Grim Dawn Review | MOUSE n JOYPAD


I’m a huge fan of ARPGs. By huge, I mean something along the lines of spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours in games such as Diablo 2, Torchlight, Titan Quest and lately, Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2. It’s a genre that’s a awfully simple when you think about it, yet is perfectly designed to satisfy our monkey brains in many ways other games cannot. You select or build a character that keeps getting developed in several different ways over the course of the game, who gains experience by killing enemies, which in turn drop all kinds of swanky loot that empowers your avatar even further. This is what absolutely every ARPG is about, in essence, and that’s really all it ever needs to be. A good developer can set these mechanics up in a way that’s infinitely replayable. Add fun items and lots of gameplay content to the mix and you’ve got a winner. This is exactly what happened with Grim Dawn, and boy what a winner this game is.


My trenchcoat, my hound and my bird. Oh, and a massive crossbow as well.

Developed by Crate Entertainment, the brains and brawns behind the cult classic Titan Quest, Grim Dawn shares more than a passing resemblance with its spiritual predecessor. The setting, however, couldn’t differ more. Whereas most games place us in the thick of the situation and have us rescue the world from an imminent apocalypse, Grim Dawn pulls no such endeavours. Instead, the game begins well after the world has already been pillaged. The titular event represents the coming of the Aetherals, ancient rulers of the world, and their subsequent invasion of Cairn. They passed a large number of people and proceeded with killing off those who couldn’t be converted. Once dead, these humans were then revived and used as fodder against the enclaves of human survivors. As if this wasn’t enough, the otherworldly horrors of the Cthonians made their move as well, intent on using the precious blood of whatever humans they could get their tendrils on to summon more of their kind to Cairn. The Cthonians and the Aetherals hate each others’ guts, also, and fight against one another whenever possible. So it’s a three-way, really, making the matters that much more intense.

Why is this relevent in an ARPG, you might be wondering. Well, while the storyline of Grim Dawn may well be as default as they get in the genre, its lore is decidedly not. There’s an abundance of notes strewn around the game world offering insight into various NPCs and even enemies, as well as the state of Cairn before the Grim Dawn and after it took place as well. Reading these is not for everybody, just as listening to the dialogue isn’t either, and I’m well aware that some people will choose to ignore this aspect of the game, but Crate managed to create a deeply atmospheric and fascinating game world that feels connected and believable. I’m sure you’ll agree that’s quite an achievement for a game such as this, no? The numerous factions you’ll encounter phase into this as well, and since you’ll have to make some difficult choices every now and again over the course of the game, it’s not a bad thing to be invested just a tiny bit, if nothing else. For example, one of the early side quests (of which there are many) has you encountering a wounded man lying on the side of the road. He asks you to track down his former comrade and kill him for betraying him so. In any other ARPG this would have been a pure fetch quest, yet here you’re offered a chance of conversing with said assailant. Apparently, the wounded dude, your target’s former friend, tried to rape his daughter, and the man you were sent to kill defended her. You can still murder the man in cold blood, but there are other options as well, and this more organic approach to grind is conducive to the rest of the game as well. Another side quest will see your stronghold prettified while some others may allow you access to more traders at once. Now that I think about it, a surprisingly small amount of quests is mandatory, and the experience is much more sandboxey and non-linear than we’ve come to expect from games such as Grim Dawn. And it’s quite an experience to be killing monsters in a world as atmospheric as Cairn is.


Sometimes, you just gotta pull up those sleeves and perform a genocide.

If you’ve ever played Titan Quest, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Grim Dawn works, gameplay-wise, even though this game offers much more bang for your buck. Not only does Grim Dawn feature the dual-class selection mechanic and horizontal skill “trees” just as Titan Quest did, allowing for a massive amount of customization according to your wishes, but there’s also an endgame system similar to that of, say, The Elder Scrolls V, whereas by completing special tasks you’ll unlock star-nodes in constellations of your choice. Devotion, it’s called, and it’s a boon when you finally reach endgame.

