Hello everyone, Clay here with yet another video game review! One subgenre of RPG I particularly love is the Action RPG or ARPG genre, which really came into its own with Diablo, was cemented with Diablo 2, and has grown to encompass many different games such as Titans Quest, FATE, Torchlight, and the focus of today’s review, Grim Dawn.
Grim Dawn was developed by CRATE Entertainment and released on 2/25/2016 and has since seen 2 major expansions (Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods) and one mini DLC expansion (The Crucible). Most of CRATE came from the same team that created Titans Quest, and you can see a lot of similarities between the two games once you get going. However, how does Grim Dawn stack up compared to say Diablo 3, or Path of Exile, or any of the other ARPGs new and old? Well thats what I am here to talk about!
Also I will be discussing the expansions as well, as I own all the parts and pieces to the Grim Dawn package. Truth be told, if you are going to play Grim Dawn, you will want Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods as they complete the story being told in this game. The Crucible can safely be skipped.
This game uses a style that is very reminiscent of Steampunk or something out of the Industrial revolution. Everything is dark, gritty, and for the most part muted. Architecture is gothic in style and almost everything in the world is in a state of decay, which makes sense as Humanity is on its last legs. Your weapons and armor will be dull metals, dark and again, gritty. That’s the best way to really describe the world: Gritty. Even in the brighter areas of the game, things tend to be muted and somber.
Environments are surprisingly varied. You started out in a sort of flooded plains area with some ruined towns and a lot of graveyards, move into a forest surrounding another massive ruined town, and then eventually go into hills, mountains, and large scale ruined cities. Ashes of Malmouth has a full on swamp leading into a super massive ruined city, and Forgotten Gods adds a huge desert environment to the mix. The environments flow into each other well, as the large scale world is mostly seamless as well. The mood the visuals convey fits the theme of this world, one ruined by war between two enemy factions with humans caught in the middle.
The actual visual effects used for your character are also solid. Not super flashy for the most part, each attack looks good for the most part. However, things can get pretty hectic on screen at times with enough attacks from both you and your enemies firing, and the ground effects used for things like Aetherfire and regular fire can make figuring out what exactly is hurting you a chore. It can be messy on screen frequently especially if you are playing a spell heavy build.
The UI can also be a tad confusing to get used to with its layout, but once you get used to how you setup your hotbars and loot filters it gets better.
AUDIO & SOUND DESIGN
First and foremost the music reminds me of Diablo 2 in all the right ways. Its guitar heavy, moody, and somber pretty much all the way through, punctuated by more frantic tones when a boss battle or action heavy encounter occurs. The music also does not loop, so you will sometimes be wandering in silence, adding to the atmosphere of the game as a whole. There is some voice acting here and there, and its decent work but nothing stellar. It’s very infrequent and honestly, you could turn it off and never miss it.
The sound design is pretty solid as well. Attacks and abilities have great sound design. I played an Oathkeeper, and my primary attack was throwing my shield at enemies like Captain America, and every time it hit the dull clang was wonderful to hear. Explosions, screams, all of it is great and again fits the tone and mood of this very dark somber game.
STORY & WORLD
Let’s start with the base games storyline. There will be some slight spoilers here to how things play out, but I will be keeping most of the major stuff hidden away. You start the game by, well, being hanged by the neck in an effort to kill you.
You see, in the world of Grim Dawn, Humanity is on its last legs and the survivors have holed up in various strongholds trying to deal with a dual threat. On one side, we have the Aetherials, spirit beings that can possess humans and on the other we have the cults who worship the Chthonians, horrible demonic beings from another realm. Both sides want to control or kill the Humans, and you start the game being possessed by an Aetherial. The only way to kill an Aetherial is to kill its vessel before the Aetherial escapes, and as you are hung out to die, the being leaves your body and you are cut down.
You awaken with the unique ability to open Rift Gates, and from there you go on a long journey to help the last survivors of Humanity do just that: Survive. Along the way you end up focusing your efforts on the Chthonian threat mostly, and end the game killing a horrible demonic entity they attempted to summon, ending their power.
Ashes of Malmouth however deals with the Aetherial threat as well as tying up the loose ends left over at the end of the base game. Now I did not finish the Ashes of Malmouth storyline, but I did get about half way through and I can tell you that it was engaging up to that point, with plenty of interesting factions. Finally, Forgotten Gods takes place after Ashes, and has you dealing with the forgotten gods of the world, the three witch gods, and their attempts to come back now that the Aetherials and Chthonians have been dealt with.
The world building in this game is fairly passive, all things considered. Most of the story is from dialog you get when taking quests, and journals you pick up out in the world. However, you can frequently miss things, and when the game decided the Chthonians were my main threat for example in the base storyline, I got really confused. I had no idea where that decision had been made, but at that point I was having too much fun just killing enemies and exploring this hand crafted world I simply did not care. Overall, the story and world are solid, but you could just as easily not pay attention to the story and miss very little, all things considered.
The best way I can describe the gameplay of this game is as follows: More complex and with more depth then Diablo 3, but not as much as Path of Exile. The game uses your standard click to move control scheme, with 2 hotbars and both Left and Right click as bindable to any attack or spell you have learned. You have a Rift power which is your town portal as well, a grid based inventory system, shared and personal Stash with multiple tabs you can purchase, and a crafting system very similar to Diablo 3 with randomized crafts using materials you find.
