In this article, I will be taking a look at Grim Dawn, the versatile ARPG which was developed by Crate Entertainment. Is it worth your time? Read on to find out.
Are things looking pretty grim for Grim Dawn?
Early access is becoming a trend, with many RPG games going through the cycle of development with the audience. With a huge success of latest titles of early access projects turning Game of the year, people now expect to have better results. But back at 2013 when Valve launched their early access program, doubt and scepticism surrounded the endeavour.
In the dawn of early access program, there was a tiny group of developers in Crate Entertainment. They had licensed the Titan Quest engine, and launched an alpha of “Grim Dawn“. Promising an ARPG, set in “A thematically-dark fictional world loosely based on the Victorian era”
Five years forward in 2018, the game has gone through all development phases, and launched. Sold more than a million copies over Steam and GOG, and now it have its fair share of DLCs, and one major expansion. An Xbox version is work-in-progress, now they have controller support on PC as well.
So, the question is: How this ARPG doing? Is it delivering on its promises? And what to expect playing this title?
Isometric ARPG at its Peak
Cairn is a massive world, huge areas split into four acts (Increased to six with the expansion). You have tons of places to explore, a mix of open world and dungeon delving, with several hidden sectors to find. One of the first things you will notice that dungeons don’t overshadow open world, a good balance here. Don’t get that wrong, dungeons are separated with loading screens, each level of it needs another loading screen. You wouldn’t notice much of these though, as the loading time is very short, and game performance on older machines is still okay.
As you navigate the continent, and face the hordes of Aetherials invasion, uncovering the fog of war and exploring this rich, hostile, and grim world, you will find interesting stuff tied with progression and achievements. Quests, faction tasks, and Devotion shrines. Restoring shrines nets devotion points which you can spend to get these sweet sweet constellation bonuses and skills. These devotion points can augment or modify your playstyle, as you can add similar effect to your skills, doubling it, or add different element to surprise your enemies. Like adding a debuff to your bombs, or AOE proc to your single target spell .. etc.
On top of that: Equipments! The river of items will overflow your inventory, storage, and mules. Even your dreams! The loot drops in the classic form of a fountain, and it’s really a fountain. Hundreds of sets, unique items, randomized rare, double rare, and triple rare items! Then lies all the kinds of enchantments. You will always be satisfied with the itemization progression.
The isometric camera is a defining feature in the genre, you can rotate the camera to view from better angles, but rotation’s not required to enjoy the game. The fast pace of the action game is not exclusive to Grim Dawn, but it’s carefully designed to be satisfying for a wide variety of audience. Many of the attacks and spells have no cooldown timer, while the character having no “global cooldown timer” that some MMORPGs use.
This allow the player to have some skills to spam none-stop, with their attack/casting speed being the only limit (and they can go pretty much high!). For those who enjoy slower and more relaxed pace, there are other builds that rely on powerful cooldowns. They tends to be more tankier and takes their sweet time to kill things while being unkillable!
Between all these elements, you can enjoy hundreds of hours playing Grim Dawn, making new characters constantly to try new things (or earning another achievement). You may feel exhausted after each click-feast session, for all the good reasons.
A good story that needs better storytelling
The story of the grim dawn and the following Aetherial invasion is not a bad story, by all means. Actually, it’s surprisingly a pretty good story for a fast action isometric RPG. And in midst of action, there are some moral choices that makes you pause and think. The bleeding man lying on the side of road, he begs you to avenge him. His trade partner gut him, and stole all his goods. You promise to help him, and run atop the hill to find said man along with his caravan. Now it’s time for revenge and getting some good loot.
Or is it?
If you were not hasty and decided to listen to the trader, he will admit gutting his partner, but claim he have a good reason. Now you have to decide for yourself, do you believe this story or that? Neither have a proof but their word, and you get to choose. Some will choose this, some will choose that, and some will just bribe the trader for short term profit.
Such choices have some consequences, very small in scale, but very interesting for the added intrigue.
So what makes the story comes short?
I’ll tell you that: It’s the storytelling, plain and simple. The voice acting is almost non-existent beside some selected sentences, and everything is written, you have to read it all. Be it a dialogue, a codex, or a piece of letter. Of course it’s optional, for the most part. But at some point, you miss secret quest because you didn’t read that dairy or didn’t pay much attention to the details.
