Current ARPGs tend to vary in terms of extremes. On one hand you have simplified approaches like Diablo 3 and Torchlight, while on another hand you’ve got a system of complex options and character builds in Path of Exile. There didn’t truly seem to be any sort of middle ground… until now. Welcome to Grim Dawn, the game that seems to be attempting to reach the sweet spot between complexity and a streamlined experience.
Grim Dawn is an early access title being developed by the team behind Titan Quest – well a lot of the team behind Titan Quest. In fact, fans of Titan Quest will find a lot of familiar parallels, which is exciting, but there are a number of aspects missing. A lot of Titan Quest’s charm was found in its art design and intuitive overlay that streamlined the gear grind. Obviously Grim Dawn is being developed on a much smaller budget than Titan Quest was, but some of the enemy designs and the dreary world layout make this feel like it’s in need of a bit more work before it sees its final release. The interface in particular feels much clunkier than its spiritual predecessor, making this game seem a bit more tedious than necessary.
"Welcome to Grim Dawn, the game that seems to be attempting to reach the sweet spot between complexity and a streamlined experience."
What Grim Dawn absolutely does right is its classes, or Masteries. Each character is given a choice of mastery with which they start. These masteries are the Soldier, a fierce warrior focused on close range attacks that scatter enemies across the battlefield; Occultist, a summoner of sorts, focused on controlling dark elements to gain an advantage on their enemies; Nightblade, a rogue-like character focused dexterity, cunning and stealth to deal massive amounts of damage and disappear from the battlefield before the enemy even knows what hit them; Arcanist, your standard sorcerer class; and finally the Demolitionist, a character in need of very little explanation – if you like explosions you’ll find yourself right at home with this mastery.
Now, each mastery seems pretty standard when considered on its own, but as players progress they’ll be given the option to focus on a second Mastery as well, combining classes to create a hybrid like a Battlemage (Arcanist and Soldier), a Blademaster (Soldier and Nightblade), or something even more creative like a Saboteur (Demolitionist and Nightblade). This adds an extra layer of depth to character creation and customization that is certainly deeper than something like Diablo 3’s simplified class layouts, but doesn’t get quite as complex as Path of Exile, giving players choice without overburdening them.
"In many ways it feels like a truer adaptation of the classic ARPG model perfected by Blizzard North than anything else that has come out in years."
Skills are gained by leveling up, standard affair for most ARPGS. Points are applied to a tree of skills and each successive point will unlock further branches of the skill trees. The points are applied in a manner similar to Titan Quest and Diablo 2, but Grim Dawn allows players to freely change their skill points if they find a skill doesn’t compliment their play style or if they want to try out other branches, promoting experimentation without punishment.
As of right now there are 3 acts that players can engage in with more to be released before the game leaves early access. The acts all feel different, both in terms of design and enemy presentation. The boss fights are rewarding and the combat continues to evolve to be more visceral than each previous act before it. What really blew me away was just how lengthy the acts were. Each one is chocked-full of content to see and explore and the brilliant fast travel options in Grim Dawn make it incredibly easy to go back and forth between locations.
Sure, Grim Dawn needs some work. There’s just something about it that doesn’t quite capture the magic that was laid out by Titan Quest or the original Diablo games, but in many ways it feels like a truer adaptation of the classic ARPG model perfected by Blizzard North than anything else that has come out in years. For that, it must be applauded, and you can be sure I’ll be keeping my eye on this one as it continues to evolve.
Preview by: Palmer Sturman | Previewed on: PC