Grim Dawn: Ashes of Malmouth Review
Content10
Mechanics9.5
Gameplay9.5
Technical8.5
Strengths
  • World & Environment
  • Multi-Class (Mastery) System
  • Complexity
Weaknesses
  • Overwhelming to new players
  • Devotions are unintuitive
  • Complexity
9.4Final Rating

Grim Dawn: Ashes of Malmouth Review Introduction

Grim Dawn has deserved a solid review for quite some time now, and the fact I would rather be playing the game than writing a review says quite a bit. The game has a truly unique background. I’ve been playing since Alpha. The history of the company and product is also quite interesting.

There is a Recommended Builds section at the end of this review for new players who are looking for detailed build guides to follow.

Grim Dawn is one of the finest ARPGs ever made, and the fact it was created by a team of roughly a dozen people is completely unprecedented. The recent release of the expansion Ashes of Malmouth (AoM) has greatly enhanced the game even further, ensuring the team at Crate Entertainment will continue to evolve the fantastic world of Cairn.

Before we dive into the game, I want to cover the history, not only of the game, but of the company and creator.

Created by: Crate Entertainment, Est. 2008
Release Date: February, 2016
Expansion Release Date: October, 2017

Arthur Bruno is the founder, also the creator of Titan Quest back in 2006 (9/10 rating on Steam and held as one of the best ARPGs next to Diablo 2). With only a handful of people, he licensed the Titan Quest engine in 2009 and began work on Grim Dawn – without any programmers! Focusing solely on content and mechanics, they were able to build the core of a new game that presented so well in 2012 they raised over over $500k (while only seeking $280k) on KickStarter. With the new capital, they were able to hire new staff members including programmers to make core adjustments to the game engine. Alpha began through the Steam early access system in May of 2013 (which I participated in). The first four classes were released in October of 2014 (Soldier, Demolitionist, Occultist and Nightblade). Chapter 3 was complete in February of 2015, and by December of 2015, Act 4 and the announcement the game, now feature complete, was made. Spending the next remaining months fixing bugs and making quality of life enhancements, they released the game in February, 2016. The story behind the creation of Grim Dawn is just as compelling as the game itself; very few companies are ever able to pull off what the team did at Crate under Arthur’s leadership. Congratulations to Crate on a job well done, and more importantly, the most efficient and quality work I’ve ever seen given the size of the team and scope of the game.

For those who are interested, you can watch an interview with Lead Designer of Grim Dawn, Arthur Bruno.

The dark world of Cairn awaits!

Content, Characters & Classes

The Story behind grim dawn is dark and gritty; in the world of Cairn, Mankind came into contact with extra-dimensional beings called Aethereals by opening portals with magic. These beings came through the portals and began to not only invade, but fuse with humans. However Humans also learned to harness the Aether “magic” in addition to their own; but total war was now taking place because Aetherials fused with so many humans and are bent on taking over the world. In addition to the Aethereals, we also have Chthonics (which are taken from Cthulhu Mythos); demon-like beings (and worshipers), also bent on taking over the world. It’s a royal mess, and it’s up to you to fight both of these sources of “evil”, and that is what the storyline is all about. It’s dark, well-written, and serves as great lore for those who are interested in following the storyline – but don’t worry, if you just want to kill and don’t care about the story, you can do that as well. Through Quests (defined below), players are able to make story decisions that can unlock additional content in each difficulty setting; but as one learns the game, they need to be careful because once certain decisions are made with a character in Ultimate difficulty, that’s the “final” setting a character is stuck with. An example of this is going hostile with a specific town/faction/NPC. Such an action can open up a dungeon, or alienate a vendor who sells powerful items.

