Grim Dawn is an ARPG made by Crate Entertainment – largely refugees from Iron Lore, who made Titan Quest – which I have previously mentioned being excited for. Now that the game has reached Alpha stage it has been available to various backers and such, and having spent a decent amount of time with it now I’m ready to share some thoughts on the game. Do remember it’s still an alpha so nothing I say should be taken as absolute.
If you’ve played Titan Quest then Grim Dawn will immediately feel very familiar. The engine is the same and there haven’t been truly revolutionary changes in that regard. That said they’ve not been idle either and the engine is certainly a lot more impressive than it was in TQ. At first I was a little wary and wondered if I hadn’t just booted up a reskin of TQ, but Grim Dawn soon reveals that it has made a lot of changes from that game and the engine similarities aren’t indicative of the whole experience.
There are two major things I want to praise about this game. The first is that the pacing and character advancement seems to be spot-on, even though it’s still just an alpha. Leveling is far faster than the incredibly slow experience in TQ, where it rapidly became a chore. You similarly pick from a ‘Mastery’ – a skill tree – and can pick a second after a few levels to make a hybrid character. As you advance through these trees you obviously gain more powers and abilities, both passive and active, and there’s a pretty nice big mix of different things you can choose from. You can also spread skill points thinly or focus narrowly, and I’ve not played enough different characters to say for certain yet but it does seem both are viable in different ways. I never felt really overpowered unless I went back to older zones, and challenges were commonplace without being either overbearing or unreasonably hard. Basically GD has taken any criticisms and comments about TQ and worked to address them, and it has done so very successfully. Given that TQ is one of the better examples of the genre to begin with that says something about how GD is handling things.
The second, and perhaps even more impressive achievement, given the genre’s pedigree, is that loot is damn well balanced. Not just in terms of giving you appropriate items, but inasmuch as you’re not inundated with tons of useless crap and vendor trash. You pretty quickly are able to graduate into only picking up yellow or better items for sale, and for my part I never felt like I was being punished because I wanted to get on and play instead of constantly warping back to town to sell stuff. On the other hand rare drops are indeed fairly rare, but they tend to come with stats that really do make them unquestionably better than anything else you’ll find at that level. Unless you get something for a totally different class it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll very often discard a new blue item because your current green is better. There does need to be a little more tweaking of the ‘gem’ equivalents in the game, I think, but nothing terribly drastic there.
Between those two major factors already existing at this stage the game really seems to be refining the ARPG genre to a fine polish so I’m eagerly awaiting new content updates with the arrival of the beta. That all said there are a couple of things that could do with some improvement. The sounds in the game aren’t terribly inspiring and contribute to a niggling sense that your weapons and attacks lack ‘Oomph’ (the music is superb though). Guns especially feel like they fall short of this, and whilst guns in reality rarely sound like they do on the movie screen, these more subdued and realistic sounds in GD make the things feel quite weak. Similarly, although there’s not much you can do about it given the nature of the genre, attacks in general can sometimes feel rather lightweight regardless of the damage they actually do. It’s especially strange because I never really shared this feeling in Titan Quest, where combat wasn’t the most immersive ever but never felt like it fell short either in that regard. So I would say the one big area the game needs to look at improving over the coming months is that the combat needs to become more visceral, to feel like there’s more impact and power to blows, and a bigger bang with guns and bombs.
Despite those concerns the game is shaping up to be something pretty darned good, especially for still being in alpha. Due to the limited content so far I can’t really recommend the buy-in price for alpha access at this point ($50) unless you’re a huge fan of the genre and really jonesing for a fix, but if you want to hop on the beta bandwagon when that rolls around I’d be very surprised if you don’t get your money’s worth, and I’m confident that by the time release rolls around we’re gonna have a pretty damn good ARPG on our hands.