It feels like I’ve spent years waiting for another ARPG to surface. Then, like buses, they’ve all come along at once. You can never have enough ARPG action though, what with digging into stats, collecting cool items and learning skills, it’s all part of the fun. So let’s welcome the latest player on the scene, Grim Dawn.
Last week, Crate Entertainment launched the game’s alpha test. Grim Dawn feels like it’s been in development for ages; probably because it has been in development for ages. Quite a few years, in fact. But there’s a reason for that: lack of funds, in combination with a desire to keep sticky publisher paws off the IP and resulting sales has meant Crate have not taken the easy route to getting this game made.
Crate Entertainment’s Arthur Bruno can be quite outspoken when he talks about traditional publishing models. After all, he was dealing with THQ for Titan Quest when he was at Iron Lore.
Shift a few years on and self funding your own game is the norm, but it’s taken Crate some time to get the cash together to bring Grim Dawn to an alpha test stage. After augmenting their funds though Kickstarter, Crate brought on more team members and for the past 6-8 months they’ve been cracking on with getting an alpha version released for their funding backers.
Grim Dawn is pretty much everything you would expect from an ARPG. Clicky-click to kill, a stack of skills to master, classes, the whole lot. It lives up to its name, too. The game world feels grim and broken down.
The setting is Carin, a place where two evil factions have been hell-bent on wiping out the human race. Few humans have survived, but those that have made it through the turmoil are now scattered around Cairn. While the nasty guys fight each other for control, the humans have been watching and learning supernatural skills (the ones that will become available to you as you play.) Humans are crafty and if they wait long enough there will be a perfect moment to strike back. This is where the adventure begins.
Created using an enhanced version of the Titan Quest engine, Cairn is gloomy and a rather inhospitable place. Starting out in a lovely spot called Devil’s Crossing, quests are dished out in true exclamation mark fashion. That’s the cue for the old romp of levelling up, collecting loot and getting to grips with the skills of the three main classes to begin.
The game starts out at a reasonable pace with levelling occurring often in the early stages, but that’s not to say this game is easy. In fact, it’s pretty punishing at times. With health and energy bars keeping you alive, the drops on potions are few and far between. That’s not a negative criticism, in fact it’s refreshing to be challenged right out the blocks. Of course this is still an alpha test and there’s still lots of tweaks to be done to drops and class balancing as testing progresses.
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Grim Dawn includes everything you would expect to find in ARPG with a focus on gear and itemisation. Progress can only really be sustained by hunting down the decent items, which of course means killing everything possible and looking for decent drops inside object such as crates, barrels and chests. It’s hard to tell at this stage if Grim Dawn is really bringing anything new to the genre but it’s got all the right ingredients to tick the boxes of ARPG fans.
Again, it is tough. Even in early stages I was finding death a common occurrence with the Soldier class, which means you need to make damn sure you have waypoint Riftgates tagged so as not to have to walk too far back to your ragged corpse. Find the corpse, regain any experience and you’re up and running again.
To boost those important combat abilities, players can pick up additional item components which can then be slotted into weapons or armor. Slot more than one component in and the gear gets more of a statistical boost. There are even items that can give you skills. It’s this level of micromanaging your gear that should appeal to ARPG gamers who love to pour over the stats on every sword or helm.
As Grim Dawn is using a modified Titan Quest engine there are still some remnants of its game mechanics lurking under the hood. At the moment some skills need to be tapped on the action bar then targeted on the ground, which makes casting quite tricky. This mechanic is apparently going to be changed to a simple click with the skill going off where the mouse pointer is. It’s more of an issue with the Demolitionist and Occultist classes at the moment, but hopefully it will change pretty soon.
Crate obviously want their players to feel like they have some real control of the game and it’s fantastic to see the ability to rotate the camera 360 degrees. That may sound like a simple feature but it does add that little something extra to the experience. No complaints as far as the game art is concerned either; it perfectly captures the dark atmosphere of Cairn, and being able to zoom quite far out means more of the play area is visible, allowing you to soak it all up.
Having only sunk about ten hours into the alpha test so far, it’s reassuring to see that Crate understand what makes a solid ARPG. All the right foundations are already in place, which means that with further testing and feedback another solid title could soon burst onto the scene. Let’s also not forget the possibility of modding the game in the future, and the muitiplayer which is not currently open in the alpha test.
We’ll be taking a further look at the game in the weeks ahead as we advance with cross-over classes and more. Also, watch out for an interview with Crate’s Arthur Bruno in the coming days.
Gamers who fancy having a crack at the alpha can get onboard now by purchasing the $50 tier from the official Grim Dawn website.
Watch the IncGamers Plays of Grim Dawn, in which Paul tackles the undead hordes.