It could be annoying for some, while other will just read a guide online and get this quest done. But in either case, you miss the whole story if you skip reading it.
They also could expand more on cinematic scenes. The game has an interesting intro that tells a nice short story. It would be more interesting if more of these cinematics are added.
An active forum and community
So, back to one the strongest aspects of Grim Dawn. I must admit, I love forums in general myself, so my opinion maybe a little biased here. But that’s how I see it: A good game must have a good community that developers support, a place where people meet and discuss the game. Somewhere for the game to evolve, with the contribution of not only a thousand developers, but tens of thousands of players as well. that’s what I call development. And Grim Dawn success in this, maintaining a healthy forums where everything Grim Dawn can be discussed in a non-toxic way.
It’s not unusual to see some threads comparing Grim Dawn to other games of the genre like Path of Exile or Diablo 3. The thread don’t get moderated if someone claims the other games are better for whatever reason. It’s a good feeling to be a part of community that its leaders aren’t too sensitive nor easily scared. If you are tired of Giant gaming companies and their antics, lack of communication, and dictatorship model of developing games you pay for, Grim Dawn is an oasis for you to take a breath.
New guides are constantly coming out, and updated. You can find details about all things Grim Dawn, from quests to secrets, guides and tips, in very detailed fashion, and all levels of depth. Or you can make your own theories and take opinions from expert players.
In short, if you plan to play Grim Dawn,, the official forums is a great way to have an enchanted experience, and more fun.
On-going support, updates, fixes
Continued support is one huge advantage these online RPGs have. MMORPGs receive constant patches, updates, rebalance, expansions, and improvements. Grim Dawn has such privileges, while being a single player game!
Microtransactions, loot crates, and games as a service are concepts that don’t exist in the world of Cairn. Yet the studio members have been very active on the forums, discussing the changes and getting feedback from community. There’s an entire sub-forum in the official forums for Developer Discussions. And in development, they work on introducing new DLCs and expansion at moderate prices. There’s a passion behind the creation of this game, which results in updates being bigger than originally intended.
With latest expansion in October, 2017 the game got whole two new classes. It previously had six, now up to eight, which might seem not a huge number. However, with multiclass system, you can have two classes not just one, with the new “combined” class being a class of its own, having its unique name and all. Like: combine “Nightblade” with “Arcanist” to get a “Spellbreaker” , or “Occultist” with “Soilder” to become a Witchblade”.
The number of combined classes before the expansion was 15, now it goes up to a whole lot of 28 combined classes! With all exciting classes of “Cabalist”, “Defiler”, “Purifier”, and everything else. It almost doubles the options of the original game. Not to mention the spray of items, factions, and new Acts of the story added with The Ashes of Malmouth expansion. It reminds us of good old days when DLCs were real expansions, expanding the game, and not being a cash grab for greedy developers.
The game also support mods, and with these, comes new countless ways to play. Don’t forget to check this out once you finish the vanilla game couple times.
Endless versatility, tons on builds and items to try
If you are familiar to this kind of game, you wouldn’t be surprised to know it have no character creation, beside the basic choice of Male/Female. At level one, all characters are equal, as an otherworldly being just left you, after using you as a husk. Your fate is in your hands, you get to customize the character the way you want as you level up. However, the customization is huge, really huge, we talking universally huge here, the stars in constellations above are involved!
The customization is deep, with advanced Multiclass system, attributes, highly versatile damage types, countless active and passive skills, augments, modifiers, damage conversion, enchantment items, and devotion stars. Also faction choices. It’s exactly what you expect from an ARPG, and more. This versatility manifest in the form of hundreds of builds, as seen in Build Compendiums in the official forums.
Do you like vampire builds? You can do a vitality blood sucker. Or you perhaps prefer pet builds, you can execute that in many ways, that vary in more than the type of pet you have. Melee builds could be magical, physical, or hybrids. Assassin-styled builds could be temporary tanky, or go all glass canon builds. Some builds could solo the toughest boss in game within 6 seconds, but they need incredible micromanagement to survive most of other encounters. While other people prefer the lazy reflect/retaliation builds.
