Impressions: Grim Dawn

By Alec Meer on January 17th, 2014 at 3:00 pm.

Lots of grim, not too much dawn so far. Which is a shame. Dawn’s so pretty. Might lift the spirits after all that zombie-twatting in the gloom. Still, that is what we’ve signed up for: Grim Dawn, an action RPG created by much of the team (and the tech) behind Titan Quest, is here to be our alt-universe Diablo III. No fancy business models (other than Steam Early Access), no unorthodox DRM (other than Steam), no drowning in lore and cinematics, no slickness at the expense of all else: just getting on with the zombie-twatting. Spiders too, naturally.

I’ve got to be honest, I find writing about action RPGs hard work. They don’t elicit tales of high adventure or great introspection, because their primary purpose is, even within a medium already broadly dedicated to that purpose, a boredom-killer, a way to make time disappear without feeling overwhelmingly guilty about it. A more technical mind than mine could, I’m sure, could find plenty to say about the feedback, the UI, the balance; me, I’m stuck with that nebulous concept of ‘feel.’

Does Grim Dawn, whose first ‘chapter’ has been out on Early Access for a little while now, ‘feel’ right? Does clicking upon a monster and having it recoil, strike back or die ‘feel’ satisfying and tactile? That is what an action RPG lives or dies on, the pinata concept of hitting something until it splits open and potentially showers candy about the place. Blizzard North defined that feel in the first Diablo decades ago, and any ARPG since cannot help but emulate it.

Yes, Grim Dawn feels right. Perhaps not quite as right as Titan Quest did, but that may be because it’s gone for a grubbier, nastier feel, more of a sense of ruin and desperation in the art and which somehow affects the combat too. It feels dirty, and very physical. This is a matter of light and sound creating something that feels very different to the shiny tooniness of Diablo III, even though the essential actions are the same. Indeed, Grim Dawn’s sound is a big part of its snarling charm – sombre music and escalating sword-swipe beats, the muted thunder of kicking open a barrel, the dank sounds of the underground. None of this is new for an action RPG, but the attention to detail is here, and it makes me feel enough like I’m in a place rather than on a numbers hunt.

Visually and it terms of written character it seems rather more lacklustre. As you can see, this means it takes an appalling screenshot. While it’s not quite so dully chaotic in practice, there’s too much emphasis on beyond-muted colours and excessive spikiness, which as well as making it actively difficult to work out who’s stabbing who half the time, sadly undermines the careful detail and slightly retro-tiled look of the environments. This approach is especially true when it comes to enemies. They all seem so forgettable, and so short on flavour. A Bone Rat is a rat with spiky bits. A zombie soldier is called a Zombie Soldier. A Giant Mosquito looks like a big mosquito and is described as ‘insectoid.’ No shit, Sherlock. A Giant Spitting Spider is a giant spider which spits at you. Hence, it’s called Giant Spitting Spider. Because it’s a giant spider which spits at you. So it’s called Giant Spitting Spider. Because it’s… well, I kinda worked it out for myself, thanks. Dull names for dull foes.

Yeah, it’s Early Access and all that entails/excuses – though it’s one of the slicker, more complete feeling Early Access game I’ve played – but the armchair producer in me says it could really do with a second, more enthusiastic pass on beastie descriptions, even if the deflating, obvious creature design is undoubtedly locked down by this point. I might sound a little anal on this front, but this stuff matters – you want to feel like you’re adventuring in a strange land inhabited by strange beasts, not swiping at stuff that’s rolled right off the Fantasy Action Game production line. There’s no sense of wonder here.

Quests feel a little too messy too, though the direction they’re aiming for is a noble one. I really appreciate that objective locations aren’t handed out on a plate, and often require paying some close attention to dialogue and maps – there’s no automaton-trudging to a distant icon, and careful spacing/randomising of quest-specific foes means farming isn’t viable. Against that is too much progress hangs around squinting at the minimap to ascertain the one passage or road that isn’t blocked off, or to find a path that was so narrow or visually obscured you walked right by it. I suppose avoiding that sort of thing is what a sky-high budget and a terrifying amount of QA and focusing grouping are for, and I’d rather imagine Grim Dawn hasn’t enjoyed those. So I won’t begrudge it too much, but it is worth accepting that completing quests can be something of a war of navigational attrition rather than a joyous tally-ho of boss-nobbling.

