The apocalypse has already come and gone. Humanity stands rather divided in its factions with some still holding on to previous ideals and others simply praying to survive one more day. Being lynched isn’t quite the best way to start your day but unfortunately for you, you’ve been possessed and it was time to die. Not wanting to go down with the mortal coil that it took over, the spirit that took over your body leaves in the nick of time. Barely surviving, you are cut down from the tree and are allowed to live. Asked to help out the small settlement known as Devil’s Crossing, you pick up your weapon and head out into the aftermath of what has become known as the Grim Dawn.
I originally wrote about Grim Dawn back in its earlier Early Access stages before multiplayer was even implemented and am happy to say that it stands very well on its own but is made even better with a partner. Honestly, can you think of a better way to face the aftermath of the apocalypse than with a friend? Now having fully released short of a new feature DLC release that is incoming and known as the Crucible (Survival Wave Mode), I figured it was a good time to dive back into this world both solo and with a said partner.
Grim Dawn is very easy to get into but be warned that there is a lot of reading ahead as players can examine and then choose from one of six classes to start off with. Classes on top of fitting into one of three categories (physique, cunning, and spiritual) come with skills that are either usable, passive, or additions onto the previous two. The Nightblade, one of my favorite classes that uses cunning (dexterity) and dual-wields, is a great example of using additions. Looking at the screenshot below, the top leftmost skill is dual-wielding. Most of the following are all additions for either permanent effects such as poison or percent chances to activate for some serious damage. Reading through this list and the skills below is important because there are some that just don’t suit my play style but others do which is what this class system does well. Just because you have multiple Nightblades running around does not mean that they work in the same manner. Personalization is a huge factor to Grim Dawn.
Leveling is interesting. Characters receive one stat and three skill points to be used as they see fit. Alright that sounds pretty standard but what isn’t is that skills instead of being locked by level are locked by points put into the class which can also be seen in the screenshot above. Each point increases a class’s basic stats and allows for higher level skills to be learnt. If a skill doesn’t work out later down the line then it is easy to undo these by going back to Devil’s Crossing and undoing what was done through an NPC. While skill points can be refunded, points that were put into the class cannot be as these are permanent.
After reaching level ten a second class can be chosen with no restrictions. This second class actually never needs to have points put in or even used as my brother opted to be a pure Nightblade while I had fun boosting element magic damage through the Arcanist class. Both Nightblade and Arcanist do frost damage and the poison was an added bonus. With two classes however it becomes a little more tricky to get what you want as there are still only three skill points that are granted. After level fifty things become even trickier as skill points are decreased by one. I’ll know for sure hitting level one-hundred if it a) goes past that point and if it b) decreases by one again.
Gameplay is rather smooth. You left-click to go somewhere or attack and right-click to use a skill and hit something. The numbers on the keyboard all relate to skills and potions that can also be used, pretty much the standard setup for a PC hack and slash of this type. These all come in use during your explorations which is what much of your time will be spend doing while jumping between main quests, side jobs, or hunting down bounties in order to increase your relationship with a group of people, and thus the merchandise that can only be accessed if they like you. There will be a lot of back and forth but thankfully having been possessed even for a while wasn’t all that bad as you are allowed to use the rifts that beings now pour out of.
Rifts are basically Waypoints in order to quickly travel between once they have been unlocked. Some simply need to be walked up to and they open up their capabilities while others need to be fought for which can lead to some intense but satisfying fights. On top of having access to the rift network, players can open a rift at any point in time and then travel through any of the known locations or any rift opened by another player. This makes meeting up easy as one player simply needs to open a rift once another player joins instead of them having to run from the closest rift point which in some cases is anything but close.
Through exploration there will be shrines that can be encountered and regardless of playing alone or in coop, these shrines are player and character specific. Shrines come in two types, the first type requires specific items to be given over and the second much more interestingly requires nothing but a good old fashioned brawl. Performing either action Restores a shrine granting the character a Devotion point.
Devotion points, unlike skill points, are used on a constellation based system that works on affinites. This requires some serious planning in order to get what you want. Like the shrines that they hail from, there are two types of constellations that can be formed. The first of these grant a fair number of affiliation points to unlock higher level constellations and the second grant extra abilities that can be attached to skills at the cost of next to no affiliation. Regardless of your path, each point unlocked grants a bonus from extra piercing damage to more basic stat points by adding a fair amount into one or more of the physique, cunning, and spiritual character stat categories.
Skills learned through devotion can be attached to any other skill that the player has. Attaching these to skills that are used often is a good idea as these attachments, that are sometimes skills themselves, gain experience and level up to and become stronger over time. Being picky is going to be important as Shrines aren’t just everywhere and there’s a limited number of them kicking around so it is good to know what you want and how much it’s going to cost to get it.
With all of the talk of classes, skills, and exploration there’s one thing that stands out through all of it and it’s boss fights. These are awesome and even with just the first one, this is not my final form comes into play. Thankfully these are reasonably done with only two phases but it changes up the pace and lets you know that you’ve got to sink or swim. The music changes, the enemy monologues unless there’s an insertion for your own snarky remarks, and they are more than just another mob or standard boss type that we’ve all seen before. These fights are very well done and make for a good distraction from all of the exploration basically making following the main quest line worthwhile even if there’s so much more to see and fight to fill up that awesome bar we call an experience meter.
Crate Entertainment has put enormous effort into Grim Dawn since they’ve started which was clear to see throughout the various stages of its Early Access development. As it stands now there are still constant updates and the Crucible or even Custom Game option have yet to be implemented*. With a great game already in place for a solo or coop experience, it’s entirely possible to see more added as a quick look at the world map shows that only a portion has thus far been used. Regardless of the case, Grim Dawn is up there for Hack and Slash RPGs.
*The “option” is there for a Custom Game but it doesn’t have anything to go in there as of yet.
Article by Pierre-Yves