There are a couple of oddities however. First, your gear is not colored the way most of us long time ARPG players are used to. Traditionally, in an ARPG, white items are common, blue are magic, yellow are rare, green are Set, and orange are unique/legendary. If you add in Purple from MMOs as epics, you get the standard gear color progression. However, in grim dawn things get odd! White are still common, but YELLOW are magic, GREEN are Rare, BLUE are Epic, and PURPLE are Legendary. It can take some serious getting used to in order to deal with this seemingly simple shift and it honestly bugs the hell outta me.
Additionally, the game has 2 primary systems that are very different from pretty much every ARPG save for Titans Quest: The mastery system, and the Devotion system. Starting with the Devotion system, these are points you earn from cleansing shrines out in the world, which you then use to unlock Constellations in this huge star chart. These unlocks give you new passive effects like 10% more life, or 15% more fire damage, as well as Powers that you attach to your spells and attacks, such as one that summons Meteors with a 15% chance to trigger every time you use the skill it’s attached to. It’s very similar to the Passive Skill tree in Path of Exile and there is a lot of customization to it, as you must unlock earlier constellations to get access to later ones. Here is a prime example, using my own Devotion Tree from my Shieldbreaker.
Use of an offline skill planner is heavily suggested for this. There is a good one right here.
The second primary system is the Mastery system. You see, rather than having defined classes like Warrior, Mage, or Warlock, the game has a total of 9 Masteries (6 in the base game, 2 from Ashes of Malmouth, and 1 from Forgotten Gods). You choose your first mastery at level 2, which gives you a set of skills unique to that mastery. Then at level 10 you choose a second mastery tree, giving you 2 skill trees and a unique class name. The 6 masteries in the base game are Soldier, Demolitionist, Arcanist, Occultist, Nightblade, and Shaman. Ashes of Malmouth added the Inquisitor and Necromancer, and Forgotten Gods added the Oathkeeper. My character is a Demolitionist / Oathkeeper, which gives me the unique class name of Shieldbreaker.
Each mastery tree is made up of a collection of Passive skills, Active powers, and modifiers to those active powers. Blackwater Cocktail is an active power in the Demolitionist tree, for example, that has a few modifiers connected to it in a line, giving it increased damage, a new damage type, and more. It’s also easy to tell active and passives apart in your mastery trees, as actives are Square, Passives are Round, and if a passive is a modifier it will have a line connecting it to a Square active. Further, you have your Mastery Bar, which is at the bottom and gives you raw Stats (Physique, Cunning, and Spirit) as well as more HP and Energy. You need to put points in your mastery bar in order to unlock more skills as you progress. You get 3 skill points per level up to level 50, and then it tapers off to 2 after that. You also get 1 Stat point every level which you can put into your Physique, Cunning, and Spirit, which increases your damage types, health, and so one as well as allow you to equip better gear.
The sheer amount of available builds here is quite large. I think there is roughly (if you include both expansions) 72 possible combinations (9 x 8) all of which are viable, although some are more viable then others. You can do pure pet builds, caster builds, bizarre hybrid builds, the works. Hell even my Shieldbreaker was built in a way unique to me, with a focus on the Aegis on Menhir skill (where you throw your shield and it bounces between enemies) and I also focused on Fire Damage. But I could have used any other skill from Demolitionist and Oathkeeper as a primary attack and done just fine.
Another interesting feature of the game is the fact that it is a hand crafted world and not procedurally generated. The maps are static, with one a few things moving around (such as hidden areas and their entrances). There are “Roguelike Dungeons” you can access eventually, which require a crafted key and have randomized layouts as an activity, but by and large every zone will always be the same, which makes finding your way around easy enough. Forgotten Gods and Ashes of Malmouth really don’t change the gameplay up, but rather add new areas, bosses, items, and the masteries to the game. Also, one final thing: All areas have level scaling to a point, and the game also uses the classic 3 tiered difficulty settings. You have Normal, Elite, and Ultimate, and the only way to ever reach 100 is to get to Ultimate, which requires beating elite and normal. There is also a faction system in game, as well as randomized bounty quests you can do if you need objectives to complete.
Now, Forgotten Gods adds one unique system called “The Shattered Realm” which is basically the RIFT system from Diablo 3, or the Atlas from Path of Exile. You enter the Realms, you have a time limit for bonus loot, and your objective is to kill your way forward in an ever increasingly difficult world with stacking modifiers to you and the enemies. It’s fun and a good side activity for when you just want to kill things and get loot, and challenge your build.
And here is where I will talk about the Crucible. This is an alternative game mode where you can use your character to fight in wave battles against enemies, earning rewards for every wave you complete. It has its own difficulty system as well. It’s a fun activity but it can get boring really quickly. It is good for leveling up fast though. However, with Shattered Realms being in the Forgotten Gods expansion this is honestly even more skippable then it was already to me.
Grim Dawn is, without a doubt, one of the best Action RPGs on the market right now. It’s got a great blend of accessibility and complexity that for me, just puts it above other games like Path of Exile and Diablo 3. Plus, once you own it, you own it, and it does not require an internet connection to play! It does feature multiplayer if that’s your thing as well.
However, you will want both Ashes of Malmouth AND Forgotten Gods to get the complete package, as they add tons of items, areas, quests, and the 3 additional masteries to the game. Plus they finish the story begun in the base game.
If you are a fan of Action RPGs and have not played Grim Dawn I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.
You can purchase Grim Dawn at the following locations:
The CRATE Website: https://www.grimdawn.com/contribute_buynow01.php