It’s the combat and the skill tree that the Grim Dawn’s most grabbed me and refused to let me go, to the point that this piece is running two days later than intended due to the cheerful curse of Just One More Go. I suspect I’ll be proven wrong in this by more long-term devotees of the game, but I’m finding that levelling seems more geared towards building a character and skillset that I personally enjoy than it is unwavering fealty to specific builds. Clearly I’m referencing Diablo III again, and the constant comparison is a little rude to Grim Dawn, but I do think it’s appropriate rather than lazy. Torchlight 2 was one alternative, going full throttle for excess, whereas this seems like the other other option – more focused on tinkering and self-specialising than either of its rivals-apparent.

I don’t want to rip all the fun out of the skilltree by painstakingly describing it, but I think it hits a complexity sweetspot, neither falling into exhausting overload of choice or essentially forcing you down one route or another if you mean to remain effective. My character’s a Witchblade, which, as well as meaning she looks like a member of a biker gang trying to do Warhammer cosplay, involves her having a few skills from the Occultist tree and a few skills from the Soldier tree, thanks to the option to dual-class come level 12.

This in layman’s terms means she can twat stuff that with a big club that does mega-damage every third strike, while a summoned raven and a summoned hellhound perform crowd control and heal her. Also she can throw a giant poison eyeball at things. It’s probably a right old mess when it comes to efficiency, but it’s such a thrilling way to be a lazy bugger – all I really need to do is hit stuff over and over and over again, but the presence of my bestial chums and a few tricsky black magic spells means it never feels like a game in which one character hits stuff over and over and over again. I’ve got all kinds of scope to be more tactical or more specialised if I want, but as it is I am completely free from both the worry that I’m not building The Right Character and that I’m coasting through. Moreover, the aforementioned use of sound has all the right melodic thumps and squidgy noises that it feels so satisfyingly physical. The personality that’s a little lacking on the art and description side of things is unquestionably present and correct where it arguably most counts.

I’ve also found myself helpessly obsessed with the socketing system, because it has such big effects – bigger even than equipping a whole new weapon or armour piece. You can equip a found magic component to almost any piece of gear, though some are only suited to weapons or armour, and have an immediate effect, but find three matching components, attach them all to the one item and you’ll get a mega-boost which makes a serious difference. In the case of weapons, it’ll often grant you a bonus ability, such as a poison bomb or ice spike. What this means is that there’s a steady flow of change: you’re not simply building to a fixed place on the skill tree, but irregularly mixing it up.

Also, the Great Hunt that characterises aRPGs is now focused more on finding specific components than it is on praying for a random weapon to drop with roughly the right stats. It’s a minor deviation from the genre norm, but a meaningful one, enough to give what is, at its heart, the same experience we’ve had since the mid-1990s, a slightly different feel that doesn’t stem from graphics or cutscenes or auction houses.

To put all this rather more simply, Grim Dawn’s the action RPG I’ve enjoyed most in quite some time, and I’m very keen to try the later chapters as they’re released. More so than Torchlight 2, which was a bit too much of a sugar rush experience for me, and certainly more so than Diablo III, which regardless of business model controversies seemed to these tired eyes so polished as to be almost ephemeral. Perhaps my enjoyment’s down to having had a lengthy break from games like this, as in recent months I’ve concentrated more on disappearing down the rabbit hole of introspective titles, and now I’m coming up for slap-happy air. Even so, while stylstically Grim Dawn lives up to its name a little too well, I do think it’s a truer heir to Diablo 1&2 than any of its recent rivals and in doing so it’s very adeptly filling a vacuum in our gaming lives.

Grim Dawn‘s out on Steam Early Access now, for £21. It’s only the first act for the time being, but I was pleased to find that lasts a good long while, and what’s there has seemed essentially finished and light on bugs.

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Top comments

  1. daphne says:

    Imagine a continuum of ARPG complexity. On one side, the power fantasy/simplicity one, you have D3 (sadly). Very close to it stands (unmodded) Torchlight II. And on the other side of it, that of character planning and long-term investment, you have Path of Exile with its difficulty and complex, layered systems and detailed character customization.

    Grim Dawn currently is right in the middle of that continuum. I have no doubt that it will hit the sweet spot for many (EDIT: Huh, it looks like Alec’s used the exact same phrase.). It’s my favourite after Path of Exile.

    Source and ARPG experience: Supported PoE with a literal fuckton of money. Bought Grim Dawn loyalist package, was not disappointed. Cleared D3 pre-Inferno nerf. Also fond of Din’s Curse. Haven’t played Drox Operative yet.

  1. DatonKallandor says:

    They’ve really screwed up the Titan Quest formula somehow – I can’t figure out what went wrong. It’s a dreary ugly mess of a game, and the defining feature of Titan Quest – a smart approach to UI and game design that eliminates the drudgework of aRPGs (respecs, shared stash, automatic item quality filter, no tp scrolls, no identify scrolls, etc.) is basically absent completely. Design wise it’s Titan Quest on a smaller budget. Art wise it’s a far, far uglier Titan Quest.

