Grim Dawn Review
Mission Against Total Human Termination .
Read Time 12 minutes
“ ...Could we ever let the sun (finally) set over at humanity's already low horizon?... ”
Do any of you ever feel like wiping humanity from the face of the earth sometimes? An awful question to begin with, I know, but… don't you? Oh man, stop looking weird at me like that, I am just messing around, okay? There's clearly no use for such question when we all know they will do it themselves, sooner or later! But, what if someone else showed up to quicken what is already inevitable? Hmm, food for thought, alright. And what if someone else on top of this someone else showed up to make things even more special ? Getting interesting, ain't it? Well, you've got on yourself every reason to be excited, because grim days approach the horizon, and there seems nothing will be able to stop its gruesome advance any time soon.
Just for clarification, I'm no longer speaking about this same world we live in, but rather about the one in this nice game called Grim Dawn, a dark-fantasy action role-playing game unlike any other, which was initially released a long time ago, and has since then grown immensely in both popularity and favoritism among fans. If your heart is on slaying hordes upon hordes of enemies (the bad guys I mentioned before) for hours in a surreal apocalyptic setting, then don't bother looking anywhere else because you just done arriving at the right station. In the game we take control over the body of a literal nobody, who starts their journey about to get hanged, possessed by one of the many vile spirits that arrived from beyond the thin veil of reality to haunt the world, that leaves us to find a new vessel soon after, allowing us to get cut loose instants before fading into nothingness.
And just like that we are thrown into the pit of fallen celebrities, to fight for humankind, or something along those lines–sorry, I clicked things 'till action. Anyways, point is that the game does its cores by the book, as in that we start as a no-name and slowly tread our way to become a soon-to-be living legend. A recipe that should ring a bell or two to anyone slightly acquainted with similar titles, that Grim Dawn attempts its very best to take a step further and break away from the perception many have of ARPGs as simply Diablo copy-cats.
Today, I'll be doing something similar, as it will be my utmost pleasure to run you through some of the things that make the game such an amazing piece to me and to so many others, to help slightly break this misguided idea that puts it as "just another" in an endless sea of great — just great, for the lack of a better word — top-down RPs.
Never Shall We Lose Our Will To Fight: For What Once Was .
So, how should we approach this, I wonder... say, seeing as we have a lot of ground to cover, how about we go by the basics first? Eh, sounds good enough, I guess. Alright, so what is there to know about the game, apart from the obvious stuff? Not a whole lot, really. Though, in all seriousness, picture something that feels complete from top to bottom, add a cherry to that top, and what you get should look more or less like Grim Dawn, an atmospheric action-driven game that sticks out from the crowd mostly because of its attention to details, singular narrative, spectacular world-building, plus a wide variety of loot to collect, monsters to slay, secrets to uncover, areas to visit, and finally, builds to construct, lots and lots of them, enough to give even the man, Bob The Builder himself an attack of jealousy.
All the casual stuff you'd usually expect from similar titles is present here in weight, except you won't have the problem of running into the risk of having your hopes and dreams crushed under the weight of a shitload of microtransactions, or falling behind seasonal content due to weaker gear whenever playing a solo self-found character. It is, in every respect, an amazing ARPG that packs quite a punch, for newcomers and seasoned players alike. Even if on the slower-paced side of the scale, playing through the game feels outright amazing, almost like a methodical dance you can't seem to ever get enough of.
An astonishing amount of care and attention has been put into this game throughout the years, and it transpires. In taking their time to listen to criticism and feedback generated by the community, the developers sure seem to have done everything under their reach to have Grim Dawn turn out as a love letter to the people who still come back every single day to enjoy this beauty of a game. The rare few faults it hasn't managed to rid itself as of yet should come mostly in the form of somewhat dated visuals, limited active abilities, and at times even sounds that overlap each other, but I'll also go ahead and say by experience that it never gets so distracting to the point of having a long-lasting impact on how you play the game.
It's under the light of simplicity and complexity that the game rises to shine as a fierce combatant in a high-expectancy space dominated by the much larger dogs of the industry.
