It feels like we've been spoiled a little bit by loot-oriented action-RPGs of late. Back in 2006, when Titan Quest first appeared, there'd been precious little to speak of, at least not with any real quality, but these days it seems like we're pretty flush with awesome loot-grinders. Not that I'm complaining, of course, it's just that a game has to stand out a little more these days if it wants to get noticed.
Grim Dawn is well on the path towards making that happen. It's got a pretty small dev team behind it, made up of a number of veterans who helped Titan Quest hit the shelves with Iron Lore nearly a decade ago, but its ambitious are large and it's a game that has trodden the crowdfunding-Early Access path rather well.
Iron Lore sadly went bankrupt shortly after Titan Quest's first expansion shipped back in 2007, but members of the original team reunited under the banner of Crate Entertainment, and are currently using a modernised version of the engine upon which Titan Quest was based to bring Grim Dawn to fruition. The game's still in its alpha stages, but it received a big content update a couple of weeks back, adding a second act, new enemies, and a host of other additions, so we thought we'd dive in and check it out.
Humanity gets a short shrift in Grim Dawn. The game opens with humanity in the middle of an otherworldly sandwich, caught between demonic hordes who want to harvest the living for resources, and another otherworldly faction who just want to eradicate mankind in order to stop that from happening. Grim doesn't even begin to describe it.
You arrive through a Riftgate at a tiny human outpost and are instantly taken to be possessed by those you meet, who promptly string you up for exhibiting strange powers. Thankfully, though, your cries of "I'm not a zombie monster or possessed devil, I swear!" are heeded at the very last, and you're cut down, only to find that humanity is on the verge of extinction, scattered to the winds by evil forces. It is a harsh world that you've stumbled into, one where scraps of iron form the basic currency, where everything is dripping in filth and grime and rust, every item a cobbled together amalgam of various bits and bobs.
Grim Dawn is an open affair, to its credit. The story really just serves as more of a backdrop than anything else -- something to wind you up and then set you loose on a path that you can freely wander from at any given moment. It's not an ARPG that holds your hand, with the HUD free of navigational clutter aside from a small minimap. There's a fair bit of lore to Grim Dawn, but it's only really there if you want it and have the patience for reading reams of text.
Combat seems a little rudimentary at first, but the game ratchets things up pretty quickly, and it isn't long before one or two reanimated enemies become more dangerous roving groups. Wading into combat and hoping for the best simply isn't an option beyond the first twenty minutes or so, and movement and potion management swiftly becomes key. There are four main base classes from which to choose to begin with (physical customisation hasn't quite been fleshed out yet). The Soldier is all about getting in close, dishing out and taking damage. The Demolitionist is more of a ranged specialist, a cross between an engineer and a gunslinger, blowing things up with bombs, and keeping enemies at bay with firearms. There's a little crossover between the skills of the Soldier and the Demolitionist, but by and large the former is your tank and the latter is more of a support class. Or at least it will be later on in the alpha, when multiplayer is added. The Occultist is your mage/warlock, and comes packing some serious buffs and debuffs, and no small amount of spell-based awesomeness and trap-setting abilities. Finally, you have the shadowy Night Blade assassin class, who specialises in evasion, being a little bit sneaky, dual-wielding, and attacking monsters with ethereal blades that fizz with the power of decapitation! It's pretty awesome.
Come level ten, you can pick out a secondary class too, adding a little bit of depth to your character, with skill points to squirrel away into a wide range of complimentary abilities. You can see the DNA of Titan Quest behind the way in which skills are implemented in Grim Dawn, even if this game's approach isn't quite as freeform and expansive as the older classic. There's more to come, certainly, but this is the dichotomy at the heart of the Early Access conundrum: do you get involved now at this early stage, understanding that it'll be a limited experience, or do you hold off for the full thing and ensure that your first experiences are the best they can be?
Grim Dawn is entertaining at this point, and it's great in small bursts, though I found the oppressive gloom didn't really make for terribly enjoyable extended play sessions. It's also no Torchlight (or, better yet, Torchlight 2), and that's rather the benchmark now for this sort of thing. Not even Blizzard managed to better Runic's outstanding efforts. Still, there's plenty of room at the top, and Grim Dawn is getting there, but it's not quite done yet.
You can get involved in the alpha now for just over £15 ($25), and the two acts should last 15-20 hours or so, which is pretty good value. Just don't expect a gripping narrative, or for everything to be in place just yet.
Developers: Crate Entertainment