    It’s not the followup to Titan Quest it was supposed to be (Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing carries on the TQ tradition of UI and design advancement) and that’s sad.

    • d_chandler says:

      Yep. Titan Quest was really very pretty.

      How the hell did this happen? It looks like a fucking ashtray.

      • blinker says:

        The game is actually better looking than the screenshots suggest. The colors of monsters and environment are more on the brownish/gray side though, which might make it look a bit bland. But then the region is more like swampland, so we’ll see what act 2 has to offer once it is out

        Changes in the last build were certainly welcome (not that it got more colorful, but more diverse).

    • Christo4 says:

      Am i the only one who got bored of Titan quest? i mean sure it was/is interesting and has a nice art, but i never found it that entertaining.
      Van Helsing for me is really enjoyable for some reason, a pretty good arpg.
      Torchlight 2 was also boring for me.
      If Grim Dawn will be more like VH than the others i see it as a good point not as a bad one

      • DatonKallandor says:

        The big problem with Titan Quest was that Greece was too long and Egypt were too long. China was the perfect length. It’s all about how long you stay in the same tilesets.

        The expansion was completely insane – it switched tilesets every other map, which meant they packed more variety in that single act than the rest of the game combined. But since it was an expansion it was attached to the end of the regular game and not a lot of people got there.

        Switching tilesets a lot is something Van Helsing does well – it makes an aRPG feel lot more interesting.

      • gschmidl says:

        I’m in full agreement with you here. Torchlight 2 tried too hard to please with every item, making them utterly indistinguishable, and the story was idiotic even compared to D3′s (which was at least slightly self-aware). TQ was just way too long. I also couldn’t get warm with Path of Exile’s jankiness, but I really liked Van Helsing and I’m enjoying Grim Dawn as well.

      • nimbulan says:

        I enjoyed the beginning of Van Helsing, until around halfway through when it suddenly started throwing mobs of 50 enemies at me regularly, each of whom would knock of 10% of my life per hit with a rapid fire ranged attack. I managed to slog through to the final boss only to find that it was literally impossible to solo with my mage build. I never found a partner to finish it and I’m not going to bother with anything further from that studio if they can’t be bothered to even reasonably balance their game.

    • ElRato says:

      I have to wonder, did you even play Grim Dawn? The reason I ask is that you mention certain aspects of Titan Quest (respecs, shared stash, automatic item quality filter, no tp scrolls, no identify scrolls) that you say are “basically absent completely” in GD, when in fact , shared stash is in (also in Devil’s Crossing, the “Item Transfer tab at the smuggler), there are no identification scrolls, nor identify scrolls. Full Respec does not appear to be available yet, but you can undo skill points to redistibute.

      So unless “basically absent completely” means “missing 1.5 of the things I like in TQ” then I think you’re a bit off in your estimation.

      I will definitely agree that the game’s visuals seem off though. I’m enjoying it but it is a bit ugly. Still in beta though, so hopefully it will get some additional polish.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        I’m not saying those specific things are absent. I’m saying the idea of making UIs and design better is absent. They barely have what Titan Quest had, but not MORE. They’re stuck at the old level – instead of advancing beyond as others did (such as Van Helsing) and they used to do. Where’s the customizable auto-pickup? Where’s the AoE pickup? Where’s the better Pet controls? Where’s the better store interfaces and better inventory systems?

        • ElRato says:

          Ah ok, I understand, and cannot disagree with you there, it definitely doesn’t bring anything shiny and new to the equation. Not necessarily a bad thing, but you’re right, aside from setting there’s nothing particularly new here for sure.

        • blinker says:

          They did not improve on the UI,agreed, but that doesn’t mean there are no additions / improvements over TQ (and btw, all the UI features of TQ are also in GD, it is not missing 1.5 as someone else said).

          Components provide additional skills outside the masteries. Quests can have multiple choices and endings. There is a faction system (of which there is not much to see right now, so we will have to see how that develops with later acts).

    • Lagwolf says:

      I just found this game to uber-dull unlike Path of Exile and even Torchlight II. Hell I found Van Helsing a more satisfying APRG. I played it as far as the end of the first chapter & said to myself… meh. I wanted to like it but just can’t recommend it to anyone.

      • trilogique says:

        Complete opposite for me. Path of Exile was terrible and Torchlight 2 just doesn’t hold my attention.

