An action RPG from the people behind Titan's Quest, set in a post-apocalyptic Victorian steam-punk world. Battle the otherworldy forces of the Aetherials as you seek the truth behind the Grim Dawn.
- Classic non-stop ARPG mouse-click action
- Great variety of enemies to kill, and loot to collect
- Huge world filled with secrets and side-quests
- Great optimization and easy to run
- Cool character customization with dual-class skill trees
- Co-op action
- Sound issues and lackluster audio design
- Weak story
- Textures don't look great close up
In the beginning there was Diablo, and it was good. Diablo begat Diablo II, which begat… basically the entire genre we now know as action-RPG, the type of action-RPGs, that is, which involve a metric tonne of clicking around the screen. One of the more stand-out action-RPGs in a post- Diablo 2 world was Titan Quest, which took the familiar hack-n-loot formula and stuck it in ancient Greece and Egypt. It was a great game that flew under the radar for a lot of people, and its developer, Iron Lore, eventually became another casuality in the closing of THQ back in 2013.
Thankfully members of Iron Lore, along with people from other companies like Irrational, Harmonix, or, fittingly, even Blizzard North, all got together and formed Crate Entertainment, with their debut game Grim Dawn, which finally hit 1.0 after spending some time in Early Access. It’s coming from a strong pedigree, but does it do enough to stand out against recent titles like Diablo 3 or Torchlight 2?
The setup for Dawn places you as a survivor of the Grim Dawn, an awakening of other-worldly evil that’s driven the human population to near extinction against hordes of undead and mutated monsters. Despite being infected by this evil energy, you’re saved by a group of humans in Devil’s Crossing Prison, who decide that rather than kill you, they’re going to put you to work as an expendable mercenary. You’re constantly tasked with a list of dangerous missions with the promise of treasure for jobs well done, as well as a welcome bonus of not getting your head blown off by the townsfolk. Or course, you eventually draw the ire of the big bad and it’s up to you to slaughter your way through endless minions as you try to save the world.
The interesting twist is the inclusion of NPC factions, who don’t always get along. Almost every quest, and especially every side-quest, will have multiple endings allowing you to favor a specific faction over others. It rarely actually means something, and gaining favour with factions only yields extra quests and loot, but it’s not annoying or in the way, and it feels integrated enough into the main game that you’ll probably forget it’s even there until late in the game.
In terms of gameplay, if you’ve ever played a PC action-RPG you know exactly what to expect from Grim Dawn. You click around until your mouse begs for mercy, and launch special attacks by using your keyboard shortcuts. Enemies spawn in groups over a dozen, and slaughtering them grants sweet loot covered in numbers and stats for your character. Kill, loot, level, rinse and repeat for the 20 or so hours of the campaign. Levels are hand-crafted, rather than randomly generated, meaning the map never changes, although there are special randomized challenge dungeons that can be unlocked as well.
There are six classes, each with their own strengths and weakness, and after a few levels you can even dual-class for more experimentation. The classes include the melee-focused soldier or the gun wielding demolitionist, as well as a variety of magical classes that mix offensive and defensive spells with traditional combat. The classes all play pretty much the same, but there’s enough subtle difference in their play style to make them stand out from one another. Dual classing is where they really start to feel different as you mix and match to make something completely new, and at any time you can refund your skill points to try something different.
Leveling is a little different from other games as well. Like Titan Quest before it, each level nets you a few points that you can either spend on advancing you skills, or working toward the next tier of skills in a class tree. You also earn stat points to either pimp out your strength, agility, or intelligence which include your health, dodging, mana regeneration, and what gear you can equip. On top of this there are devotion points you earn throughout the game which can be used to purchase massive stat boosts or special skills. It’s not a terribly deep system when you break it down, but there’s plenty of room to play around with it and tailor you character the way you want, especially when you unlock higher tiers of the differert skill trees.
Graphically the game looks good, but not spectacular. Particle effects and lighting are nice, and the level design is great, but textures are kind of bland and uninspiring. It is a game meant to be looked at from afar, so you don’t really notice, but zooming in can ruin the illusion. Armor and weapons are cool though, and equipment changes your characters in game look, so there’s room to customize as you swap out pieces of equipment.
Enemy design is great, with different enemies in each list looking very distinct from one another, and it’s easy to tell both what they’re meant to be, as well as their means of attack. Your foes range from the relatively mundane, like skeletons and bandits, to the truly weird, with mutants and monsters from eldritch nightmares. Each one feels unique and meeting a new challenge is a mixture of excitement and fear as you size it up for future encounters.
Where the game’s visuals take a huge upswing in is the aesthetics. The look of Dawn is probably best described as German Gothic meets Wild West, and has a sit down reading session of H.P. Lovecraft, if that makes any sense. It’s a really unique presentation, and it helps to make the game stand out, even trickling throughout the rest of the game, all the way down to weapons and armor. Imagine if the world was invaded by zombie-raising aliens in 1864 and you have sort of a close idea of what to expect here. The world has this fantastic, post-apocalyptic feel to it, and exploring it feels great, like some forbidden Jules Vern novel from hell.
Unfortunately the audio side doesn’t fare nearly as well. The soundtrack is capable enough, with fitting music to set the mood, but none of the tracks are truly noteworthy. Sound effects are okay, but despite the games otherwise complete stability they often cut in and out at weird intervals. It never affected the game as anything more then a minor nuisance, but it was noticeable for the frequency that it occurred. There’s not a lot of voice acting, but what dialogue there is here isn’t great. The actors don’t breath any life into their characters, and one boss even stumbled on his line a little during the read. Human enemies would be hilariously bad if they didn’t repeat the same few lines over and over, and while other enemies have unique sound bites, none of them are particularly worth mentioning.
Grim Dawn is an absolute accomplishment of the action-RPG genre, a game built on the strong foundation of titles like Diablo II and Titan Quest, by people who have a near perfect understanding of the genre. It never gets bogged down by any meta-games or story details, but rather is completely content to just point you in the direction you need to go and place a few million enemies and treasures in your way. It may occasionally stumble, but this is easily the best ARPG in a very long time, and an absolute must-play for fans of the genre.
Grim Dawn is available now for Windows through Steam or Humble.