How the gravitational pull of Grim Dawn rivals Diablo III

Title How the gravitational pull of Grim Dawn rivals Diablo III
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Game reviews
When April 6, 2016

When making an action RPG, the most important task -- important above all else! -- is to get the moment-to-moment hack-and-slash right. It has to be gratifyingly chaotic, splashy but not too confusing..

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Blizzard hasn't figured out how to make a world worth exploring? Not in Diablo, perhaps, but WoW remains some of the best Worldbuilding I've seen in gaming.

That minor quibble aside, great review. I'm totally picking this up; I loved Titan Quest back in the day!

Grim Dawn is terrific. When the Devotion menu first popped up, I was confused for a minute. I thought a patch had changed the game to a Path of Exile-style skill window. I was delighted to see that it was actually a third pillar of the character progression system.

Surely you have played Path of Exile (f2p)? In that one ALL your skills are in your gear, in the form of linked slots where you can equip skill gems and modify their behavior. I look forward to playing GD again, and finding where my old chars are in the new story line...

Path of Exile didn't work as well for me for a number of reasons. Primarily the hack-and-slash. I didn't feel it passed that first test. I also never really clicked with the character development, which sprawled a bit too much for my taste. Plotting a course on that massive mandala felt so, I dunno, small? But it's been a long time since I played it. I should definitely revisit it next time I get to craving a new ARPG.

I'm glad someone said this as I was kind of secretly hoping it would come up. :) Frankly, I don't feel the world of World of Warcraft is worth exploring. You get pulled through by the nose because Blizzard puts a premium on guiding the player through the experience, moving him along the path of least resistance. The world of World of Warcraft never really felt like a place to explore; it felt like a place for me to just move along a groove to the next predesignated area.

Contrast this with Guild Wars 2, which has ingame rewards for exploration, as well as intentionally hidden nooks and crannies with their own challenges. Furthermore, it never obsoletes swathes of geography because of what level you are. That's my idea of a world worth exploring in an MMO.

I do recognize the brilliance of World of Warcraft as an accessible MMO, but as an exercise in worldbuilding, and specially worldbuilding for the purposes of exploration, I feel it's been eclipsed by many other games. It relies too heavily on players "pre-caring" about stuff like Prince Arthas and, uh, I can't think of any of the others.

Ah, one man's blessing is another man's curse! For me, as much as I like polish and mechanics of the Blizzard games, their worldbuilding is terrible (and so is the art direction). Those games are made to appeal to the masses, so it is not surprising at all.

Grim Dawn is a min-max dream come true. some things left out of this review...
progress through the skill trees also increases ability stats. players have to balance points in skills, and points in overall class tree progression or else the stats will be too low.

builds and play styles are also incredibly flexible. if you want a tank spellcaster with a wand, you can do that.

I also appreciate the wide range of damage types and resist types. most builds focus on two, maybe three damage types, and that has a huge impact on the build of the characters, gear, constellations, etc. not to mention, every damage type has a burst damage version and a DoT version.

there's so much to consider, but there are still a lot of players looking for "the best build" for this or that class. I dont understand it. the fun is in making your own character!

All good points, edouthouse.

But for the record, I don't intend at all for my reviews to be comprehensive. My priority is to focus on the stuff that I feel is most important rather than to broadly describe something. You can get that from a feature list. :) But, yes, this often means you're getting a rather, uh, vertical look at a game based on what I've written. I appreciate guys like you pointing out other strengths and shortcomings in the ensuing discussion.

I'm glad that we now have enough good action rpg choices that no one feels compelled to tell me that torchlight is actually very good, seriously it's real good if you think about it, i mean actually consider it: have it considered: considered thusly: ah, real good.

Many years ago, i was a LotRO player. Even then, the constant development that Turbine did on that game would obsolete whole swathes of the map. I'd sometimes just head off into the wilderness for a few hours roaming around deserted portions of the ginormous world map to see what I could see. I'd stumble across windy mountain passes, camp in a lonely autumn forest surrounding a quiet lake, get lost in an abandoned cave system. There wasn't a reward for any of this, but it created some of the most memorable experiences I had in my few hundred hours of play.

To put down Torchlight is to hate on the point of entire genre. Torchlight is actually challenging and FUN, with so much loot to be had. I've been playing Grim Dawn for about 5 months and it's a miserable slog through a journey of loose ends and graphical glitches.

Way to break my heart, Matt. Alas, LOTRO.