    • jiaco says:

      How is it that the only van helsing fan shows up here to fill the first comment about utter nonsense that only proves he has never played tq or gd? You get your kicks off this? You are the pr department for vh?

      Imo, egypt was too short and china was way too long.

      For gd, most of the new developments have yet to be released. Look for those in future updates. All the goodness of tq is there and most of it has been improved upon in various ways under the hood. While I agree that there are some crude aspects to the ui atm, that hardly seems important in the context of the game’s finer features like combat, skills, and loot, which were sorely lacking in vh btw.

  2. FMAN71 says:

    “she can twat stuff that with a big club that does mega-damage every third strike,” dang!

  3. Trelow says:

    I’ve been enjoying what I’ve played of it so far, saving most of my playtime for the finished product. I get to kill things and take their stuff. That’s good enough for me.

  4. flix3000 says:

    my question would be, which spot path of exile takes in this comparison.

    • daphne says:

      Imagine a continuum of ARPG complexity. On one side, the power fantasy/simplicity one, you have D3 (sadly). Very close to it stands (unmodded) Torchlight II. And on the other side of it, that of character planning and long-term investment, you have Path of Exile with its difficulty and complex, layered systems and detailed character customization.

      Grim Dawn currently is right in the middle of that continuum. I have no doubt that it will hit the sweet spot for many (EDIT: Huh, it looks like Alec’s used the exact same phrase.). It’s my favourite after Path of Exile.

      Source and ARPG experience: Supported PoE with a literal fuckton of money. Bought Grim Dawn loyalist package, was not disappointed. Cleared D3 pre-Inferno nerf. Also fond of Din’s Curse. Haven’t played Drox Operative yet.

      • flix3000 says:

        quite interesting, thanks for your insight :)

      • Vinraith says:

        I’d really like to get hold of the version of Path of Exile you’re playing, the version I’m playing is the most basic, power-fantasy button masher of an ARPG I’ve ever seen. Mind you it’s easily the best F2P title I’ve ever played, but the claim that it’s deep and complex is honestly baffling.

        • Nenjin says:

          Compare and contrast D3.

          D3: Class defines everything. Skills and attribute development are locked to the path plotted by Blizzard. The modification to how your abilities perform is based entirely on gear altering values, and the preset runes Blizzard created. That’s it.

          PoE: Class loosely defines your starting options. You can tweak and customize attribute development according to the build you want to play. Skills are modified by gear, passive gems, support gems, and trigger gems, when combined can radically alter how an ability performs.

          I’m not going to say PoE is not a power fantasy….but the complexity of builds blows D3 out of the water 3 times over, and as a player you feel like you own the decisions you chose to make instead of selecting from a handful of meaningful options in D3. There’s also no logical disconnect problems like D3 has, where your weapon is really just a graphic you have when you’re not using your abilities. PoE actually incorporates your weapon into what you’re doing. My biggest gripe as a Monk in D3 was using Dual Swords and none of it was reflected in the attacks I’d do, because he’s just sheathe those swords to punch guys a bunch.

          D3 became so obsessed with appearance and accessibility it threw out half of what made D2 fun and replayable. Which is why D3′s design went from “Runes you find to modify abilities” to “a handful of preset runes per class that our artists worked reeaaaalllly hard to look pretty.” And at least with PoE, you can get gear you want and need by actually playing the game, instead of being forced to go the auction house. That will change in the near future, but it pretty much killed my desire to play D3. I didn’t buy it to spend half my time farming to sell on the AH like WoW.

          • daphne says:

            I would actually disagree that PoE allows gearing up simply through combat — after a while, it really does not, and you’re more or less encouraged to partake in the economy by buying stuff with the relatively scarce orbs. In fact the preoccupation with economy is really the game’s worst failing IMO and will eventually erode the playerbase.

          • Nenjin says:

            @daphne

            Can’t seem to reply to your post directly.

            But I’d disagree. I’ve taken 3 characters in PoE to Merciless now. I’ve made exactly three trades in my entire time playing the game, and it was all for skill gems that just wouldn’t show up for me. I’ve gotten all the Legendaries, Uniques and Magic Find gear through playing the game, not trading for it.

            Every ARPG is going to have professional sellers that spend most of their time doing that. It’s still different than D3 where your chances of getting a decent piece of gear were so astronomically low you HAD to go the auction house. It wasn’t just the lack of the right stats. It’s that the RNG that built the gear allotted a huge % to just shit gear. The magical 1% where the RNG rolled a piece of level appropriate gear was locked behind so many layers of magic find and NV that you had to farm just so you could raise your drop chance to the point where farming actually gave you something wanted. It was a horribly mismanaged system Blizzard created because they had a real-money incentive to manipulate drop rates. By contrast, PoE feels a lot more “honest” and rewards the player’s time much more fairly. IN GAME.

