Grim Dawn Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Crate Entertainment
Release Date:2016-02-25
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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To start, character movement, while fast, has a degree of momentum attached to it. You'll take some time to turn, to run up to full speed, and to stop moving. This time can be measured in split-seconds, but it really does matter when you're in the heat of battle and means that you can't run around like a headless chicken and expect to get away with it. The same applies to the use of many abilities - many of them have a half-second of wind-up time, meaning you'll have to make a conscious decision to plant your feet and use that ability, possibly putting yourself in harm's way.

The other big difference in Grim Dawn comes in its health system. Taking a page from more modern titles, it features regenerating health - except unlike most games with these systems, it works very well in Grim Dawn. The health regeneration speed is slow enough that you won't be able to simply run away for a few seconds and heal up to full, but it's quick enough to not be irritating when there is downtime. Potions are available to restore health and energy, but they're not as widely available as you might expect and have long cooldowns attached, making them very situational.

There's another point to consider about Grim Dawn's combat, and that's that it has some physics simulation in the projectiles you fire. This can be both a blessing and a curse. It's possible to fire off a poison bolt and see it ricochet off of a doorframe and hit an enemy it would have otherwise missed - but the collision detection isn't predictable, which means that it's very common to fire off a ranged attack or spell and have it bounce off the ground in front of an enemy, even if you're standing at point-blank range. It's a great idea, but it still requires some tweaking to get right.

Enemy variety in Grim Dawn is a big strength. Each enemy type seems to have some unique abilities or qualities to it that make fighting it different. Some will stay still and fire slow-moving projectiles. Others will fly about quickly and fire lasers at you. Some will shuffle towards you in melee. Yet more will rally weaker enemies around them, stun you or slow you, leech your health, or summon minions to fight, or fire poisonous waves, or curse an area on the ground. Sure, this is nothing that gamers didn't see over a decade ago in Diablo II - but you can expect to see all of this in the first few hours of gameplay, which is promising for the late game if the variety can be kept up, as even early on that variety meant combat didn't get repetitive or boring.

This also leads into another key point: Grim Dawn is hard. On its normal default difficulty, the first few levels are no big challenge, but once you hit character level 8 or so, the enemies will really begin to bulk up and you'll find yourself being brought to the brink of death very frequently. Unlike Diablo and Torchlight, Grim Dawn's combat leans more towards hit-and-run tactics, as even a beefy Soldier will still fall in combat if he or she takes more than a few direct hits. This is refreshing to see, and it's nice that a game like this can actually challenge you from the beginning, unlike most in the genre that seem to require one or two play-throughs and unlocking "the real hard mode" to get the most out of.

Closing Thoughts

I've had Grim Dawn on my watch list for quite some time, and after playing the closed beta, it's clear Crate Entertainment have built a very polished, entertaining game that for action-RPG fans will likely be worth the wait. While in its alpha state there are a number of outstanding issues (namely some environment collision bugs, balance problems and performance hitches), the game is still very stable, plays smoothly and is very polished for an indie production.

There are some looming questions, however. Story in the alpha is very sparse and based on the limited selection of gameplay, it's hard to get a feel for the overarching plot, characters and so on. Right now, what's included is very functional, but also very limited, and I hope it will be fleshed out more as time goes on.  The levels, though fixed in their layout rather than random, do feature special events to run across each time you play, but these were quite limited when I was running through the alpha - something I hope is improved to make replaying the game more interesting. There are also some loose ends, including a faction reputation system, whose functions are not especially clear right now. Who knows - perhaps there will even be some choice & consequence in how the story plays out, if what a few of the quests demonstrate carries through.

Either way, Grim Dawn, though certainly not the most creative and original action-RPG ever, is definitely doing just enough differently to carve out a niche for itself. I'll be the first to express my weariness at yet another hack-and-slash RPG, but Grim Dawn does the genre just about as well as it can be done, and with some twists that make it interesting even for veterans.  With no set release date, I'm looking forward to seeing how the game evolves as the developers collect feedback and expand on what's already established.