A Stellar ARPG Set in a Dark, Gritty Steampunk World
Crate Entertainment has finally released Grim Dawn, no small feat for an independent development studio that crowd-funded before crowd-funding was a big deal. With the game's release, fans of darkly themed ARPGs with deep levels of class customization and visceral combat tied to a great story have gotten at long last the "spiritual successor" to Diablo 2 that fans have been pining about for years.
As the name implies, Grim Dawn is set in a world with mortal survivors of apocalyptic events caught between rival species that either want to exploit or exterminate humanity. Of course, none of this would have happened but for the rather insidious experiments run on these beings that ultimately created a hybrid human-Aetherial creature, one of which your character begins its journey as. It's something to start a game with your character being strung up on the nearest tree, though thankfully, you escape to continue your adventures.
On starting up Grim Dawn, players are presented with Male and Female choices and little else. There is no customization to the look of one's character, or even in choosing a starting class. The only other option given when starting Grim Dawn is the level of difficulty: Normal, Veteran, Elite and Ultimate (though the latter two are locked at first). That's it. After picking those two things, everyone starts with a sword and shield and is shoved out into the world to find a more fitting battle style. Within the first several minutes, players will have the chance to try out different weapons -- rifles, pistols, swords, hammers, etc. -- each of which can be used nearly interchangeably with any class.
There are six base classes: Soldier, Demolitionist, Occultist, Nightblade, Arcanist and Shaman. At level ten, players can choose a secondary class to add even more flexibility to characters. In addition, there is further customization available through the Devotion system. In many ways, it's reminiscent of Path of Exile's advancement system, though not nearly as enormous. Players unlock constellations by cleansing shrines along the way. Points eared for doing so can be applied to a given constellation that will unlock new abilities and boosts to combat, with a big bonus added when the entire constellation is completed. What is really fantastic about GD's skill system is the nearly perfect balance struck between passive and active skills. Players can use as many, or as few, skills as desired. With Spirit Guides encountered from time to time, players can refund skill points for a fee to try out other builds or to reassign Devotion points. It's not a punitive cost either so players can experiment without concern.
What it all comes down to is that there is a lot of replay value in Grim Dawn simply by virtue of the class hybrid - skill system that it utilizes. That fact doesn't even include the excellent combat system which is both fluid and responsive. Monsters come in huge, fast-moving packs that need to be carefully dealt with through movement and proficient use of skills. Skills feel visceral -- when soldiers charge in with a shield bash, there is a definite feeling of impact along with a decent sized BOOM to keep it 'real'. Monsters explode on impact or fly into the distance on death. Spell and skill effects look great as well.
For those who like to utilize every skill in every battle, there is a key binding system that can see multiple skills activated simultaneously. To keep one's index finger from blistering or to prevent mouse breakage, holding the left mouse button down repeats the assigned skill. Melee combat is good, though there is a clear preference in ranged classes that can attack anything that manages to appear on screen -- even through walls and at great distance.
Questing is fairly standard stuff: Kill these things; rescue that guy; go find this place; etc. Along the way, players will learn more of the facts behind this at times frightening world. The story is a good one, interesting for those who like to know the world in which they travel. There are lore items that can be found that add to the story as well as give an experience boost. NPCs will add their two cents worth as well when in conversation. The only thing missing is the use of cut scenes to bring the story to life in a more visual way.
Aesthetically, Grim Dawn's look embodies it's name. This is not an apocalypse in the making. This is a done deal. There are bodies piled everywhere. Villages and towns are in ruins with undead roaming at will. Carts and wagons lie in smoking ruins along the roadways while bandits and other wildlife prey on those who brave travel between far-flung enclaves. This is a dark, grim, doubtlessly vile smelling world though one that has a surprising amount of color and detail despite its tragic setting. It's not a far stretch to say that Crate has created the best ARPG graphics ever, though they are not for the faint of heart.
There is no question that Grim Dawn moves along familiar lines: Base classes, a tragic world inhabited by monsters in a wide variety of flavors, nearly constant loot drops, action-oriented combat, somewhat "lite" yet interesting story, etc. Somehow, though, Grim Dawn just does it better than any other ARPG in recent memory.
Gameplay - 10 | Gameplay in Grim Dawn is some of the best RPG action in recent memory. Hits actually hit. Skills are useful and can be made even more so by the excellent class hybrid, Devotion and item enhancement systems.
Visuals & Sound - 8 | Grim Dawn is a gritty, dirty, smelly, vermin-infested world. The developers have captured the story in a visual and aural way. Combat sound effects are fantastic as are the visual effects. The music, while somewhat overly repetitive, is very good as well. That cut scenes are missing is a bit sad. It would have made the story that much better.
Polish - 9 | There are very few bugs in Grim Dawn, though there is no way to move characters "intuitively" from one spot to another if there is a barrier of any type in the way resulting in numerous face plants into walls. The engine is smooth and responsive, graphics are top notch.
Longevity - 9 | Tons of replayability through the hybrid class system, Devotion system and with the varied levels of difficulty. The only caveat here is the repetitive nature of the quests experienced through subsequent play throughs.
Value - 10 | At (currently) $22.49 ($24.99 regularly), Grim Dawn is a great deal for your dollar. There simply isn't a better game to buy that will keep you entertained for as many hours out there at the moment...if you love ARPGs, of course.