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Grim Dawn Preview: Clone Saga

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Starting an action RPG like Grim Dawn is always an exciting moment. I’m getting my PC prepped, ticking all the “very highs” and post-process boxes, and setting the game to borderless windowed mode (as I’m privy to do). Then the UI disappears. Entirely.

That’s to be expected — this is an alpha build, after all. One ALT+Enter input, the game’s set to fullscreen, and I’m ready to start my adventure as Bolgir, a man of ambiguous ethnicity and a near complete lack of customization (though it is possible to select a female player character). I led my hero from the gallows I began at to a man who tells me Bolgir was possessed and hung by the townsfolk on the gallows I just left. The spirit left his body as he began to die, and he was close to death when finally lowered. Mr. Guard tells me I need to go investigate happenings with zombies and such (this is an ARPG, so I should’ve seen this coming), so after a heavy groan, I begin clicking a path for Bolgir to follow to the outskirts of town.

A couple of conversations later, scripted zombies wander into the area, which the scripted guards successfully repel in a scripted manner. Unimpressive, but I haven’t even been here for three minutes. Then the next ten minutes: an awful lot of clicking on enemies until they keel over and die (again). Ladies and gentlemen (and everything in between), welcome to the first twenty-or-so levels of every action RPG ever made. It doesn’t really matter if Blizzard made it, or Gearbox — you’re going to be doing an awful lot of the same thing before things get interesting.

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As previously mentioned, Grim Dawn is not yet complete. According to a small blurb at the beginning of my playthrough, there is approximately two-thirds of the story complete as of now. Hopefully, hardware issues will also be fixed. While performance during my playthrough was not insufferable, I had numerous bouts of micro-stutter, black screens, and CTDs. These are to be expected from an alpha, but Grim Dawn is asking $30 of you. Considering the current status of the game, being unfinished and all, that is no small price to pay.

Grim Dawn has some interesting ideas. Likely my most favorite is the fact that the game encourages experimentation. At any time, you can pay a small fee (just as you would in Borderlands 2) to refund all skill points that you’ve spent in any skill trees you’ve invested points into. This means that whenever you’re able (as respeccing is not cheap), you can spend a sum of gold to completely (or slightly) retool your build to fit a new role. This is a neat feature, which works well when combined with the game’s class system. Much like Rift lets you borrow trees from various classes and roles, Grim Dawn doesn’t restrict you to a single class. Instead, you can put points into different roles, making your character into a soldier that eats pain for breakfast, a mage that is deadly at a range but libel to snap in twain in melee range, or a versatile rogue, wielding guns, shivs, or whatever else proves useful.

Grim Dawn isn’t mind-blowing, original, or engaging. While it’s certainly a good game, it’s also not really ready for a market. It lacks identity that makes ARPGs like Path of Exile and Marvel Heroes stand out in a crowd. It looks and plays like a generic Diablo clone, so while it may introduce some neat concepts, it’s only really picking and choosing from similar genres.

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If you do decide to jump on the Grim Dawn bandwagon, then you won’t be disappointed if what you wanted was a fun ARPG. That’s all you’ll be getting, though. As it stands, a free-to-play, polished experience like one found in the aforementioned Path of Exile may better scratch that itch, while Grim Dawn focuses on building a better, more unique player experience.

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