Two and a half years after we were delighted by Legend Of Grimrock, developers Almost Human return with a sequel - Legend Of Grimrock 2 - that aims to expand on the original, go outdoors as well as in, and remind us it's hip to be a square (-moving person). Have they managed it? (Hint: OH GOOD HEAVENS YES.) Here's wot I think:
Legend Of Grimrock 2 is bigger, deeper and more wonderful than I could ever have expected. I absolutely loved the original, its descending dungeons of tile-based first-person RPG not just reminiscent of Dungeon Master, but as good as it. Grimrock 2, I say without hesitation, is better.
Much as Dungeon Master II took that series outside, so too does Grimrock 2, but here it’s not utterly impossible. It is, however, incredibly difficult. Superbly difficult. While I haven’t actually measured, this sequel is so huge I feel certain the original game would fit into one of its corners. With fifteen huge, individual sections, and another dozen or so smaller areas, each is intricately detailed and packed to bursting with puzzles, challenges, hidden switches, terrifying enemies, and so many secrets.
If you played Grimrock 1, or indeed any of the classic tile-based adventures of the 80s and 90s (DM, Captive, Eye Of The Beholder, etc), then you’ll be familiar with the mechanics. A party of four characters, created by you (or there are pre-mades if you’d prefer), marching together in a real-time 3D world, one square at a time. Your squad, two up (likely with melee skills) and two behind (firing projectile weapons, magic, and so on), explores, casts spells from runes, makes potions from ingredients, and fights an awful lot of enormous bads. Despite moving in only four directions around its enormous grid, combat (and everything else) is in real-time.
And good gracious, it’s done so well. I have adored this game. Spread across a large variety of landscapes, dungeons, and castles, it’s on a scale far beyond your expectations. In fact, every time I became convinced I’d seen every location it was going to offer, I’d stumble on another vast, three-storey place, and have yet another few hours of wonderful treats.
At first, things are extremely daunting. Your party, imprisoned in a cage, washes up on an island after a shipwreck. The beach is filled with monstrous killer turtles (no, really), meaning you have to scramble for puny weapons like sticks and rocks to desperately fend them off, while instantly being introduced to the far greater complexity of the puzzles this time out. As you uncover the many secrets of this sprawling beach area, the size of things already begins to feel a little overwhelming – three or four different directions opening up immediately, each of them containing elements necessary to successful get through the others. And then, that done, you find a massive wooded area filled with furious trees, itself leading to multiple dungeons, a land threaded by rivers, a gloomy bog, and more and more. And each is limited by what you’ve done so far, passages closed off by gates, warping teleporters impeding progress, enemies that seem far too powerful, notes alluding to puzzles you’ve yet to discover, peculiar glowing-eyed stone figures giving you esoteric statements that could be myth or clues… And then you find a note from the creepy, crazy island owner, laughing at your inevitable struggle, warning you to maybe head somewhere else if tough’s too tricky.
You quickly learn to compartmentalise. Divide it into manageable chunks. Focus on one or two puzzles at a time, or divert yourself by heading down some steps you’ve not yet descended and losing three or four hours to an intricate dungeon of pits, fireballs and devious puzzling.
Good grief, it’s so smart. Challenges are, almost always, so delicately flagged as to give you the gentlest prompts, but always let you feel like a fucking genius for solving them. I have genuinely punched my arms in the air and announced to my empty room, “I’M THE CLEVEREST MAN IN THE WORLD!” On too many occasions.
I’m not the cleverest man in the world, as it turns out. Because I also got stuck a whole bunch, and here I deeply envy everyone else in the world who get to play it after release. As the community starts discussing it, able to provide itself hints for the incredibly difficult sections, it’ll be so much fun. For me, I confess, I had to bug the poor developers on quite a few occasions asking for little nudges. Most times I then put my head in my hands as I realised I should have got there myself. On two occasions, I think otherwise. There are two puzzles that I think are poorly flagged, with guesswork necessary for completion, which is a shame. (For your sake, when trying to work out which direction a desert might be in, assume you’re well north of the equator.)
But most of the time, I have been like a pig in a lifetime’s supply of the very finest quality shit, revelling in the complication, and celebrating victory over it. You develop and inhabit a zone - able to spot every tiny hidden switch in a wall as you brush past, calculating ahead, manipulating trapdoors and pressure plates through grills and moving teleports while dodging fireballs – and then the game pulls a fast one on you.
Like the superstitious pigeon, at one point I was so convinced that my actions must be affecting the world, that my subtle interactions with the environment were key to untangling mysteries, that I spent half an hour throwing myself down pits and healing resulting injuries, in attempts to manipulate which pit would close and when. Then realised it was just time – they opened and closed on their own, in order, over time. CURSE YOU GAME!
On the other side, there’s a paranoia that sets in – “why is this room being nice to me?” If there’s a really useful looking item on a pedestal, a deep sense of dread sets in. “Oh God, why? Why would you give me this thing I need?” That it’s never, ever predictable whether it’ll be just fine, or you’ll unleash all hell, is marvellous.
Familiar enemies appear alongside very many new ones, including those hateful bastard crabs. Brrrr. As someone with an idiotic phobia of crustaceans, those fights take on an extra dimension. And pretty much every other phobia is taken care of within – horrifying spiders, giant snakes, awful buzzy things, and mysterious hooded figures who disappear whenever you walk near them. The game is never scary in the sense of Alien: Isolation, or similar, but it’ll still get your heart thumping and your hand shaking on the mouse as you dart around pillars trying to cast the right spell with a fraction of health left, while seven armed rats (one with a rocket launcher) attempt to pin you down.
Everything in this sequel is bigger, more elaborate, more detailed, and absolutely better. Which, after such a lovely first game, is quite the thing. You will be able to sink days and days into this, and still come away with secrets undiscovered, doors unopened. And I think a real respect for a game that is not only itself phenomenally smart, but one that thinks you are too. It’s a joy, so splendidly crafted, so stuffed with original ideas and surprises. This isn’t nostalgia any more – it’s a massive step forward.