          • Vinraith says:

            I can’t compare to D3, as I’ve never played it (and never will). What I can say is that while the skill tree in PoE is certainly visually impressive, it’s not what I’d call diversified, consisting mostly of small stat buffs with the occasional passive power of some significance. I’m sure it’s possible to make ‘build planning” complicated, but considering the extraordinarily gentle difficulty curve of the game there doesn’t seem to be any motivation to do so. The active skill system also comes across as very basic, and slots are so prevalent that hard choices are really nowhere in sight. The linked slot system is neat, though, I’ll give it that.

            Anyway, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with PoE per se, I just don’t quite grasp these claims of depth. It’s a fairly easy game with (to me, anyway) an unengaging skill system. I played it for awhile, got thoroughly bored, and moved on to other things. Then again, for an F2P game it’s remarkable.

          • Nenjin says:

            @vinraith

            People can and will disagree what constitutes complexity. All I know is, I spent far, far, far less time thinking about what I’d do in D3 vs. PoE. I’d gain a level in D3, notice that a new Rune was unlocked, decide I didn’t want to use it and go back to doing what I was doing before. PoE I stop frequently, consider the skill tree and decide if I need to change what I was planning on doing. The hard choices in skill gem arrangement come later when there’s lot of things you want to use but can’t find the slots for. So you start trimming the fat off your build and zero in one what really makes it work. And then new skill gems drop and you go back and start thinking about your build again, if you can work it in. I’ve got perhaps 3 core abilities on my Scion that make up her playstyle, and I’m constantly trying to cram more skill gems on there to get even better effects. Multi-shot, life steal, piercing, effect-on-hit…..there’s a wealth of mechanical tweaks the player can make use of. D3 has little by comparison because most of the game revolves around “Where’s mah HP, Crit and Damage?”.

            And yes. What’s most telling to me is I found PoE compelling without spending a single dime on it. When a F2P game gives me way more fun than a game I spent $60 on, I’d question what exactly the so called ARPG professionals have done to their own game.

          • Vinraith says:

            Well, again, I can’t compare to D3, as it looked so unappealing I never played it. “It’s better than D3″ isn’t something I’ll argue, but it’s a bit like saying it’s better than catching salmonella – it’s a very low bar. :)

            The planning discussion is an interesting one. You find it’s necessary to plan out a build to succeed? Or are you just doing it to see how overpowered you can get? And how do you plan out a build in advance when active skills can only be acquired through random loot drops?

            It’s obviously down to personal preference, but I much prefer a character development system like Titan Quest’s, where there’s a large diversity of class and class combination options, and several viable paths within each that can compliment one another.

            That said, it’s possible PoE gets more interesting in this regard down the line, I got bored about 15 hours in so I obviously can’t speak to the later game. Regardless, it’s not my interest to disparage anyone else’s fun, I’m glad you enjoy it so much, I’m just always interested to find out what keeps people playing games that left me cold.

        • daphne says:

          I don’t disagree, but PoE’s complexity is not really in the actions of combat, the button mashing — it’s in character planning. A character is the combination of active skills, supports, passive skills, and gear choices, especially Unique items. And although the difficulty design needs some revamping it does consistently challenge the player past a certain point, and the character build becomes an indicator of how these challenges are met. With this it places more emphasis on expression of player creativity than any other ARPG.

          It does have a lot of faults, but customization isn’t one of them, I think.

          • Nenjin says:

            I guess I don’t really see any ARPGs that elevate combat beyond button mashing. So to me deep combat play isn’t a selling point in ARPGs, character customization and the ability to approach the content in multiple ways is. D3 might have achieved some new level of interesting combat play, but the totally unnecessary lag and the rubber banding pretty much shot that dream in the face.

        • frightlever says:

          The complexity comes from the builds. People will disagree and say there are just a few cookie-cutter builds, but that’s their decision to choose one.

        • UncleLou says:

          Seeing how you find the game easy (that’s honestly a remarkable comment) and base your opinion about the depth on the skill tree, I can only assume you never made it tothe point where you start to combine multiple skill gems. It might not be Dwarf Fortess in terms of complexity, but it completely blows everything else in the genre completely out of the water when it comes to character-building. The ideas people come up with is downright insane, as the game gives you much more freedom than any of the competition. The skill tree itself is only a tiny part of it.

