Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar Review

Felipe Pepe, the man behind the excellent CRPG Book, has managed to finish Cleve Blakemore's Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar after roughly 80 hours, way ahead of the advertised 600. He then penned a comprehensive review, mentioning both the great parts and the shortcomings of Grimoire, for which he subsequently got banned from the Grimoire Steam forums. RPG Codex has the full review. Here's a snippet:

Adventures in Hyperborea

Grimoire offers five difficulty settings, from Novice to Super Hero (I played on the middle one, Advanced), and also a very appreciated "random encounter rate" option. You can set it to Onslaught, which means every few steps an enemy will attack you, all the way to down to Never. However, "Never" doesn't mean there won't be combat, as each area has several hand-placed encounter points - usually when you pass through a door or narrow passageway. I started playing on Rare, then turned it down to Never since I was constantly walking around trying to figure out puzzles and didn't want to keep fighting - more on that later.

While exploring you'll come across several puzzles based on finding & using items, uncovering secret switches and fake walls, pulling levers or entering codes into dials. Some also require you to explore an area, learn about its lore and use that to figure out a code or a sequence of actions. Things never get too complex and most can be brute-forced, but their contextualization makes them engaging - even if they start to feel repetitive after a while.

Doors are unlocked by solving riddles (much like those in Betrayal at Krondor), while chests are unlocked by a guessing mini-game similar to Minefield.

I enjoyed the door riddles, but the chest lockpicking doesn't seem to work as intended. Supposedly those green stars in the bottom are my chances to make mistake, which increase with my Lockpicking skill - but often traps would trigger even on my first mistake. There's also the option to force doors, which I only read about after 60 hours of playing the game - again, there's no manual.

Soon after leaving Aquavia you'll come across the game's first settlement, the Village of Crowl. It's a small area, with a handful of NPCs standing in their houses, ready to chat, trade or join you. In truth, Crowl is the only real town in the game, as the other only has a single NPC. This isn't necessarily a problem, but Grimoire has a severe lack of stores - which we'll address soon.

In true old-school fashion, dialog is done via a text prompt, which can be intimidating. Early NPCs will talk to you and throw some keywords you can ask (they're underlined), but some later ones will just stare at you - there's no way to progress unless you know what to type. As an Ultima veteran I tried to ask them about JOB and that worked great but, once again, younger players might feel lost here. Also, some are really picky about keywords - names, for example, must be fully typed: you can't just type Morgana when asking about Morgana Lefey.

Luckily there's spells like Mindread, which provide you with a list of the keywords the NPC will react to. Still, I found this very uneven - some NPCs would talk extensively about several subjects, others ignored most of my keywords and I honestly have no idea of what their purpose is. On two occasions I knew I had to get an item from an NPC but couldn't figure out the keyword, so just killed or robbed them. Nice that I can do that.​

A cool feature is that some dungeons have NPCs that will help you if you take them along - explaining some puzzles or unlocking secrets. The downside is that you can't speak with them while they're in your party, which can be frustrating sometimes or lead you to having to dismiss them, backtrack to their spawn location & recruit them again.

One thing to keep in mind is that NPCs can be really overpowered early on. They start with 40-50 points in basically every skill their class offers, while your characters will barely have 10 points in their main weapons. Later on you'll find powerful hidden NPCs (you can even resurrect dead bones) and those feel more like you earned it, but it's still a bizarre balance choice.

Another aspect of the game's olden design logic is the lack of side-quests - at least of modern-style ones. You'll never be asked to kill 5 boars. In fact, rarely anyone will ask anything of you. Things just happen during your exploration. You find an odd item, examine it, use it the way it's implied and uncover a secret area - there's no quest compass or hints unless you uncover them yourself. The quest journal records key information you find so you don't have to take notes, but that's it.