The game has a total of 8 Masteries (or classes). Arcanist, Demolitionist, Nightblade, Occultist, Shaman, Soldier, Inquisitor (AoM) and Necromancer (AoM). You can either stick with one mastery or combine two masteries (which is what the majority of builds do). When you combine two masteries, you become a different “class title”. For example, and Shaman + Occultist is known as a Conjurer, and a Necromancer + Soldier is a Death Knight. This allows for numerous combinations, and within those combinations, a nearly unlimited variation of builds. From level 1-50 a player receives 3 points they can spend in each mastery (being able to select the 2nd mastery at level 10). The player can spend points in the core mastery (which unlocks skills) or put points into active/passive skills. Players can reset these skills within the game at the appropriate NPC, but a player cannot “spec out” of a chosen mastery, so a Conjurer can never be anything but a Conjurer, however the player could remove all points and completely redistribute them to create a new “type” of conjurer build. There is no “best build” in Grim Dawn. There are so many different variations of end-game (and leveling) builds that combined with legendary items, no one build “destroys the game”. Nearly all builds can be made viable with the right resists, gear, and play style. This is a key factor that shows what a great game (and how well balanced) Grim Dawn is. This system also endorses the creation of numerous alts to experience different skills and play styles. The complete Mastery overview can be found here.

Devotions are the secondary growth system within the game, awarding points that can be spent in a “constellation map” acquired by cleansing shrines (or through the Crucible) that are scattered throughout the world, or completing quests. A total of 55 points can be acquired and distributed. Devotions augment all aspects of a character: stats, resistances, damage, and most importantly, mastery skills. For example, a character can attach a skill to a Devotion “action” (like Twin Fangs) and that skill will now have life leech. While the devotion system is extensive, it is difficult to navigate and not very intuitive to new players. Once you get accustomed to it, great builds can be planned and executed, but the learning curve is a bit rough. Devotion points can be removed and respec’d if a player wants to try something new. A devotion tied to a skill also levels up as it is used. http://www.grimtools.com/calc/ is the “go to” website for builds and has a great search feature, allowing players to look up devotions that have specific properties (e.g. bleed).

Items serve as the foundation for character progress. Normal (White), Magical (Yellow), Rare (Green), Epic (Blue) and Legendary (Purple). There are also Empowered and Mythical versions of Epic and Legendary items, allowing for upgrades of earlier drops (which is a great design). The game currently (with AoM) has 917 legendary items (399 Armor, 310 Weapons, 172 Jewelry and 36 relics). This includes a total of 558 crafting blueprints (221 being legendary). One very interesting note is the best items in the game can often be green items; even better than legendaries – but only if the rolls are a solid match for a specific build. This adds another layer of variation to the game, and keeps players regularly looking at all drops from Green (rare) upward. For those who are interested, here’s an overview of farming Legendaries in Ultimate. A complete Item Database for Grim Dawn can be found here. It’s also important to note that Relics can only be crafted by a Blacksmith; they do not drop.

The game also has a built-in Loot Filter, which is awesome; so you can only show drops of a specific quality and higher. There are also numerous Item Sets available for Epic and Legenday items, and their synergy can define a build. Finding a certain Legenday item (or just 2 of them) can open the ability to make a kick-ass end-game build. Only Epic and Legendary items can be part of a set.

There are also Lore drops for NPCs and history of the factions and world. These are documents that award experience when used (read). When you find a lore drop, it counts for all difficulty levels and won’t drop again. Many lore drops come from book pedestals, bodies, monsters, or are just laying on the ground.

Inventory takes the traditional “space item size” ARPG standard and can expand by completing quests (for character). There is also a Stash that has two sections; character and shared. Additional stash tabs can be purchased for Iron (the in-game currency), and the Shared stash is the most useful since it allows you to place items in a location where other characters can use them from (including components). The game also has Item Sorting and Complete Components, which will auto-merge all components. These two features make a huge difference in managing inventory. All that’s missing is a search option (people use GD Stash to get around this, which is covered below under Mods). You can easily deposit or withdraw items to or from the stash by holding down shift and clicking on an item (while the stash is showing).

Time to build those factions!

Factions are critical in Grim Dawn because they unlock item augments, blueprints, Nemesis encounters and Bounties. Nemesis bosses can also drop warrants; these can be used by other character to increase infamy by 50%. There are currently 16 total factions with the AoM expansion, and each faction can either go positive (Friendly, Respected, Honored, Revered) or negative (Despised, Hated, Nemesis). The only reason to go negative with a faction (some of which you cannot avoid, such as Undead, Aetherials, etc) is to unlock Nemesis spawns, and believe me, some of the Nemesis spawns are monumentally difficult (often taking 5+ minutes to kill). Writs and Mandates are items that can be shared between characters that allow faction to be gained at a 50% or 100% bonus rate. These are acquired by high level characters purchasing them, placing them in the shared stash, and then having the low-level character use them (it’s a form of reward for players who create alts and want to gain access to faction items quicker with new character). Each faction specializes in different item sets, damage types and enhancements; some focus on melee, others on ranged or magic, and some on pet damage. Each faction quartermaster’s complete inventory can be viewed, so you can see what you can unlock in the future. Quartermasters are found in the towns and outposts scattered throughout the world. “Farming Faction” is a big part of the end-game since the revered augments can help define a build, especially when it comes to survival (resistances). The easiest faction to first achieve revered with is generally the Black Legion (Fort Ikon).

