a cookie-cutter template you should be able to eventually push through whatever challenge lies before you.
Legend of Grimrock II serves as a fun followup to the original game, and an improvement. I’d love to see a third game that expands a bit more on the powerful core combat and character customization, and relies a bit less on repetitive puzzle solving that’s interesting at first but an absolute slog as you churn through the chapters. I’d recommend this wholeheartedly to fans of dungeon crawling, but it could be a frustrating choice for non-enthusiasts.