I can't really dispute the "FUN" part of your claim, but Torchlight challenging? Not in the least. That was the problem. There is zero incentive to make Torchlight challenging. I appreciate what the devs did with that game, but they opted out of tuning the challenge level. For me, that's the kiss of death in a game.

Oh yeah - I saw that bait and took it. :)

From a certain angle, I don't disagree at all - there are a lot of a problems with WoW's game-design, and they seem to be getting more severe with time. I guess Blizzard is less interested in providing a virtual world these days, and more interested in building a pretty theme park ride followed by some multiplayer instances with a lobby that looks like the inside of a bank. I guess that's driven by knowledge of what the majority of players want, but it's not what I'm looking for.

That said, the world still does it for me. It's big, internally consistent, endlessly charming (if you like that weird broad-strokes cartoony thing Blizzard has going on,) and there's always something interesting in your line of sight that you can get to and poke.

Sure you out-level areas and have no solid in-game reason to go back, but I like that. It cements those areas as real places rather than as arenas that have no purpose beyond serving my adventuring needs. The places exist on their own terms; some are too dangerous for me, some are too easy to be worth adventuring in and some are right in the Goldilocks zone. The point is, that's not relevant to them; they're indifferent to me. I come and go as my level allows, but the place -the world- remains.

And, if you get off the ride, there are plenty of out of the way placed to go see that you'd otherwise miss (a real failing of the ride is it gives the impression that it's all there is in the game, which isn't true,) In the old days these were largely limited to interesting little vignettes, with no game effect that you could find and get a kick out of. In more recent expansions, rare named creatures and hidden loot are scattered around the map pretty liberally and they've made some effort to reward hunting those things down.

It's nothing as involved as GW's map completion or POI map points, but it's fun and kind-of it's own reward. And -to be honest- given GW2 has POI icons on the map telling you where to explore, and tracked map-completion, which game is really leading your exploration by the nose? ;) /snark

(Not that I have anything at all against GW2. I never got into it as much as I'd have liked, but that was more to do with my time availability and what my friends were playing than the game itself. I did like the setting a lot, and a most of the game-play innovations were a) long-overdue in the genre and b) really interesting to me.)

Obviously, I'm not going to sell you (of all people!) on WoW, and I wouldn't try. Even if you didn't already know why you don't care for it, I don't actually think it has a great new player experience any more. That groove you talk about is too prevalent, too limiting and too ... safe. But I do think there's a very well built world in there trying to get out. It used to be more exposed than it currently is by the game, but it is in there. That's why I think that Blizzard does (or did) know how to build one. When the mood takes them.

*Edit*: Wow. Wall of text. Sorry about that!

Yeah - you're totally right. WoW (and Blizzard stuff in general) has a very strong and very specific style. That's always going to be divisive, and it permeates the game to anextent that I don't see how you could enjoy it if the style is a turn-off for you.

I watched your video Tom, and boy did it take me back to my Titan Quest days. With such a glorious heritage I would probably jump into Grim Dawn immediately but for one thing; Diablo 3's ridiculously convenient and seamless 4-man multiplayer. Grim Dawn's peer-to-peer multiplayer just seems ancient by comparison and I don't think I can sink hundreds of hours into a single player ARPG any longer.

I'm so glad the Iron Lore guys are still making ARPGs like this. Was well worth the wait for the GOG release, too.

Now I wonder if we'll see an Immortal Throne type expansion.

Well, here's the thing. Yes, GW2 has POI icons and map completion, but that's the superficial stuff. That's them telling you "yup, there's a town here, or a pretty view, or a quest-that-we're-not-going-to-call-a-quest". And running around and checking those off is pretty fun, in my opinion, and not as straightforward as it may initially seem. But there's a lot more out there to discover that isn't marked at all. Jumping puzzles. Weird NPCs. Hidden loot caches. Triggers for the dynamic events that are so core to GW2's design. Etc. I have played a -lot- of MMOs and I can't think of a single other one that is so rewarding of exploration.

I don't agree that WoW's more limiting than it used to be - I think it's actively more rewarding of exploration than ever because of all the hidden stuff they put into the most recent expansions - but GW2 certainly does more on that front. (WoW is the one I'd personally rather play as a mostly-solo player, ultimately, but that's not the point here.)

They explicitly pledged an expansion in the Kickstarter, so it seems likely! (Also, plenty of people, myself included, already paid them for it, so they'd bloody well better...)