Grim Dawn is finally creeping its way out of Steam’s Early Access program and by gosh, does it look special.
I’ll level with you here; Grim Dawn doesn’t exactly exude the aura of anything remotely alluring at a glance. If you were to flick through a bunch of Steam listings and saw a screenshot, your mind would likely jump to the conclusion that it’s Path of Exile or something along the lines of Divinity: Original Sin. In all fairness it could simply be nothing more than yet another doomed attempt by the world’s bedroom developers to recapture Diablo II’s magic.
On the contrary, Grim Dawn has plenty going for it under the hood if you listen to the advice of countless children’s books, tv shows, and films unceremoniously shoved into your face about not judging a book by its cover.
When Crate Entertainment snatched up a license to use the Titan Quest engine in 2009, the internet collectively said, “Cool, now what?” and proceeded to get on with whatever was happening 6 years ago. Beneath the rolling deciduous forests of Massachusetts the company got to work on a dark fantasy action RPG. Several years and trends passed until it resurfaced once again to Kickstart Grim Dawn to the tune of $537,515 — almost doubling the original target. Now – three years and a Steam Early Access release later – Grim Dawn stands poised over the battlefield, ready to crash headlong into the world of PC gaming.
Although for some reason, the internet at large is all but devoid of chatter about it. I mean come on, when you see a Steam Early Access release with over 3,600 reviews ringing the bells of “Very Positive,” you’d expect a torrent of YouTube Let’s Plays and excitedly-written blog posts talking about Grim Dawn. It’s a shame because Grim Dawn is the most exciting thing to happen to action RPGs since Blizzard fixed Diablo III’s infamous Error 37.
Why? Well I’ll tell you.
As far as leveling systems go, Grim Dawn’s is utterly engaging thanks to a dual class system. Normally in action RPGs you’re lumbered with one class choice, such as an axe-swinging murderer of things or a cowardly bugger stood at the back of the action wearing what can only be described as a bathrobe while throwing fireballs at big nasty enemies. The minds of Crate Entertainment seem to have look at this system and mulled over it for an afternoon before happening upon their own route. Rather than simply play as a melee maniac or gunslinger, Grim Dawn allows you the opportunity to combine two classic archetypes into one.
Want to be a rogue-esque character with a penchant for explosions? By combining the Nightblade and Demolitionist trees, you can. Maybe you’re more of a battlemage kind of person: Someone who’d happily go toe to toe with the most threatening beasts in Grim Dawn’s heaving, horrific bestiary clad in armour as you cast arcane spells to augment your already devastating close combat capabilities. By taking a smoothie maker to the Soldier and Occultist trees you can very easy drink down a refreshing beverage of magical axe murder.
I know it may not sound like much to the general populous but in action RPG circles where we’re so used to picking one class and running with it, being able to jam two classes together without restriction is incredibly freeing. You know how when you get home and automatically take off your work pants to slip on your pajama ones? Yeah, imagine that feeling but in a video game.
There’s also a gigantic, overarching leveling system being pumped by a black heart through the veins of Grim Dawn in its Destiny system. A comparatively late addition to the game that’s linked to shrines scattered through Grim Dawn’s destitute landscape, these allow for an even greater variety of character customization options. Look, what I’m basically saying is Grim Dawn’s delegation of player agency – allowing the person playing the game to make most of the decisions – is spot on and makes every moment spent in the game feel important as you’re testing the extent of your own skills rather than those put down by the developer.
The same too can be said for Grim the pacing which is bar none. Most games, be it Grim Dawn’s brethren or those of other genres, ramp up gradually to give players the illusion that they’re growing in power. This couldn’t be further from the truth in Grim Dawn’s case. Not content with simply flying in the face of convention, the game completely turns this on its head in order to ensure there’s no steamrolling of challenges just because you happened upon an efficient character build or some extremely powerful weapon. Each turn hides a new, challenging encounter to deal with which rarely mirrors one you’ve come across before, forcing you to constantly rethink strategies going in and simultaneously being rewarded with experience or improved equipment all the way. The result of this is that you’re never accosted by the notion of going back to grind out an extra few levels while throttling your progression through the game to a speed that ensures you’ll come across content as you’re intended to instead speeding through it like a bull in a gritty china shop.
Huh, I’ve not even really mentioned loot yet. An odd realization when it comes to action RPGs as – more often than not – they reel you in by dangle the carrot of shinier equipment from an increasingly generous stick. Now I’m not saying Grim Dawn doesn’t possess a compelling gear-improvement loop because it does. What I am saying however is that Grim Dawn doesn’t use your instinctive desire for sparkling fresh equipment as a crutch to keep itself upright. Instead, Grim Dawn calls on the assistance of a dark, disturbing world smeared with several thick layers of grime to pique your curiosity and draw you further in. You can easily find yourself glued to the keyboard for an hour wondering what sickening display of mutation will be assaulting you next or which locale you’ll be traipsing across next, trailing a mutilated precession of corpses behind you.
There genuinely is so much more to talk about in regards to Grim Dawn but if I were to spout everything that’s brilliant about the game we’d be here all day. Then again there are a handful of sticking points to be aware of if you’re tempted to run over to Steam and buy into the game’s Early Access program. Chief among them is the game’s generally dull visual style and miniscule writing. If you struggle to see at the best of times or have any degree of visual impairement, maybe avoid Grim Dawn until it’s finished. Also don’t jump into the game if you’re expecting something which can be dipped into at your leisure. Grim Dawn may heap the rewards for playing it upon you, but you have to sacrifice a nigh-on unhealthy amount of time to really progress through the game. Also the combat which is fun in itself, is very similar to almost every other action RPG of its ilk out there. The experimentation afford by the skill tree are great, yet the core combat isn’t anything special.
The triumvirate of style, substance, and strife embodies Grim Dawn. Through the lens of its gritty, almost incandescent beauty (of sorts) there’s a story desperate to be consumed and a wide range of options available to go about them. The way each system sings in choral unison with every other is a sight to behold. If you’re looking for the next big time-sink action RPG to hit PCs in 2016, then look no further than Grim Dawn.
If you’re really interested, you can play the game now via Steam’s Early Access program. The current built – as of the time of writing – contains all four of the game’s acts and most of its systems.