Although not the flashiest game there is out there in the wild, Grim Dawn is for sure a great example of what it truly means to do more with less, by creating a collection of all the things that make so great what is basically, in a crude way to put, a monster-slaying simulator. That, but not simply because it keeps on giving far longer than usual — which might be partly thanks to its two mega-sized DLCs — but more so because it is constantly pushing out smaller updates, fine-tuning an already great game to a near-perfect state over time, and that would be just the tip of the iceberg.
Beyond those, performance is another concern when diving into games such as this, and justifiably so. There is not a single person whom I know that could ever enjoy having their favorite character lose a fight due to performance or connectivity issues, even more so if said character is originating from a hardcore playthrough. So, if you do happen to find yourself worried about whether or not your old laptop will be able to handle everything the game has to show, then rejoice, because if I managed to get it running on my old piece of grilled salad, it most likely will run just as well on your setup. Also, since the game runs fully independent from an internet connection, that means latency or other server-related issues shouldn't really be a huge problem for most people, unless playing with friends is a must for you.
And that should wrap us up on what there is to know, for now, about the game, without going too deeply into specifics. So far we've covered a lot of important topics, but I'll also have you know that we're still nowhere near the end of this review, nor the middle of it oddly enough, so I'd highly advise you to go make yourself something to eat, drink, and to sit tight before we get to move on to the next big points of interest in our little, totally serious touring guide.
Bridging The Gap Between Nations: From Nothing We Become .
Going back to where we left off in our introduction, in spite of working its main structure around "pre-existing" (not really, but you get the point) material, some of the issues commonly associated with these types of games just so happened to have also been inherited. Some are more serious than others, but to me nothing ever comes close to beating the lack of context that follows our wake, or in other words, what leads our character, who is essentially your next-door random with no background whatsoever to take up to the front lines as humanity's last strand of hope to survive in a land overrun with danger cutting from every corner.
Before we get a move on, I'll tell you straight away that it's of my understanding that story usually isn't the forte of action-focused games (surprising, I know) such as this, nor was it ever intended to be. There's this old saying, first heard from the mouth of a wise donkey, that goes something along the lines of: "it's an RPG boys, story doesn't matter", and I couldn't have said it better myself. Now, I won't sit here and pretend to know the exact reason why that is, but my guess is that when the "action" part speaks for itself, there's no need to be concerned with the lack of words.
Following that same logic, what the game doesn't have to offer in a compelling environment for a strong storytelling to flourish, it compensates by putting us right into the heat of battle minutes in without leaving much space for questions, or to simply ponder over the 'whys' of our quest. And the fact that we know nothing about ourselves, other than that we have to survive not mattering the reason is why it's so easy for us to be put into the shoes of someone we barely know anything about. When it makes our past a trivial matter, it tries to implant in our mind the idea that who we used to be no longer exists, and all that matters now is what lies directly ahead.
When the talk is of story, this is where the walls start to crumble for most ARPGs, but how much background could you need to blast open some skulls from time to time anyway?
Even if we can find space aplenty for fair criticism here, I'll have to pay due respect to the developers for being overly competent as to include a story when it wasn't even needed in the first place. They knew their target audience, they knew where their money was; everything the common people wanted is some senseless trashing of mobs with absolute disregard for their well-being and the world around them, which they did deliver at that, fantastically well might I add, as there will be many times where you fight for heavens know what, and is handsomely rewarded for that every single time. But that is not to say they went all-out on that plan, because it would be dropping the ball for the lusty argonian maid enjoyers cultured folk like myself, which is totally unacceptable.
Jokes aside, a narrative in this particular scenario is extremely useful, and not only for making sense of our seemingly headless killing, but to transform it completely, giving substance to an otherwise unflavorful soup that delivers in keeping the starved fed, and that's about all there is to it. Without the sparkle of flavoring in the form of a narrative, an ARPG (especially one that leans heavily towards hack and slash elements) is no more than a watery slope that looks cool but fails to realise the importance of seasoning in a plate. Thankfully for those who care, there's so much lore to find, hidden pretty much any and everywhere you look — even inside that dead lady's back...- *ahem*, pocket — it'd be a crime in on itself to even consider painting this minor part of the game as bad when I know it isn't close to being that big of a deal.
