After the headiest days of Diablo 2 wore off, fans of the action RPG genre were somewhat at a loss for the next great game to present itself. For a long time, it seemed there never would be a game to captivate the minds of players until Iron Lore's Titan Quest came out in 2006. Based on mythology, Titan Quest was a game that brought back a lot of the great things that players love about action RPGs in the first place: awesome loot and the quest for more awesome loot. That great graphics and a semi-decent story accompanied the game was purely a bonus.
Sad to say, and as often happens, finances came into play and Iron Lore ended up going bankrupt not long after the game's first expansion came out in 2007. Not to be daunted, however, members of the original TQ team banded together to form Crate Entertainment, now hard at work on another action RPG, Grim Dawn. Grim Dawn uses a modernized version of the game engine developed for Titan Quest and is currently in alpha testing on Steam.
As the name implies, the world is a grim and depressing place. Humanity is quite literally on the verge of extinction with two warring factions bent on its destruction.
Cairn has become ground zero of an eternal war between two otherworldly powers, one seeking to use human bodies as a resource, the other intent upon destroying the human race before that can happen.
Players arrive mysteriously through a riftgate and are set upon by the nervous survivors of Devil's Crossing. Hanged, your character is fortunately cut down in the nick of time and, through a series of conversations, the truth of humanity's plight is revealed. Hence starts the adventure.
Players can choose from male or female versions of four different classes, most pretty standard fare for ARPGs (from the official site):
Being in alpha, there is not a ton of character customization, but it's not horrible. Then again, high levels of character individuality has never been a hallmark of the action-RPG genre to begin with.
Cairn is a dirty, bloody, world where scraps of metal have replaced any known form of currency. Humans hide in small enclaves and quite literally fight for their lives against a multitude of monsters, most notably, at least in the first act, zombies of many stripes, rats, giant bats, spiders (why does it always have to be spiders?) and other things that go bump in the night.
You look filthy, the 'town' is filthy, the ruins of civilization are filthy. Armors and weapons picked up look exactly as they should given the backstory of the game: Cobbled together weaponry and armor thrown together piecemeal with whatever can be scavenged in the world.
Grim Dawn is, quite simply, a gritty, depressing world that utterly fits the story that has been presented in the lore. And there is a lot of lore. Quests are often quite long text-wise and involve a lot of reading. Those who choose to take the time to read them discover what a fix humanity is in. Those who choose not to read can simply skip ahead to the good stuff, the actual quest itself.
Players who are sick of being "led by the nose" through games will like Grim Dawn's lack of such things. There is no arrow pointing players in the direction they need to travel, no big glowing circle that basically says, "HERE!" The fog of war is in play and it will be up to players to slog their way through the world to find the destinations needed. Not coincidentally, there are discoverable locations throughout the world that add more quests to a player's journal and there are tons of underground caves to explore that can often lead to bosses who can drop some pretty great loot.
Speaking of loot: There is a lot of it and it's worth taking the time to make sure which stats are most effective for which classes and which items are best to use. In addition, small items drop that can be added to all armor, jewelry or weapons to enhance and improve them. Up to three like-components can be added to each piece that can make a dramatic difference in weapon power or armor strength.
Fighting monsters is a lot of fun, though it's incumbent on players to step a bit lightly as everything seems to travel in packs of five to ten. Wander too far into a location and you'll find yourself suddenly surrounded and unable to move. Still, with a bit of care, and a bit of kiting, most packs can be defeated in a reasonable amount of time.
Skills, for the most part are very useful. Those who played Titan Quest will instantly be familiar with the layout and the way that skills are acquired along a horizontal path. The more base points in a character class that are applied, the more skills, both active and passive, are unlocked. At level ten, players will also be able to select a secondary class. According to the Crate team, all classes are complimentary to one another so, at least on paper, there are no bad choices.
When in battle, the sounds are true to what might be imagined in a 'real world' situation mirroring what's going on in the fight. Clubs *thunk* into monsters' chests. Projectiles *zing* through the air. Explosions *boom* with astonishing reality. In fact, it's one of the best parts of Grim Dawn. Players really feel as if they are in the game.
While there is a lot to love, and to anticipate, about Grim Dawn, I found that playing for too long became rather depressing. Cairn is that visceral, that bloody and dirty and exhausting. In some ways, you begin to identify a bit too much with your character. That doesn't make the game a bad game, just one that players might want to play often, but in smaller chunks.
Also, the map needs work. While it's a great thing to have the freedom to explore and to feel liberated from the "go to this spot, kill these things and come back" mentality, it feels a bit lacking in any useful direction at all. Again, not a bad thing, but something that the team clearly needs to consider. Perhaps the ability to toggle on a quest helper or something might be useful.
As of this point, PvP and group play are not yet in the game. Hopefully that will change soon as the alpha wears on.
Be forewarned that Grim Dawn is not a game for the "you look mah-velous" crowd. No transmogs, no pretty shinies, no color palette to make your eyes bleed. If dark, gritty, visceral games are your thing, then Grim Dawn is for you. If acquiring loot, battling monsters and progressing a character to amazing heights is your thing (or also your thing!), then, again, Grim Dawn is a great game to look into.
You can grab a copy of Grim Dawn on Steam for $29.99 which grants early access. Currently only the first two acts are in game but it is plenty to experience.
What about you? Have you played Grim Dawn? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.