Ok, I’m a bit embarrassed by this game design analysis of Legend of Grimrock 2 (LoG2).
Although I was not a big fan of LoG1, I really appreciated & enjoyed it ; but playing LoG2 has been in great part painful, and if I didn’t fell compel by work reason, I’d have probably not finished it. I’d have probably even not bought it, as I didn’t feel I was the kind of player its creators were targeting.
So I expected I’d not enjoy it too much (as I was stating in the Game Design Analysis of Legend of Grimrock 1 ), but I didn’t think it’d be that bad.
On the other hand, the Steam page of the game shows an impressive 95% of positive user reviews. The professional reviews were also positive, when not extremely enthusiast.
So I feel it’s a bit hard not to make the following analysis fall in a basic bitter negative review, because what I experienced was mostly annoying, while the adventure for the targeted players was great.
But let’s try anyway !
So let’s start with the positive points. Visually, it’s still very convincing, with a nice variation of environments. The big addition of LoG2 over LoG1 is the outside environments. There’s not a single big dungeon, but several little dungeons in middle of forest, cemetery and swamps.
The dungeon environments are all very well done (except maybe the pyramid, which felt out of place and not that beautiful). The mines are especially impressive : they got some very good ideas to design them and make them feel different from the classic walled dungeons.
But even if the outsides look good, they break the oppressive & claustrophobic atmosphere of being lost in a big dungeon. It’s not too bad, as the several dungeons are big enough to get some of that atmosphere, but it’s still significantly less strong than in LoG1 . Technically, the outsides are very demanding and it means the framerate has the bad tendency to drop under 60 fps where it never does while crawling inside the dungeons. It’s something that is rather annoying, because it forces to lower the visual quality, for a very limited improvement on outside FPS, but for a noticeable quality deterioration in the dungeons.
So this is a wobbly design. And this behavior is found in about every other aspect of the game.
It’s especially seen in the combat system. They looked for solutions to break the monotony of strafe-turn-attack-strafe-turn-attack1, and make the combats more difficult : a giant toad can jump behind you, most mobs turns around much faster than before so you can’t attack from the side without taking damage, etc… ; but actually, they mostly made the combat more luck based than skill based, while still being very basic and repetitive. It was not a total failure, as there are obviously more variations than before, so it’s a bit less boring.
But it’s far from being a success ; for example, one of the new mob’s feature is to wait when you strafed away, to force you to strafe back in front of them (and being instantly hit) or strafe to their side (and being hit after 0.1 seconds, yeah 1/10th of second) ; in both cases, you’re going to lose a lot of HP, so the solution is to … wait ! Wait, wait & wait, till the mob finally decides to walk to you. Waiting doing nothing (except fighting against sleep) is not my idea of fun.
But the pitfalls of the combat system don’t stop there. Most mobs will totally destroy you if you stand in front of them. Bare a few exceptions, you can’t tank anything. Even mobs that seem insignificant will crush 1 of your party members in a few seconds. In Hard difficulty2, the giant crabs can kill your entire party in less than 4 seconds. It means if your party was at 50% health at start of the fight (which happens quite often), it’ll be decimated in less than 2 seconds. It basically insta-kills any member not at full health. In beginning of the game (which lasts nearly 10 hours), most mobs can kill 1 party member in 2 or 3 hits.
That means you have to move all the time, never gets stuck or you’re dead. So on that aspect, they did everything they could to make the avoidance works less well, and on the other hand, no avoidance means nearly instant death. Woobly design.
But it doesn’t stop here. So as it was not already enough with these harsh settings, the creators decided to plague their dungeons with places where tons of mobs spawn on you. So you’re blocked, so you die, so you have to reload till you figure out what is the escape plan. Requiring constant reloading to progress in the game is not my idea of fun, either.
But it doesn’t stop here (it seems it never does ). Although it requires constant tightly timed moving, the moving controls themselves are pretty awkward, it’s really very easy to move 1 square too much, hit a wall, and stuff like that, which in some cases mean dying.
So playing LoG2 really feels like a session of hard spanking ; it might feel great if you’re a masochist, but for an average person, it’s really really painful.
At least at 1st. Because despite all this, after a while (for me it took a bit less than 10 hours where I was very near to give up), you learn all the tricks needed to maximize your survivability (like waiting, waiting, waiting till the mob decides to move) and you’re almost back to square 1 ; ie: the boredom & repetitiveness of Log1’s combats, only with some extra inevitable damage along the way, as the mobs react & counter-attack much much faster than before.
Thus as long as you’re aware of your environment and be careful not to fight more than 1 group of mobs at once and don’t get stuck in a corner, you will almost not die anymore, except when unlucky because the mob decided to hit constantly the same party member instead of varying like usually.