After having completed the base campaign multiple times myself, I think it's a safe bet to say that this initial push we receive at the start of the game is more than enough fueling to propel us onto something much greater than what we can initially anticipate. That, plus the idea of killing the cult of a mad eldritch god that wants the bloody loan we took from him as a side job is also really cool-sounding, kinda.
So That The Sun May Rise Once Again: Not A Thing To Lose .
Stepping away from the story without actually stepping away from the story, we take our next stop on our little trip to save the world simply because we can at the northernmost side of the map, where we traveled to in seek of fame and glory but ended up finding more of the same trouble we've been running away from. Without much of a choice, and since we're already on the spot, we proceed to take on the mantle of merciful savior and go do some more dirty work in trade for social points and friendship because that's all that matters in a decaying planet where what doesn't kill you today, will try and turn you into their naked mascot for scientific purposes in the very next.
That was until the day we showed up at their doorstep, of course, exploding nightmare-fuel left and right, surfing the wave of terror like a real superstar, rapidly growing our reputation as the one and only nationwide handsome fiend-slayer. And before you ask, no, I didn't just come up with these stories you've been reading–they're very much real, and not only I can but will get you some proof in just a second.
As we travel Cairn — as it is known the place we've been talking about the entire time without a proper introduction — we will come across a number of human settlements, central hubs of sorts, all of which will be in dire need of a helping hand. And as the only protagonist around town, it will be our mission to secure their survival, helping them rebuild society as it once was from ground up, when even the gods got them denied access to the fruit of knowledge that is learning the lost art of grinding until you can beat demon lord into submission.
Representing a portion of the old world that has managed to survive but is on the brink of collapse, these brave men and women keep fighting as a testament of human resilience.
Through our efforts alone, we make heard the voice of a people who've suffered enough, and are done being repressed, so in response they do nothing but stand still while giving us a target and a description, which, being completely honest, is all our one-man army with a bazillion healing potions could possibly need to put an end to the late-night party that wasn't educated enough as to provide us with an invitation. As time goes on, with us at the ship's helm, growing in both ways of power and relevance, these groups of survivors can also grow as a direct reaction to player influence, increasing in population (with new NPCs being added to the list of temporary conversational buddies), as well as livability around camp grounds.
Out of all the things about this system, the one I liked most is that our character, despite being a pivotal figure in the events of the Grim Dawn, isn't always at the center of attention, even when he's absolutely deserving of that spot. As mentioned before, the world is populated by certain factions, with some of them being more receptive to the player, while others found it more productive to stand in our path of asserting global dominance. Some of those opposing groups will be, at times completely hostile at us, in other cases, they will go against the standardized idea that we are their one and only enemies, directing instead their rage at their closest targets, not ignoring their past rivalries just so they can put their focus on us for some unknown reason, which makes the world that much more interesting to explore.
Those are the kind of details that make all the difference when it comes to creating a living, believable world that doesn't just exist for us to take whatever we want from it and then move out in the very next frame. Unlike in other games, here in Grim Dawn you're not a force of nature moving around maps collecting bounties like a maniac, not giving an ounce of thought for the people you have just saved. The simple act of going back to camp to sell stuff just to see that those people are still doing fine even after we left them on their own is weirdly gratifying, in a way a can't quite explain. All I know is that it is at times more rewarding to have this kind of interaction than to receive any other form of payment.
To illuminate The Single Darkest Night: It Glimmers Of Fate .
Another thing that really tends to get to me a lot outside of the story (for real this time) is the logic behind character progression, or the steps that we have to take in order to reach the status of a demigod by endgame. Like, how do we even go from a normal dude minding his own business to someone with so much raw power as to rival celestial beings in just a few chapters? Also, let's not forget there's not even a prologue to show our training arc, which is obviously the main reason why we went bald to begin with. These are the type of questions I enjoy reciting in my head late at night, when there's not much else to do besides looking at the ceiling, imagining how different life would be had I not invested years playing a moba game that would take me absolutely nowhere.