Bounties are mini-quests that become available when you reach honored status with a faction, and they are acquired at the related faction’s bounty table. Bounties often require you to kill bosses, but sometimes they’ll ask for legendary materials or other items to turn in. Each time you complete a bounty, you receive additional (and bonus) reputation with that faction. You can skip a bounty and see the next available one, but you cannot skip the second one; you must take it or restart the game session. Bounties are fun to pursue as you’re going through the world because you will often encounter your target as you’re progressing through the storyline. Farming bounties is also a good way to pursue faction points on the path to revered.

Quests are the foundation of progression, character growth (including faction, inventory space and more) and exploration for the game. While it’s possible to level up solely through the Crucible DLC (covered below), I believe it’s more enjoyable to play through the world and storyline. There are core “progression” quests which must be followed to open up progress throughout the world, and there are also numerous side-quests, some of which are hidden. Some quests have quite impactful results based on decision; a good example is the Barrowholm quest where you can either help the town or turn hostile (which removes the ability to do side quests within the town, but opens their mines). There is also a central storyline quest to choose one of two key factions; Kymon’s Chosen or Order of the Death’s Vigil. Here is a guide covering the differences between the two.

There are a total of 6 central Towns in the game that act as quest centers with services and portals. As the player adventures through the world, these towns are found and unlocked by fighting to secure the portal. The towns (in order of progress) are: Devil’s Crossing, Homestead, Fort Ikon, Coven’s Refuge (AoM), Malmouth Sewers (AoM), and finally the Steelcap District (AoM). There are also numerous Outposts (such as the Rover’s Camp in Old Arkovia, where quests and the rover faction vendor can be found).

The Crafting system is well-done and balanced. As it’s been mentioned, a player builds a “core account” while playing Grim Dawn, beyond just a single character. Blueprints are shared with all characters (once learned, they are available to all), and components, etc. can also be shared among all characters through the stash. Crafting allows the creation of relics, components, rare, epic and legendary items. Players can also dismantle (with dynamite) items to receive scrap (a key resource) and components. There are also blacksmiths located in the world that will craft random legendary items using rare materials (such as Tainted Brain Matter). The key materials in the game are: Scrap, Aether Crystal/Shared/Cluster, Ancient Heart, Blood of Ch’thon, Tainted Brain Matter, Manticore Eye, and Chthonic Seals of Binding. Dynamite is also a key resource, required for opening one-shot “locked” chests and dismantling items. Dynamite spawns at a number of static locations, allowing for players to farm it. Dynamite can also be crafted. Faction blacksmiths are also able to craft Green items with specific modifiers (for example, the Blacksmith at Devil’s Crossing crafts items with Pierce resistance, Armor and Physical damage, while the Blacksmith at Fort Ikon crafts items with Aether and Chaos resistance and health); you can see these modifiers by highlighting the icon to the left of the Combine (crafting) button. Most players dismantle duplicate legendaries for the chance at obtaining legendary crafting materials, which can be used to craft other legendary items.

Components and Augments are the bread and butter of refining a build and are applied to items (helmet, chest, sword, rings, etc.). With Components, a player can enhance resistances, damage, and stats. Augments, which are acquired from faction vendors, can be stacked on top of components to boost an item’s properties even more. Throwing in a few Antivenom Salves or Dense Fur components can fix a build that keeps dying to poison and freezing damage. Some components even provide “auras” of protection, such as Purified Salt (Aether resistance). Energy problems? Throw some Ectoplasm (found on ghosts) on your rings! The only way to remove a component is with the Inventor (salvager). Augments can be overwritten, components cannot. The rule of thumb is always pick up all components that drop and throw them in your shared stash. Don’t forget to auto-combine everything!

