It was a sad day when Iron Lore Entertainment fell in 2008, little more than seven years after its founding. Their only game, Titan Quest, quickly became a favorite to action RPG enthusiasts. It offered something different, with the colorful backdrops of the ancient world, visually satisfying combat and a unique class system that allowed players to select two skill sets rather than one. But with Iron Lore dead, hopes for a sequel were all but dashed.
Thankfully, several former employees created a new company, Crate Entertainment, and soon Grim Dawn was born. Utilizing a modified version of the Titan Quest engine, this new action RPG seeks to expand upon what made its predecessor great. Now that promise is bearing fruit for its Kickstarter backers one year after its successful campaign.
The playable singleplayer alpha is suprisingly rich. Offering three classes, the ability to combine any two of them and the first third of the game that lasts more than ten hours, there's a large amount of content to explore. And though it may still be in the oven, the appetizer is enough to get any fan of the genre hungry.
Grim Dawn delivers on the pillars of its past while successfully building on them as well. One of those pillars, of course, is an interesting setting. Cairn isn't just a fictional, fantasy world facing an apocalypse; it's a world that has already seen it. Humanity is nearly extinguished, fighting to survive as powerful forces, the Aetherials and Chthonians, seek to either control our bodies or stop that from happening through our destruction. It's terribly grim, fitting for its name, with a suitable atmosphere captured by its designs.
The large map is filled with ruin in every direction. The few survivors you first come across are holed up in a collapsing prison. Broken, burning villages dot the landscape with few souls in sight save for the endless husks of the dead. There's appropriately very little color in a world so ravaged. Equipment is equally rustic. The guns, melee weapons and armors have a cobbled together look suitable for a people trying to use whatever they can to get by. It may be an older engine, but its setting and characters have atmosphere.
Combat too retains what made Titan Quest great. Ragdoll physics send enemies and now limbs flying from devastating blows, creating a sense of power. But Grim Dawn's world is no easy challenge. Enemies hit hard and with a range of skills at their disposal. Potions may save your life in a trouble situation, but they are not to be wasted. Their drop rates are currently low while their cooldowns are long. Mobility is key, particularly as health is speedily restored when not taking damage. This allows you to get back into the fight quickly, though at present this had the effect of making boss fights a run back-and-forth affair. I wouldn't be averse to seeing certain enemies' health lowered for future builds.
It all comes together to make combat feel a bit more tactical than a number of its brothers, aided by the option to combine classes and choose from a large range of abilities. Presently the alpha provides access to the Soldier, Demolitionist and Occultist classes with two more planned for the future. The Soldier is more specialized toward survival in close-quarters combat. The Occultist utilizes debilitating magics with access to pets. But out of the three, the Demolitionist felt the most engaging.
Like the moth to the flame, we're drawn to explosions of light and color. The Demolitionist has visual spectacle in abundance. And more than just for show, it's highly flammable. Its skill tree consists of numerous active abilities such as electric jacks, grenades, molotov cocktails, cluster bombs, mortars, and a standard attack that causes explosions in a small radius. The Soldier has useful passives buffs, but nowhere near the same number of interesting nor destructive actives for handling crowds. Likewise, the Occultist didn't set the world on fire with its hexes and pets.
Most complaints can be attributed to Grim Dawn's alpha state. There are, of course, bugs, instability and balances issues as well as the occasional visual placeholder. The interface is somewhat too small, including the minimap which isn't particularly useful at present. Thankfully, Crate Entertainment is listening intently to feedback. Several patches improving performance have been released since the alpha's launch. Classes and the game's economy continue to be tweaked. And on their forums, they're engaging their fans for constructive ideas.
Grim Dawn's alpha shows incredible promise for the game's future. Its world is atmospheric, its combat challenging and its class combinations rife with possibilities. It may not have the budget of Titan Quest, but it has its soul. This is the worthy successor we've been waiting for.