Maybe we were meant for greatness from the start, or perhaps it was the friends we made along the way; either way, our feats of courage (fending off an army of undead, among other things with some cool stuff we happened to come across counts, right...?) should serve as proof that our swift growth is most definitely tied to something way larger than ourselves, and each time we allocate points here and there, it merely stirs that hidden potential we, ourselves weren't even aware existed. It's either that, or the much duller alternative that it's just a game mechanic to make you feel like you're getting somewhere, so that you're not crap for the entirety of the game, which would be really lame if you were to ask me.
Personally, I like to think we're Kratos lost brother who never made a single appearance in the franchise due to being too occupied racing chickens, but let's be kind to eachother and leave some material for the game theorists out there to go figure that bit in our place. Meanwhile, let's move on to the stars of today's show–or should I say constellations, for when the wonders of the world below don't suffice, maybe consider looking up, towards the sky!
Other than offering guidance for the lost travelers, the stars in this game impart another role which is just as important: give a rough idea of the farthest ends we can ever hope to reach.
From a surface level, at a glance it might not seem like there is a lot going on behind the systems that dictate character building in Grim Dawn, but just you wait until you dive a little deeper. This could easily be where the game is at its strongest, and the simplicity it so proudly wears exists only to mask its multi-layered inner magnificence, or it could also be to not spook away beginners, especially when considering how intimidating some of these same systems could look to someone just getting started.
There are so many tools the game employs to make you feel like you're making progress at every step of the way, that when I say the leveling process is likely to be one, if not the most enjoyable aspect there is to explore, you are better set not just taking my word for it and seeing for yourself, because nothing I say here will be able to fully do it justice. Featuring a high level of customizability, with a truly stellar perk system with the power to define builds, along with a multitude of classes to pick and choose from right off the gate, creating and sticking to a single character has got to be the single hardest part of the entire game, simply because of how often you'll find yourself wanting to go back to the start over the possibility of finding out a different build that better suit your tastes.
If, for some reason that still doesn't scream "[test_run2345]" to you, might I also add that loot is shareable while not being class-specific? That's absolutely right! Although some classes will benefit from some items a little more than others, what we choose to wear, or wield shouldn't be directly tied to the mastery we picked earlier on. Even if not a highly innovative mechanic — I've got that much figured out — it remains a major temptation, resisting to the desire of not moving on to a different character immediately after finding better gear for your secondary build that you've left on rest ever since you found a nutty pair of pistols that could finally carry you through the challenges of endgame dungeons.
An Unorthodox Approach To Basements: The Fun Starts Late .
To you, what is the most important part of a journey? Some may say it's the end that matters most, while others prefer to go with the idea that the roads we take getting there are of a greater value than anything else. Personally, I'd say that alone, neither of them are worth too much, always requiring the other to have some form of impact, however great they can be on their own. Albeit not directly related, the endgame content in games can go a long way in helping us give a more definitive answer to those deep philosophical questions that will inevitably plague our vision during our slow ascent to godhood.
As we travel above and beyond the limits of our mortal body, fear of not knowing "what is out there after we're done here?" should no longer bind us like it would the foolish beings made of flesh and bones we once were; the puny little creatures who would fall victim to the unrealistic image people secretly have of him as their ultimate godly idol. On the other hand, having nada to do after we spend so much time prepping for the supposed grand event we're told to expect from the very first moment we're deployed just to have it turn out as an infinite stretch of nothing that goes on and on isn't that good of a deal either.
While in some other games we will be fully void of significance, doomed to find the same boring ending no matter the choices we make, in the case of Grim Dawn, well... if there is no actual end that we can speak of, could there be a competition? When we already have the cure to any existential crisis that is the ability to join an almost infinite dungeon system in an endless atemporal loophole of pure bliss, our very existence suddenly become all the more brighter, as if we were ever meant for something other than simply existing.
As large as they are mysterious, the sheer size of dungeons in the game gives us a tiny insight, a little peek of the scale of how truly immense the world outside of them really is.