Another addition over LoG1 is the boss fights. There are really not evolved like the ones of Dungeon Guardians (the combat system doesn’t really allow anything evolved anyway). They’re good because they bring a bit of variation, but ultimately they fail as well : they are just too too much random : I died countless of times in a fight lasting a few dozens of seconds to a few minutes, just to finally beat the boss in less than 20 seconds because I got lucky with the initial positioning of spawned mobs, and got right away a few critical strikes on the boss. Most boss fights turned that way : die, die, die, doing exactly the same thing & finally kill the boss easily because the random numbers turned more in my way.
So to resume : the combat system is nearly a total failure.
So let’s move to the puzzles, which were the bread and butter of LoG1.
So here, the big novelty is that some puzzles can’t be solved without hint or items that you’ll find somewhere else. There are not that much puzzles like that, but they aren’t just a few either.
Ok, it doesn’t seem that bad, does it ?
The problem is now every time you meet a puzzle, you’ll have to ask yourself : do I spend 30 minutes trying to solve it while I may be missing a critical element to find its solution ? For me, it’s a total fun killer. It means if I don’t figure the solution of the puzzle in less than 30 seconds, then I’ll consider I’m missing something, as I don’t want to waste more of my time on an unsolvable puzzle. But actually, a lot of puzzles require a few minutes to find the solution. So what happened ? Most puzzles were a show stopper for me at 1st, making me run all around to be sure I didn’t miss anything, couldn’t go to explore somewhere else and so on.
After a while, I began to figure out which puzzles were solvable and which puzzles required extra stuff, but I still had some doubts as soon as there was no obvious start to how to solve the puzzle. So once again, it was wobbly designed ; it should have some better way to let the players know if they needed something more or not.
In addition, most of the puzzles are less well designed & executed than LoG1’s ones. They’re not that bad, but they’re just a bit less good, and sometimes not just “a bit”.
There I have some mixed feelings. I enjoyed strolling in the forest, swamp & cemetery (despite the technical issues mentioned above), and the dungeons were big enough to still create some nice atmosphere. But having so much different zones meant a lot of back and forth, a lot of missed stuff that I got to too late, and a lot of “what the heck I’m supposed to do now?”.
So without a quest system, without NPCs who you can talk to for information, an open world doesn’t seem that great. It wasn’t too bad either, and it gave a lot of charm and unique identity to the game, so it’s surely not a bad move from the developers, but once again, it feels a bit wobbly (but less than the other parts).
I usually don’t care too much about the leveling, but this time I’m going to do a little paragraph about it.
The most important part of the leveling is … at the party creation, where you set up all your party members characteristics… when you know almost nothing about the game !
Once in the game, the leveling choices are minimalist, they bring almost no noticeable changes on the game flow (with a few exceptions), and after half of the game the leveling itself is very slow, as it needs an awful lot of XP to level up.
Ending (major spoiler coming)
The ending was decent. Strangely, the final dungeon looked gigantic from the outside, but inside, there was almost no mob, and it was pretty small, and so it was mostly puzzle based. I’m not sure if it came as a disappointment (I was hoping to finish in a more immersive dungeon like the one from LoG1), or a relief (I already had got more than enough of LoG2 ).
There are 2 final boss fights. 1st one is ok (with all the shortcomings of the combat system, as usually), but it’s a fake final encounter… It looks like the end, it leads to the end, it got an ending cinematic, “whoopy we escaped in a flying boat” ; but actually, it’s the bad ending, and you don’t know it.
To know that, and to know there’s a good ending, you have to be very very careful and guess some incredible stuff (or just read a walkthrough like me ). And if you didn’t save your game after the fake final boss fight, you’ll have to do it a second time if you entered the following teleporter that by no way had any indication it was leading to the ending cinematic. Wobbly design again.
So once you got past all this (I didn’t suffer nearly 40 hours not to see the real final boss ), you finally can see the real final boss in the real final boss fight. Great, hope you enjoy it because once again, if luck is not on your side, you’ll probably never get to see the good ending. I tried a bunch of times, reading & re-reading the walkthrough battle plan. There was just no way I could kill the boss doing what they were explaining. No freaking way.
On my last attempt, I got lucky : boss came by himself exactly where it was possible to kill him without a sweat : in a place where it was possible to strafe with the boss not moving. I really wonder if it was by design (ie: understanding how to beat the boss without effort would be like solving a puzzle), or if it was more like a game exploit (game designer didn’t think about that possibility).
So the game ended like it lived : on a wobbly design.
Hum, if you read all the analysis, you’ll know the conclusion : Legend of Grimrock 2 doesn’t feature a great gameplay, it’s barely a decent gameplay. Objectively, the game might feel great for its targeted audience, though, but I don’t think it can really satisfy players outside of it, it’s just too painful to play it.
In short it gives : impressive visuals, awful combat system, painful puzzle system, decent exploration, nearly useless leveling, almost decent ending.