    • Krull says:

      Here is the other view.. The very basic attribute of action RPGs is combat.. D3 is doing it great.. Torchlight is bit messy and Path of Exile has really horrible combat.. Grim of Dawn is doing the things pretty fine, it’s not as polished as D3 but few features tops D3, in example you can actually dodge incoming attacks by just moving away (which you can’t in D3, because of high latency the enemy hits you anyway )..

      • daphne says:

        I was half-tempted to edit in combat comparison myself, especially because I feel Grim Dawn is right in the middle of that particular continuum as well (and you’re right that PoE is lacking), but you did it for me. I agree with this view.

  5. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    1) The art is too dreary. They’ve basically proven the Blizzard art department right by showing what a totally grimdark game would actually look like: an indistinguishable mush. They need more contrast, if nothing else.

    2) So far I agree with you about the skill system, but seeing as this is more-or-less just a big old mod for Titan Quest, I suspect that later on suboptimal builds will be overwhelmingly punished. In TQ, pets were a particular problem, as the game simply didn’t give enough experience to level up enough to keep them viable.

    3) I hope they improve the performance. The TQ engine holds up really well given how old it is, but Grim Dawn (besides presenting a much uglier visual style) doesn’t run nearly as well as TQ does on the same hardware. Even fiddling with settings doesn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

    Not a bad game, and my love of TQ ensures I don’t begrudge the team a chance to take another crack at the genre, but I hope they tighten things up a little.

    • durruti says:

      feel free to read up and get your suspicions proven wrong. :)

      i certainly don’t know about maxed chars since we’re limited to level 25 but i’ve tried quite a few builds/most skills and was pleasantly surprised most of the time plus you will have a hard time finding a designer more self-critic than arthur so balance shortcomings of titan quest have been addressed here.

      • kalirion says:

        The pets in Titan Quest were pretty viable for the first Normal playthrough. It’s the “newgame+” difficulties where they began to show their age. The pet HP was suitably booste, but they no longer had the punch to deal with the tougher enemies, and were relegated to pure support / decoy roles.

    • ReziuS says:

      PoE is pretty totally grimdark too, but I wouldn’t say it looks like an indistinguishable mush.

  6. bstard says:

    I got this early access against all my principals, and never regretted it. Nice to see this game is received positive by RPS as well.

  7. Minereon says:

    I played Titan Quest for more than 3 years. It was a fantastic heir to D2. Naturally, being the ARPG fan that I am, I’ve played D3, Torchlight 1/2, POE, Helsing, etc. D3 is the best of the lot, I suppose, but I stopped playing because Blizzard pays far too much attention to power gamers, repeatedly complexifying the game to please them, at the expense of us (more) casual players. I stopped playing D3 once this got out of hand.

    Titan Quest was beautiful, but so is Grim Dawn. Just because TQ had a lot of light doesn’t mean the darkness in GD is ugly. It’s a post-apocalyptic sort of setting anyway. There are loads of beautifully dark detail in it.

    Ok that aside, I’m thoroughly enjoying GD. As Alec so accurately points out, it’s the “Just One More Go” effect. Truth is I don’t like dark settings, but this one has me hooked. Just one more kill… just one more area.. until I start wandering into dangerous territory, since the monsters scale. The fights in GD have loads of “impact”. Since the mob scales, most fights involve some effort – 2, 3, 5 strikes to kill. And the occasional critical BOOM, and the TQ-esque puppet physics flying through the air….

    The loot is great so far. Very little junk. Fairly constant upgrades from one tarnished blade to a scrapmetal axe… I feel a continuous sense of progression overall. That goes for skills too. As Alec says, the TQ skill/class system is simple to understand and challenging to synergize. I’m playing the Witchblade now because it seems to be the equivalent of my greatest character in TQ, a Champion (Warfare/Nature) – I’m looking forward to debuffing mobs and whacking them silly, with a team of pets to assist.

    Disclaimer: I backed Grim Dawn, partly because I’ve always remembered how horrible THQ was to Iron Lore (who made TQ), and how much I enjoyed TQ. I love GD. Wishing Crate Entertainment much deserved success.

    • Ivan says:

      I generally just lurk, but this comment piqued my curiosity intensely.

      I’ve played D3 a veritable ton, but very casually – but I can’t fathom in what way Blizzard has been doing anything to cater to “power gamers” or complexifying anything since D3′s release. The entire game is more or less as simple as it has been since it came out, with features added only for player convenience and ease of access/play. The only thing I can vaguely think of which is power-gamer oriented is the Infernal Machine addition, which is very optional, has no worthwhile or relevant rewards, does not provide any new content (re-used assets), and can still be completed on a lower MP setting if a player only cares about “clearing” it rather than upping drop odds for the paltry prize. So, out of pure curiosity, what do you consider as having “gotten out of hand” in terms of casual-shunning design decisions?

