Five years is a long time in the video game industry and a project that takes a half decade to go from concept to release is usually either a dated failure or occasionally something really special. In the case of Crate’s Grim Dawn, the latter scenario is a distinct possibility. Based on a heavily modified Titan Quest engine and backed by a pedigree of talent with experience on several prominent RPGs, Grim Dawn may very well rise to the top of a crowded action RPG field.
Although not releasing until February of this coming year, Grim Dawn has been available on Steam in early access since 2013 and it has undergone over two dozen content upgrades and patches. According to Crate, the game is now “content complete” and includes all four acts of the story, the new Devotion mechanic and all classes and subclasses.
Grim Dawn is an action RPG in the Diablo/Titan Quest/Path of Exile mold, but differs in a few significant areas. Players begin as one of six Base classes: Soldier, Demolitionist, Occultist, Nightblade, Arcanist and Shaman. At level 10, players may optionally add a secondary class. With 25 skill upgrades per class, splitting points between main and secondary skills and choosing which to equip to the hotbar can be daunting. All classes — including the melee classes — include some sort of magic augmentation or abilities. As in many ARPGs, most of the classes are fun and viable choices, and the diversity really comes into play when assembling a multiplayer party. The casters are very powerful; the melee classes require a little more patience, although melee combat itself feels very satisfying.
In Grim Dawn, loot is everywhere: dropped by enemies, found in crates and barrels, in random piles and in tree stumps. It seems like every monster, zombie, giant insect, and witch is hoarding coin and potions and equipment. It sounds like heresy to complain, but there might simply be too much stuff, and a lot of it is trash that still requires at least a cursory glance. At least early on, inventory space is limited so a lot of time is spent in management. The crafting and equipment upgrade systems are excellent and most weapons and armor can be upgraded in the field by the use of gems and other found items. There are 250 crafting recipes that can be collected.
While the lore and story are rich and well integrated into the game, providing reasonable motivations for character actions and player choices, dialog is not voiced and therefore is less immediate or impactful. It might be argued that most players ignore the story in ARPGs in favor of the action, and Grim Dawn probably won’t change this. Quests are plentiful and not just fetch or killing assignments. Sometimes they involve making modifications to the environment, such as repairing a bridge or other structure, or rescuing NPCs.
The maps and environments in Grim Dawn are huge but luckily fairly easy to navigate thanks to the portal/fast travel system. There is a wide variety in the geography and fauna in the game, from dank forests and derelict structures to arid deserts, interiors, deep caves, and ruins. Using a very heavily modified and improved Titan Quest engine, the art style is colorful yet reflects the essentially dark and destroyed world in which the game takes place. Especially in the early hours of the game, monsters and enemies are a familiar roster of mutant canines, zombie soldiers, oversized insects and slithery casters. Grim Dawn is an RPG of the “more is tougher” school, so constantly throws crowds of relatively low-level enemies at the player. None of the enemies demonstrate much in the way of tactical subtlety. Still, they’re fun to fight, even if the same enemies are overused in each area.
Action RPGs have to get three things right: the combat (including character abilities), the dopamine drip of loot, and the environments and enemies. Nail those things and the game is almost guaranteed a shot at success. In development for almost five years, Grim Dawn has had plenty of time to fine-tune the basics and is worth a look when it releases in February.