|Dev: Crate Entertainment|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
Grim Dawn is an isometric action RPG that pits you against every undead abomination imaginable in an effort to cleanse the world while filling up your inventory with an endless supply of weapons and armor to sift through. It's a tough tale to sell when big publishers with deep pockets are out there playing the monopoly game. But you'll appreciate the quality and almost taste the blood and sweat that has gone into bringing Grim Dawn to life from humble origins.
Crate Entertainment has a singular focus, that being to build and hone Grim Dawn into a game that will leave a mark on a very full page. With an employed crew in the single digits, the road to a finished game is a long one. Thanks to a profitable Kickstarter campaign, the team at Crate has been able to buckle down, delivering Early Access to players through Steam last year. Hard at work since, Act II of the story has just been unlocked, making this a fine time to take the game's alpha build out for a test run.
There are four classes to choose from at the moment – the down and dirty Soldier who barrels into the fray with weapon and shield in hand; the ranged Demolitionist with an array of bomb skills to choose from; the arcane focused Occultist who sends eldritch energy and conjured pets into battle; and the stealthy Nightblade who focuses on quick and lethal strikes. Each has a healthy variety of skills, many of them stringed together with upgrades as you gain levels and spend points. Each ability can also be leveled individually for a boost in stats. The four classes are all satisfyingly different, and even a single class can be played differently depending on how you allocate skill points.
I haven't quite figured out the period of Grim Dawn. I've catalogued weaponry and architecture from Medieval Times all the way to firearms and machinery of the Victorian Era and American frontier. It certainly allows a lot of latitude in placing swords and crossbows alongside sawblades and rifles. It also allows the environments to avoid becoming stagnant, though the creatures that have claimed these areas certainly are.
I was happy to find that after only a short time playing I was working hard to keep my hit points from depleting. Though the health gauge quickly refills outside of combat, trying to take on more than a couple of enemies at a time requires some maneuvering and good skill use. It was a refreshing change from barreling through undead fodder, nabbing every dropped item, and following to road straight to the objective. There are plenty of nooks and a good chunk of land to explore, where you'll possibly find a side quest or an elite group of enemies guarding some decent treasure.
As you'd expect, loot is the biggest draw in games like Grim Dawn, and you will quickly fill your backpack with stuff to sell. It's all about the best damage or armor and what extra perks come along with magical items that give them the edge over the mundane stuff. Fortunately, jumping back and forth from monster infested areas to the "civilized" town of Devil's Crossing is a simple Riftgate away.
Of course this is still an alpha build, and there are plenty of small tweaks to polish as well as major features to add. Cooperative multiplayer is non-existent at the moment, though this is being worked on and expected to be included sometime this year. Item crafting is also a feature in the works, but at the moment you'll have to be satisfied with random drops and purchases through the merchant, though you can bolster equipment with various components which allows some personal customization. The two acts roughly run about eight hours a piece, with more chapters expected before the game gets the final build label.
Small tweaks include things like highlighting new items in the backpack so you don't have to scan through everything every time you open your inventory. Environmental obstacles often act as such, making ranged combat a little more frustrating when you target an enemy but shoot a wall or tree instead. In this respect it would be nice to have to game move you to an open line of sight before making the attack. I've also come across some lagging issues that caused me to lose my cursor on the target.
Despite its drawbacks and missing content, I believe that the Early Access route is the right one to take for Grim Dawn and the handful of developers at Crate Entertainment trying to make it shine. Fans and supporters have gameplay to sink their teeth into, and their constructive criticism is welcomed, while the team putting it together can enjoy sales through Steam to keep the project going. I am incredibly impressed with the quality I have seen thus far, knowing the limited resources the developers have to work with, and am excited to see each update until the final product is polished and ready. It has been and will continue to be a long and painstaking process, but it will be a labor of love.
Date: April 1, 2014