  8. durruti says:

    this is the second time i’ve had a big fat smile on my face due to grim dawn since i had contributed to the kickstarter (apart from getting to play the game ofc). first time was when it got released on steam early access which has lead to an increase in income so they now were able to employ an additional programmer.

    thanks for that piece, alec. :)

  9. UncleLou says:

    I loved Titan Quest to bits, played for several years, and for far more hours than I care to admit, but Grim Dawn just leaves me completely cold. I am not even sure why, there’s nothing obviously wrong with it, but I never play it for more than 20 minutes before I am getting bored.

    The way I feel about GD at the moment, after my love for TQ, is my biggest disappointment in gaming in years. :-/

  10. Noburu says:

    Seems Path of Exile gets left out of comparisons when talking about ARPGs. Not just here but in general.

    • goodgimp says:

      Which is a shame because, in my personal opinion, Path of Exile is better than all those other ARPGs combined. 300+ hours of game time and I’m still experimenting with new build ideas.

      • Noburu says:

        Agreed. My main problem with PoE is that I tend to binge on it for hours and hours at a time non stop. All the while theorycrafting my builds constantly. I eventually burn out and leave it sitting for a month or two and then do it all over again :P

      • derbefrier says:

        yup I agree PoE is the best arpg since D2. I played it more than any game last year. I look forward to grim dawn once its finished though, as I did enjoy TQ.

      • xaphoo says:

        Yeah, PoE is a fantastic game, the real deal when it comes to what makes an ARPG fun: complex character builds that work around the infinite mysteries of loot randomness. It’s just so damn fun.

    • Faldrath says:

      Yeah, I’m still disappointed that RPS hasn’t written a feature on PoE after its release.

      • Noburu says:

        As we discussed it the above comment thread it does seem to be overlooked quite frequently when people compare ARPGs, which is quite strange since it is better than any other one IMO, especially when you consider its 100% free.

    • malkav11 says:

      That hasn’t been my experience – Path of Exile pretty regularly comes up in at minimum discussions of any ARPG, but Marvel Heroes? That certainly gets left out. Somewhat understandably – it’s not particularly hardcore (and indeed has no hardcore/permadeath mode), and had a terrible launch and early going – but it’s a fantastic game and my current favorite of the spectrum. Haven’t gotten into Grim Dawn yet despite backing it, though, as it’s not done yet and I don’t want to burn out on it before it is done.

  11. Timeyy says:

    Wow the actual game looks WAY better than these screenshots might make you believe. When it is moving and in HD the game actually looks fantastic.

    • DeMasked says:

      I agree that the pictures shown are quite terrible. I also disagree with a lot of the review and the comments being made here.

      And yes Act 1 may look dreary because it’s setting is mostly in a swamp.

      Since the level design is continuous in that you actually travel from place to place their will be transitions to different areas like how Act 2 will be more rocky/hill terrain while Act 3 will have more of a farmland feel to it.

      If I were to review this review I would give it a 6/10 and the comments 3/10 due to misinformation.

    • RicHSAD says:

      I agree with this. The game looks way better than the screenshot would suggest. It just looks great in motion and the world actually looks believable unlike Titan Quest which had a beautiful, but almost fake looking art style. Grim Dawn’s art style does not look pretty, but it is not meant to. It looks exactly like you would expect from a world overrun by monsters.

  12. Nenjin says:

    Yeah, I find the total absence of a PoE mention here puzzling. Isn’t part of the team from GG former Iron Lore staff?

    Haven’t played Grim Dawn, but reading it sounds like it’s TQ’s design pretty much ripped out and dropped into a new tileset. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I loved the gear improvement items in TQ and find PoE’s equivalent “quality” trait to be a less than stellar replacement.

    But back to GD…..I already sense it has the same problems as TQ. TQ, while pretty, felt very sterile as a game. The monotony of beating up generic enemies means I never got more than halfway through Act 2. The same design sensibilities seem to reign here too, and it’s not a huge motivator to go out and try this. I just can’t help the “feels” that I’ve played this game before, and it wasn’t an amazing experience the last time.

    It weird. Both PoE and GD went the opposite direction of TQ. They both went for a darker, less fantastical look, where your first weapons and armor remind you of stuff ripped off of a fence post.

    • RicHSAD says:

      The Grim Dawn devs know that TQ was sterile and way too long of a game. The pacing in Grim Dawn is much better and the environment, while always grim looking, is much more varied. The combat is also improved and more satisfying.