Regarding the dual-class mechanic, I cannot praise this design choice enough. Depending on your chosen masteries, the game plays vastly differently with each consecutive upgrade to your skills. Do you want to be a tanky damage dealer? Soldier/Demolitionist will suit your needs well with the Soldier’s high survivability and Demolitionist’s highly-damaging AOE attacks. Perhaps being a melee spellcaster with a dash of stealth suits you better? Go for Arcanist and Nightblade, both of which offer interesting magical interactions between skills. Alternatively, by combining Nightblade with Shaman, you’ll get a right and proper minion leader who will have a small army of permanent and temporary tokens striking the enemy instead of him. There are six Masteries to choose from: Soldier, Arcanist, Nightblade, Demolitionist, Occultist and Shaman, which means there are 36 possible character classes as of now, and that’s before going into all the different skills that can be unlocked as you level up. Devotion comes as an augment to and defines your playstyle even further, so you can imagine just how much stuff there is to find, attain and/or unlock.


If by ‘best parts’ you mean ‘loot’, I’m in!

This being the post-apocalypse and all that, your starting equipment will be poorly-maintained flintlock rifles, rusty cleavers and musty leather-bound tomes, among others. Similarly, scrap is a key resource in establishing safe routes to other areas of the world, so you’ll be fighting for stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Fallout, interestingly enough. As you progress and more powerful items start dropping, the visual theme changes as well, and you’ll be wearing wide-brimmed hats and trenchcoats in no-time. Every single piece of equipment stays true to the universe Crate have established here, naturally, but the change in quality and, naturally, power is an interesting thing to behold here. Every piece of equipment can also be altered via all kinds of components that empower said item even further. It’s the equivalent of magical gems in every other ARPG, really, but more interesting because in Grim Dawn, you’ll be using actual blessed ammunition or ancient armour plates and whatnot. Then there’s the blacksmithing, unique faction quests and items, maintaining relations with whatever faction your prefer further down the line and such. All in all, in the 35 or so hours that will take you to complete the game, you will have touched upon so many gameplay mechanics that you’ll absolutely have to go play new game plus. Or perhaps start a new character, if you so desire.

The point is, there’s so much things to do in Grim Dawn that it’s practically guaranteed to keep you busy for over fifty hours at least. The combat is definitely fun enough for that to happen, even though hit detection and feedback is sometimes a tad too wonky for my tastes. Grim Dawn is brutal and bloody, so expect lots of guts and gore getting strewn around the screen as you take a zombie’s head off with an automatic shotgun, which is a welcome change compared to the sterile world of Titan Quest, if I might say.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the developers have begun working on a proper expansion of Grim Dawn along the lines of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction with new classes and all that. Additionally, a Survival mode will also be coming in the future; perhaps as a small piece of downloadable content – it’s not yet been confirmed. As you can hopefully tell by now, this game has more meat on its bones than most modern AAA releases do. And if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s practically a must.

When it comes to the technical stuff, I’m happy for the most part as well. While certainly not groundbreaking, Grim Dawn looks good enough – it’s the moody atmosphere, solid post-processing and good textures that keep it afloat in this day and age, even though it’s painfully obvious the development started way back when games weren’t quite as pretty as today. The soundtrack, on the other hand, I have no qualms with, as it fits the game perfectly and is highly reminiscent of that of Diablo 2 – in the best possible way. If only the death animations were more brutal…

A man can dream.

The voice-over is a mixed bag as well, for even though it’s serviceable for the most part and certainly has its moments, it also comes off as clumsy and perhaps redundant in some cases, but I can live with that. Be mindful of the fact that Grim Dawn is strangely optimized however, and that your framerate will be decimated every once in a while for seemingly no reason at all. We’ll see if Crate can cook something up in that regard now that the game is out, because it’s a rare fault in a gem such as this.

In conclusion, I would like to say that Grim Dawn is easily one of the best ARPGs ever to come out, and will likely become a personal favourite in my library. Again, if you’re a fan of the genre there’s absolutely no excuse not to give it a shot and, most importantly, support the developers who have made this experience possible. Great job Crate Entertainment – keep it up.