I love a good puzzle. Whether noticing a tiny detail that is askew and unravelling the larger knot it conceals or finding a solution to a problem based on the facts presented, the feeling of satisfaction and triumph I get from solving puzzles is near unbeatable.
Thus, when I heard nostalgic dungeon-crawler Legend of Grimrock was getting a sequel (the aptly titled Legend of Grimrock 2) I was more than a little intrigued.
The opening cut scene lays out the bare bones narrative: during a storm, a ship at sea is lured onto rocks by mysterious forces, wrecking it. The only survivors are four prisoners being kept in a cage in the hold. When they wash up on the shores of the sinister Isle of Nex, the quest to escape begins – but it soon becomes clear there is someone else on the island pulling the strings.
In a nutshell, Grimrock 2 is everything its predecessor was done bigger, better, prettier and puzzlier. The map is huge, far larger than the area Grimrock 1 covered, and much more varied. With the island providing natural prison walls, Grimrock 2 offers the opportunity to explore the wider world – where Grimrock 1 was limited to stone walls and flickering torchlight, Grimrock 2 has everything from sandy beaches to rustling woods; rushing rivers to gloomy bogs, as well as the obligatory dungeon here and there. This allows for a much wider range of interaction, not to mention a greater variety of puzzles to pick through. Sound is still limited to ambient noise rather than a full on soundtrack, but this helps add to the feeling of isolation the Isle of Nex is shrouded in.
And isolated I felt, despite the fact my protagonist is actually four protagonists. As in the first game, Grimrock 2 has you select (or be assigned) your party of four, building their character via their race and class. This feels much more flexible second time around, not only due to the wider range of choice (an additional race has been added, along with four new character classes) but also because their various attributes make for a much less linear evolution of your characters than previously. Health and vitality are influenced by race and class but there’s nothing stopping your Fighter from picking up a bit of magic, nor your Wizard from investing a few more points in brute strength.
This character-building process is important for when it comes time to do battle with one of the many enemies dotted around the island. Like the characters themselves, there are both new and old faces here: giant snapping tortoises and howling wolves join the ranks of walking toadstools and dungeon-dwelling crabs. Each enemy both deals and takes different amounts of damage so fights should always be entered into with as much preparation as possible.
One thing that unfortunately hasn’t changed is the combat itself. Being a tile-based game, my party was confined to a single tile at a time, two in front and two in back, moving as one unit. Characters at the front slash and bash whilst those at the rear throw whatever they have, be it knives, rocks or magic spells. Both your characters and enemies move in real time so this regularly resulted in the same course of action; a simultaneously tedious and frenetic dance around enemies waiting for cool down periods to end. This was often made all the more frantic with the knowledge I had one character with a sliver of health left and six more enemies with guns to take out – not to mention the last life crystal was a good half a map away!
However, while this turned me off before I ever reached the end of Grimrock 1 (despite loving the game) I found it a much more reasonable price to pay for the puzzles of Grimrock 2. Like its predecessor, Grimrock 2 is chock full of brainteasers designed to get you thinking; some easy and others completely mind-breaking. No matter where on the difficulty spectrum they fall, I can assure you they are fantastic, masterfully treading that fine line between giving enough of a hint for you to notice their presence or work out their solution whilst leaving you feeling like Sherlock Holmes for having figured it out. One puzzle had me traversing all over the map looking for an item that I was sure would open a locked door for me, based only on the fact that there was a statue near the door I was sure I had seen earlier, but couldn’t remember where!
At times, it even felt as though the game was anticipating my hyper-alertness. I often found myself over-thinking things or questioning the smallest detail: does that brick look a little different to the others? Why is that object there? How do I get to that enemy I can clearly see through the trees? Other times I would have something obvious in front of me, such as a pressure plate on the floor, and would examine it in every way possible trying to figure out what the trick was.
The good news about the puzzles is that, unlike enemy fights, they’re not all necessary for game progression, meaning if you really get stuck (and you will get stuck) you can usually continue on elsewhere and come back to them later, should you want to. The better news is you will want to as solving puzzles is not only immensely satisfying, it often results in finding loot that will make future progression a lot easier. I found the only feeling that came anywhere near beating the sense of triumph I got from solving another seemingly-impossible problem was the one I got just before opening the previously locked door or chest and discovering new items to play with.
If all this isn’t enough to keep you satisfied, Grimrock 2 offers the same range of additional game options as Grimrock 1 did to create new challenges, such as old school mode, in which mapping is disabled and you must arm yourself with pencil and paper to keep track of where you are, or ironman mode, in which life crystals are one use only. Should that still not be enough, there is always the option to play puppetmaster and make your own dungeon or, eventually, play through dungeons created by other players.
Grimrock 2 is basically a larger, more elaborate version of Grimrock 1 and is all the better for it. Every time I managed to clear out an area to my satisfaction, I would open another one, revealing a whole new array of directions to explore and puzzles to solve. Despite the clunky combat, there is a lot of joy to be derived from creating your perfect party and methodically equipping them as you progress through the game.
Oh, and did I mention the puzzles?
You can find out more about Legend of Grimrock 2 at grimrock.net
Disclosure: a review key for Legend of Grimrock 2 was provided to ind1e.com for the purposes of this preview prior to the game’s release.