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Grim Dawn Early Access Impressions


Hello, I'm a newly minted Grim Dawn fan, and I'd like to take a minute to talk about Grim Dawn - specifically it being A Good Action-Roleplaying-Game™ It's an appropriately mournful take on the genre, set in a post-apocalyptic world being battled over by forces beyond the ken of man. There's a healthy dose of Lovecraft in it, so I was a disgustingly easy mark for Crate Entertainment.

You exist in the world of Cairn, a realm which is bang in the centre of an eldritch tug of war between two rival factions who at their worst see humans as a resource to be exploited, and at their best don't really give a toss as far as filthy mammals are concerned. It's a fun take on the now tired apocalypse scenario, and coupled with the aesthetic, tone, and narrative delivery; it makes for an exciting world to inhabit.

It's gritty and unpleasant, the kind of world that gets stuck in the teeth, but it's also a beautiful and vibrant place, with an array of flora and fauna to brutally exterminate. It even takes an interesting path as far as the make-up of the worlds human societies, which technologically seemed to be somewhere around the early 20th century before everything went chitinous claws up. The tone this leaves you with is World War One by way of Warhammer. So... dope. Awfully dope. 

Crucially it's a place that feels very lived in, and 'lived in' seems like a theme the design team for Grim Dawn repeatedly came back to when drawing up concepts. Everything in the world is just sweating out hot buckets of authenticity. Armour and weapons, in classic ARPG fashion, obviously get more and more ridiculous as you progress, but there's always at least a small concession to practicality. Chestpieces have pockets and belts all over, bandoliers are slung across them, trousers and boots look warm and durable. Every destroyed village or dilapidated settlement you explore has signs of the ordinary life people used to lead.

There's an internal logic to the level design which puts me in mind of Dark Souls. Not that it's as labrynthine as all that, but the sense of elevation and verticality is a welcome thing in a genre that so often puts players on flat planes. Narratively it's very reminiscent of Souls as well. Story is delivered through diaries, notes and often cryptic dialogues. Much of the writing and voice-acting here falls very flat, but the thematic imagination, and tightly unified aesthetic design carry the narrative.

All this would be for nothing without the excellent mechanics underpinning it all. A great many games in this genre are really quite insultingly easy; remember Diablo 3's Azmodan fight anyone? In fact, remember Diablo 3 anyone? Grim Dawn starts simple enough to come across as almost eye-rolling. All left clicks and no abilities to speak of at all, you all know the basics of these types of games by now, but it's a masterclass in ramping up combat at a digestable and satisfying pace. Rarely did it throw anything at me that I felt unequipped to handle, even playing on the hard difficulty setting, but it is nevertheless a demanding role-playing game.

The game allows, and encourages, dual class specialisation, and certainly on my combination of Demolitionist and Occultist I found that careful use of abilities was key. It feels like a very tactical take on the genre, and with two full toolbars to work with, you never have the Diablo problem of having the majority of your skills unavailable for use. Skills trees are expansive but not necessarily intricate. Those familiar with Titan Quest, a game which I believe many of the Grim Dawn team worked on, will be very comfortable. Due to the split class progression, each tree can be relatively simple, whilst still allowing for a character that is well equipped for any scenario, and the class combinations are excellent to play with.

You can double down on damage, or split your spec to be a little more flexible. They even have flavour names for the class combos. I'm a Pyromancer, while combining Demolitionist with Soldier, for example, gives you Commando. It's a nice touch and generally an accurate name for the pairing. Pyromancer especially feels just right for my crazy pyromaniac gunslinger character.

Grim Dawn is one of those early access games that just makes you happy there's more to come, rather than leaving you apprahensive that the rest of the game will be as threadbare as what's on sale. It's got oodles of shit to get up to already; I've sank around 25 hours and by the looks still have half a game to go, and there's plenty replay value. It's lovely to have a game leaving you happy about crowdfunding and early access. Pick it up for some very grim and serious fun.

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About Kooramone of us since 3:22 PM on 01.13.2014

Not good.