      Compared to PoE, I feel like Grim Dawn is a much simpler and traditional ARPG. It does not feel as “new” or “fresh”, but what it does do is perfectly nail the core of an ARPG, which is combat and loot. The loot is great and the combat is just so addictive that you can’t stop playing. The author of the article mentioned how addictive the combat is and even Kripp showed that as well when he repeatedly farmed the same boss for hours.

      I personally see Grim Dawn as the best traditional ARPG since D2. It does not try to innovate or change the genre, it just goes right back to the basics and tries to nail them all down perfectly.

  13. Moraven says:

    I backed it based on value we got out of Titan Quest. The KS definitely helped getting more full time developers on board. My problem now is when will this be finished and released. I hope it is far enough past Reaper of Souls release. I know based on playing in the beta it will have my attention for awhile after release.

  14. Simbosan says:

    I loved Titan Quest and the expansion, one of the many things I enjoyed was the wonderful attention to detail in their recreation of historical settings. It’s a shame if that’s going to be lost in a dreary monotone bleakness.

    Like many others I backed this on the basis of TQ, I trust that the other features of the game will make up for any shortfall in art design and judging by the write up, it sounds like the skills system is great.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      The skill system is TQ’s skill system, just arranged horizontally instead of vertically, with less skills per class (but you get the same dual class option TQ had).

      • blinker says:

        I really wonder where you get your ‘facts’ from. GD has more skills per mastery than TQ did.

        • DatonKallandor says:

          I just checked you’re actually right. There’s about 2-3 more skills in the Occultist tree than there was in the Titan Quest trees. The horizontal layout makes it look like a lot less.
          There’s still far less skills overall of course, since there’s a lot less classes.

          • blinker says:

            It’s 27 vs 20 skills, but who’s counting ;)

            Yes, there are fewer masteries (5 vs 8), with more planned for expansions, but the game also only costs about half what TQ original cost, so getting somewhat less is ok in my book.

  15. jiaco says:

    Thanks for the write up, my favorite game blog meets my favorite game.

    First a minor point, 2nd mastery is level 10 not 12. Second, a major point, I have no idea what went wrong with your computer, but I have hundreds of much nicer looking screenshots. If people do not buy the game based on those images, it would be sad.

  16. Hodge says:

    No shit, Sherlock. A Giant Spitting Spider is a giant spider which spits at you. Hence, it’s called Giant Spitting Spider. Because it’s a giant spider which spits at you. So it’s called Giant Spitting Spider. Because it’s… well, I kinda worked it out for myself, thanks. Dull names for dull foes.

    I’m now expecting the next build to contain a new low-level enemy named the Syphilitic Swamp Meer.

  17. knowitall011 says:

    I watch about 1 hour worth of lets play videos on youtube, the game feels kinda bad.

  18. caioferreiraoliveira says:

    my buddy’s step-aunt makes $82/hr on the computer. She has been out of work for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $18010 just working on the computer for a few hours. read this….
    http://www.dub30.com

  19. Nick says:

    I loved Titan Quest (played through it with the wonderful Bodge(monkey) and Zael, one of my fondest gaming memories actually), when I first heard about Grim Dawn on RPS with the preordery things way, way before kickstarter was a gaming “thing” I signed up instantly because, frankly, I only payed a fiver or so for TQ and its expansion and that was in a steam sale long after the dev studio went out of business and got no royaltys. In essence I felt like I was paying them for the enjoyment I already had.

    Finally, I have played through the first act of Grim Dawn and I loved it. It felt just right to me, I agree that there could be a bit more variation in environment, but honestly, who gives a flying fuck what the enemies are called whilst you are twatting them to death? The mastery system is great as ever, lots of variety and flexability, components aren’t just kept forever until you have enough to make the absolute best version, 3 does it, which I like a lot as it means they actually get used more often.. Not having to buy identify or TP scrolls is nice, heal and mana potions are more expensive and, as in TQ iirc, have a cooldown so every tough fight isn’t about spamming the health potion button. It does mean running away and kiting can become a new tactic combined with the health regen if you aren’t being hit, but frankly thats fine by me, can add a little tactical variety to combat as well, my guy coul retreat to heal up then zoom up invisible to an enemy and smack them in the face when he was done running.

    Basically, I can’t wait for the rest of the game to come out and I can’t wait for Coop MP to work. Love it, its exactly what it promised to be and I’m very happy with that as its exactly what I wanted.

  20. veryangrydwarf says:

    What the heck is zombie twatting? Do you mean… zombie swatting? Twatting seems like a different thing all together.