The Isle of Nex, an isolated land of mystery and monsters, has a will of its own. Four prisoners wash ashore, guided through the rocky shoals by a mysterious intelligence. The nature of the convicts’ crimes, even their previous identities, no longer matter as the group of four attempt to survive and escape the deadly designs of the island’s master. It is a simple set up, certainly one that has been used countless times before, but Legend of Grimrock 2 squeezes every bit of traction out of that familiar scenario. The island presents itself as a giant puzzle for the player to solve, a puzzle surrounded by deadly traps and hungry monsters.
Legend of Grimrock 2 is a fascinating look at what game designers can do with relatively simple tools. The gameplay harks back to an older era of PC gaming when the Might and Magic series was in its prime. The entirety of the Isle of Nex, from its dungeons to its sunny landscape and beaches, exists on a colossal grid. Every move players make take them from one square to the next or rotates the camera onto a different face of the square. For those who aren’t prepared for this kind of a world, simply navigating the terrain can feel very bizarre. It takes a while to acclimate to the combat system as well. Two party members make up the frontline, while the remaining two support from the backline. Each character has two hands in which they can equip weapons. Both hands can be clicked to perform an attack with the weapon in that hand. It isn’t the most intuitive system, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit after a while. Due in part to how strange movement and combat can be, Grimrock 2 feels very different from anything else available right now.
While combat can be an exciting prospect, especially when new monsters appear or a boss is encountered, Legend of Grimrock 2 shines when it comes to puzzles. That’s an impressive achievement for a game whose puzzles primarily consist of switches, pressure plates, and block pushing. From that description you’re probably rolling your eyes at the mere prospect of more video game puzzle clichés. You would be right to be skeptical; those tools used in trite and frustrating ways. However, Legend of Grimrock 2 manage through creative design choices to make these generic obstacles fun. There were times when I genuinely felt stumped, only for the solution to smack me in the face an hour later (puzzle based on Rock-Paper-Scissors really had me baffled). Particularly difficult puzzles might include a cryptic riddle that provides a hint as to how to proceed. Whenever a puzzle is solved and a new path opens, Legend of Grimrock 2 gives a strong sense of accomplishment as well as the itch to see what is around the next corner.
I played through the first Legend of Grimrock, which took place entirely within one gigantic dungeon. I was curious how developer Almost Human would handle the transition to more open and natural environments. I’m happy to say that Legend of Grimrock 2 is gorgeous. The outdoor levels exist on a day-night cycle with various lighting conditions that spice up the visuals nicely. It is a bit bizarre when the natural world conforms to the grid patterns that really only make sense in dungeons, but that bit of dissonance dissipates rather quickly. The major boon of having outdoor areas is that the developers were free to create large, sprawling levels. Yes, there are still enormous dungeons, but it is nice to be able to take a break from those and explore a noxious forest, a haunted cemetery, or a sunny beach. There are a variety of different environments that each house unique enemies. From irritating giant frogs that steal equipment to terrifying ogres that can wipe your party with a single successful charge, indie developer Almost Human went to great lengths to make sure there is always something new waiting to surprise and challenge players.
Anyone comparing the sequel to its predecessor can see that while the gameplay is virtually identical, the developers have added more of what made the first game such a successful indie game. There are more environments, more puzzles and traps, more monsters, more classes, more treasures, more game all around. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, but it also keeps video games engaging. There are some holdovers from the first game that feel a bit out of place. For example, the scream that characters make when they die remains the same, as do a number of other sound effects. A few of the monsters make return appearances, like the giant crabs and green slimes. I could even swear that some of the wall textures are reused from the first game. However, none of those things are really terrible or game breaking.
Legend of Grimrock 2 offers a really fantastic amount of customization. There is even an option to skip character customization altogether if it isn’t your thing. There are tons of unique classes that players can choose from when beginning their adventure, like the farmer class, which levels by eating food instead of fighting monsters. Each character can choose one class, two unique traits, and assign two skill points during character creation. After the game has begun, players can’t go back and switch their class or character perks. However, each character gains a skill point with every level and those points can be used to specialize characters into unique niches depending on the needs of the party. While I enjoyed playing around with different mixtures for my party, I found that having two high health, high defense characters in the frontline and two ranged damage dealers in the back row worked best. I eventually settled on minotaur barbarian, a dual-wielding lizardman knight, a human battle mage, and a ratling alchemist proficient with firearms. I think that last part bears repeating: I created a humanoid rat man that makes bombs and shoots guns.
Beyond character creation, players can make Legend of Grimrock 2 more difficult by enabling a number of optional restraints. Old-School Mode eliminates auto-mapping and forces players to either hone their memory or grab graph paper and a pencil to make their own maps. Ironman Mode restricts saving to the healing crystals scattered throughout the world. Single-Use Crystals permanently deactivates healing crystals after they’ve healed your party. I found most of these modes to be cripplingly difficult, with the exception of Ironman Mode. Beware if you’re the masochistic type and unfamiliar with this style of game; don’t ruin the experience for yourself.
Traversing Nex and uncovering its secrets is a fantastically old-school adventure with current-gen graphical polish. Legend of Grimrock 2 consistently entertains in creative and clever ways. The story isn’t terribly interesting, but the puzzles provide the motivation to delve deeper into the island’s many mysteries. The gameplay won’t be for everyone. There is a definite learning curve for combat and movement can feel a bit jerky due to the tile-based nature of the game. For those who can overcome those obstacles, there is a truly exciting undertaking that dips into fantastic unknown depths.
Legend of Grimrock 2 is currently available on PC