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PC Reviews

‘Grimshade’ is a Dark Fantasy So Close to Shining

Grimshade by developer Talerock is a classic 90’s style RPG set in a dark fantasy world filled with monsters, mad science and the balance between light and dark. Visually, it’s like playing an interactive graphic novel. Battles challenge the player to think tactically both in and out of combat. The music is awesome and does a fantastic job of creating a mood. However, despite many positives, there’s a lot that needs improvement.

A detailed view of Alister’s character design in the stats screen.

Graphically, Grimshade really shines and stands out as an indie project. The art style and direction for the cutscenes look like they were taken straight out of a comic book. The character designs are great and really show their steampunk influences and the character portraits are expressive. You explore a detailed and colorful world from a top-down perspective in a 90’s dungeon-crawler style (think Diablo). The models have smooth animations in the overworld and in battle. Each attack or skill has a unique animation and lighting effects are especially well done.

The attention given to the art is a little inconsistent. The portraits seem like some were given more attention than others but none seem like they were given all the attention they deserved. The map, too, seems like it was more of an afterthought but function is more important than form there. Text boxes can be a little small to read, even with the aspect ratio increased, which for such a text-heavy game is a major issue.

The game’s music and sound design are also strong points. The music is as varied as the levels and captures the mood of the environment if sometimes a little over-dramatically. The battle scores perfectly match the gravitas of the fight without ever feeling overwhelming. Gunshots and explosions are softened so they sound like they’re supposed to without popping in your ear. The voice acting is rare but well done. It’s a pity there isn’t more of it throughout the game other than grunts and moans from battle damage.

One of the more complex early battles. Players need to keep track of lots of status effects and resources.

Grimshade is tactics heavy and narrative driven. The combat system is turned based and has a lot of stats and details to pay attention too. It takes a more conventional style of RPG fighting and turns it on its head. Instead of attacks and spells draining magic points or energy, Grimshade instead fills a tension meter. If tension gets too high the character will be stunned and vulnerable. Player’s will need to pay attention to Avoidance tokens and time stats as well throughout the fights. Different enemy types have different skills to be considered. Battles are not fast-paced and will require a bit of thinking if you want to do well. Additionally, players will need to craft equipment and potions to help in battle.

The game gives you a lot of tutorials in the form of text boxes which can be easily missed if you’re focused on something else. There’s often a lot to read in them and they usually show up when something new occurs during the battle. They can be referenced in the menu which is nice since it’s a lot of information to keep track of. Combat is going to take some getting used to and the information required can be overwhelming at times.

Other than fighting, your time will be spent exploring the world and doing side quests. You can highlight interactable objects which is great because there are a lot of them. Side quests are picked up just by talking to NPCs and most are solved the same way. Grimshade is a long game so there’s a lot of exploring and reading to do. The game keeps track of all your missions if you forget what you’re doing. All the reading can get a bit tedious especially when you just want to get to the action again.

A bit of grim humor in Grimshade. You should see the other tombstones.

The story for Grimshade is pretty complex. It involves human experiments, a war and a deeper mystery for the player to uncover. As stated before, this is a long game with a lot of reading. You can skip the dialogue but then you’ll have no idea what’s going on. However, the dialogue boxes are filled with character and jokes that make reading them a pleasure. It can be a little much to read all that but it’s sometimes worth it. Particularly for the grim humor in a cemetery. However, the game just sort of ends. It feels like there was a lot more left to do. With that said, the game is planned to have multiple seasons if Talerock’s Kickstarter gets enough funding.

For a game so reliant on text boxes, there are a lot of typos. They’re all pretty minor and the dialogue is still understandable. Still, they’ll get annoying quickly considering how much you need to read. There are also a number of bugs in the game which can just lower performance but are sometimes outright game breaking requiring a full reset to fix (Note: there has been a recent patch which may fix these issues).

Overall, Grimshade is a good start for Talerock. The art is the strongest asset looking like it was lifted out of a graphic novel but it’s lacking in quality in some respects. The music is awesome and the few bits of voice acting are really well done. It’s just a shame there isn’t more. Combat is unique and challenging but tries to do too much sometimes. The world is rich and full of stuff to do but laden with typo-ridden text that’s too small to read. The story is too big for one episode to hold and the sudden end feels premature. Grimshade is a great premise with a lot of potential but its flaws are too big to ignore and stop it from really shining. The game could be greatly improved with a little work to the technical aspects and maybe a little less text.

What is he up to? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Steven Large studied journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He learned to read and write using video games and has been playing them ever since. He loves visual storytelling and talking to people about themselves. Contact him on twitter @steverlarge.

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