Anyhow, when the talk is making fun a mechanic that revolves around us being manipulated into enjoying the repetition of the same monotone task until eternal satisfaction is achieved, no game in existence does it better than ARPGs–it's engraved in their DNA! Or... that's what I'd like to be saying. An unmistakable characteristic of such games is that by default, people will expect them to last a long time in their hands; they expect longevity, security that once they're finished grinding for the best gear they can find, there will still be uncharted lands to explore, greater heights to reach, or just more content in general. And despite being considered second sense for them, a self-renewable (usually procedurally generated), good endgame content remains not an easy thing to come by naturally.
This so-called "trademark", or just the good relationship of a start, plus end of the stick can be a real pain in the rear to find when we are talking about one that is good enough as to be fluent in both the languages of keeping us engaged for hours, and having this excitement carried into seconds or even thirds (playthroughs). Keeping consistent at this level, while being healthy to its players without the use of dirty tricks under its belt requires some surreal dedication, not to mention a gigantic understanding of its player-base, thus this small thing that a lot of people take for granted can oftentimes be the final wall in the genre that keeps most smaller titles from seeing the light of day.
So, to think that a studio the size of Crate Entertainment has managed to pull off so well those aspects in such a creative manner is, in all honesty, a feat deserving of applause. How they could keep the boat afloat at times others would have sunk to the bottom right away is so worth admiration, and we're already well past the talk of endgame. Grim Dawn is easily and by a long shot one of the greatest and most expansive single-player experiences there is out there, not even limited to genre. And the fact it does that for such a long time in such a polished way, it should most definitely be telling you something about what to expect from whatever a next iteration of the game might look like if it ever comes out.
Final Thoughts: The Dawn Of Day, No Longer A Distant Dream .
As someone who have spent countless hours of my early days immersed in simpler ARPGs, it shouldn't be close to surprising the amount of fun I've had with this one. A few of you will disagree with me in this, but Grim Dawn is, dare I say, hands down one of the greatest to ever grace us with its presence in a seriously long time. Now, do I think it should be crowned the best ARPG of all the time? Well, it depends on a lot of things, mainly if it will still be able to hold its own against the new potential holders of that title which are yet to be released, but I am a firm believer that with all the things there are to consider, it's still surely up to par with whatever sits at the top right now.
That is with the understanding that there are certain things about the game which feel rather unpolished, but it does good to remember the game is still being constantly updated, even to this very day. Just the thought that somebody who starts playing today will get to experience it as fresh as the day it landed, bugs and release-related issues aside, is absolutely nuts for modern age standards. With that said, what else could be there to critique outside of those smaller problems when all the game does is it utilizes a formula that is proven to have worked wonders for an entire generation of gaming in the past, while distilling the knowledge that it didn't have to go too overboard with the idea that it needed to be different or abundantly complicated in order to do well.
When we stop to take into account that most of what is wrong with the game consist more of personal preference than anything else, it becomes difficult to find an excuse for not at least trying the game, even more so if you're already into what it has to offer. In conclusion, an all-around amazing experience I enjoyed every minute of playing through, and I am so very proud, happy I didn't miss out on the chance of playing it right when it first came out, to see it grow into the major step up for the hack 'n' slash genre it has evolved into over the years.
Create new systems and further improves existing ones, making the game feel truly unique, standing out from competing titles.
Rich, well-structured, and very atmospheric world, full of details everywhere that compensate the somewhat outdated graphics.
High replayability value, thanks to the many different classes you can combine, plus the numerous builds you can create.
Pretty balanced overall, with neither too OP nor underpowered fluctuating numbers for both damage dealt and received.
Somewhat dated visuals, animations, models, and textures, but never awful enough as to make the game "unplayable".
A bit on the grindy side, requiring focus and lots of time until you can finally get to the point of being fully satisfied with a build.
Weak story, as is to be expected, that does the trick of being a great accompaniment, but doesn't go an inch beyond that.
Legendary items are a tad too difficult to come by until really late into the game, which can be a bit frustrating to some people.
A perfect choice for the lovers of ARPGs that brings great, original content to the table, and many hours of an incredible adventure. The game is not comparable to a masterpiece but it still stands as one of the most enjoyable experiences there is out there.
12/04/2021 - Caius, The Fiend Slayer