You can make a build around an item, around a constellation, based on certain skills, or a mixture of those. Some builds rely on certain items, while others are beginners friendly. Some use certain buffs, while others drops them for a proc skill, or superior defense. It’s all possible, and more!
An ever-growing player base
Unlike most other RPGs, Grim Dawn has some interesting stats, according to this sweet steam chart:
The peak time of the active people playing simultaneously at anytime isn’t around the launch date (February 25, 2016). There was a peak time at launch, yes, then an understandable drop as more players “finished” the game. But then the first DLC came out and numbers went high again, almost catching up with launch numbers. And finally, the expansion came out and numbers skyrocketed, hitting a new peak almost 2 years after launch!
While charts is not very important for gamers as for investors in the industry, what this chart suggesting is important. As players number of Grim Dawn keep growing. It indicates higher quality post-launch product, and indicates other two things we mentioned earlier: Active developers, and active community. Also better income for the studio and so we can expect either: More high quality DLCs and expansions, or even better sequel. In either case, it’s more fun for us, the players.
It also a bit of good news for those who prefer experiencing multiplayer in the game, for playing with people, or merely trading. Be careful however, that you can’t join a a game with someone who don’t have same DLCs and expansions as you. Player will have to disable DLCs to play the game with someone who have only the vanilla game.
With a huge pool of items to tinker with, micromanagement of inventory is inevitable. I mean, it could be manageable for the first character, as you get a decent inventory with several bags from quest rewards to expand your space. You normally don’t have to carry so much, like: couple armors and a weapon for swapping, few consumables, and some dynamite, and a quest item. That’s one bag worth of space, you got five, plus main inventory. The rest of your bags stay ready to be filled with all the loot you get from a session of playing, which you can sell, dismantle, or keep as your heart’s desire.
You can open a portal anytime, anywhere, go to the town and empty your inventory. Then continue your adventures.
Sound reasonable, yes?
Keeping the inventory tidy and easy to use is one of strong points in this game. However, that doesn’t make the management any easier, because what the game achieved in inventory, it crashed on the ground in storage space.
Your storage space is very small, one tab for your character, plus four shared tabs, and that’s it. So while you don’t need all augments and augment fragments stacked in your inventory, they will take up a full in storage. The unique, epic, and double rare equipments will need somewhere to be placed. And you will get tons of these items, even before you approach the endgame content.
Before you hit the level cap with first character, you will start feeling everything getting tighter around you. If you are patient, you will get to create mules, new characters to merely store items in. Otherwise, you get to sell very precious items for couple of worthless gold coins, which is sad.
Though, that’s not the end of story. Luckily, there are several third party programs that can solve your problem if you have one. And you can virtually have unlimited storage space, without being forced into dropping or selling a single item. They are easy to manage, with tools to search, categorize, and import/export to whatever character you want. They are 100% legal as well.
This drawback is one of the very few developers committed, and stood with it after they got their feedback. Claiming it’s designed to force players to make “meaningful decisions”. I don’t believe they are right about their claim, but if you have another opinion, share it with us in the comments below.
A steep learning curve
The bottom line of all of this, is that Grim Dawn is not an easy to learn game. Take that as you want, but the learning curve could be very harsh.
Not that it have clunky controls, nor it have none-sense progression. No, everything is neat and tidy, even with a controller. The main challenge is the amount of customization you can delve into, with the game not giving you a recommendation or suggestions as you level up and build your character.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed for first few hours, even the whole first playthrough. But don’t let that bring you down, the overwhelming amount of content is one of strongest aspects of the game, and you will slowly learn to appreciate it. Once you get the hold over the strands of the game, it will feel even more enjoyable, and there will be always new things to learn and try. More new builds concepts keep coming out with the ongoing development of Grim Dawn, that’s why more and more players keep coming back to it with each update.
So, find a build guide that’s friendly for beginners (and have a levelling guide), and follow it. These are tested and proven builds that require minimum amount of unique items (you may not have yet). They are low risk, allowing you to experience everything in a safer environment. Once you get hold of basics, you will get more ideas to make your own build, and test your own theories, and find your own ways to improve upon any existent concept.
And more importantly, have fun!
I hope that you liked this article. If so, you could read Titan Quest: History in the Making. Alternatively, you could read Titan Quest Coming to PS$, Xbox One & Switch in 2018.