Grim Dawn has the most meticulously crafted Environments of any ARPG I’ve seen. The world is stunning and beautiful, and was crafted with a level of detail rarely seen in games. With day/night cycles, great depth (over and under crossways and the ability to see in the distance) and numerous variations of terrain ranging from farming fields to high-mountain passes, the underground/cave designs are fantastic. Even though the core world is Static (e.g. no random generation), certain corridors, doorways, and entrances to underground places can shift from game to game (adding a slight hint of variation each time the player runs through the world). There’s such a level of depth and “love” for the world design that players have no issue going through it again and again and again.

You can port any where, any time.

The World is huge. There is so much to see and explore. There are also numerous Hidden Areas that contain everything from stashes to shrines and unique bosses. Another nice feature is the ability to Rotate the Camera, allowing the player to change the 3rd person angle while they are adventuring. Destructibles are also littered throughout the world, sending debris flying into the air as combat breaks up stone, furniture and other nearby objects. Ragdoll Physics are also part of the game; it’s fantastic to see the bodies of your enemies go flying back or upwards. Ultimately, each area of the game is meticulously designed; the Plains of Strife is littered with mines and swarming with Aetherials while the Arkovian Undercity is crawling with undead. And for those of you who are fans of the Netflix series Stranger Things, the Chthonic Rifts are like the Upside Down. The complete Grim Dawn world map can be found here.

The game has a quite the variety of Enemies, ranging from giant spiders to little goblins, skeleton knights and mutant aether creatures. Some have ranged attacks, others cast magic, and some rush to pummel you. Enemies can be one of the following types: Aetherial, Arachnid, Beast, Beastkin, Chthonic, Eldritch, Human, Insectoid, Riftspawn or Undead. There are five difficulty levels of nasties: Common (White), Hero (Orange), Unique Bosses (Lavender), and Nemesis/Secret Bosses (Red). It is interesting to note that enemies in Grim Dawn are almost always higher level than the character. Some monsters will heal each other, so when you get to end-game and go after Nemesis and other bosses, it’s important to make sure “support” mobs are killed first. It’s also important to note Nemesis monsters are monumentally difficult, and unless your character is built to handle them, if you see one … run. But if you are able to kill them, their chests drop some of the best treasure in the game (including rare blueprints). Another thing I like about the game are the Hordes of enemies; it’s not uncommon to have 40-50 monsters barreling down on you from off-screen because you attacked one of their buddies. The higher the difficulty (covered below), the larger the hordes. It’s very easy to get overrun if the player is not prepared.

The world is also littered with NPCs; some in towns, and others hanging around (or imprisoned) in hostile areas. Some NPCs will join town or even modify the town based on completing their quests. As mentioned in the story section, how a player interacts with certain NPCs can shape the overall story-arc of the game in the selected difficulty. Don’t let the father burn his children in the house!

Playing any ARPG is all about the Treasure, and in this department, Grim Dawn does not disappoint; it can sometimes even be overwhelming if you don’t have the loot filter on. The game is packed full of bodies, chests and other items to open for loot. Pinata globes of treasure appear after killing bosses, and when you whack them they explode in juicy goodness. There are more than 30 Lootable Objects in the game including Altars, Weapons Racks and Transcendent Chests. There are numerous Breakables that can contain Iron (currency) and items, including Barrels, Scrap Piles and Urns (more than 15 different types). One-shot chests are also spread throughout the world. Most of these take a stick of dynamite to open and often contain legendary crafting materials and items; others are specific to bosses. There are also Exalted Stashes (Chests) which are spread throughout the world (usually spawning in the same “area”, so players can learn where to farm them). It’s always a good idea to make sure your character has dynamite on them since one-shot chests are often stumbled upon. Here’s the current one-shot chest list. There are also Monster Infrequent Items; these are rare drops that come from specific bosses that have a specific set of properties. A list of these items can be found here.

Challenge Dungeons provide some of the most difficult content in the game and are great for farming legendaries, crafting materials and blueprints. The current challenge dungeons are Steps of Torment (Undead), Port Valbury (Aetherials), and Bastion of Chaos (Chthonians). The new AoM dungeon is supposed to come over the next few weeks and is anticipated to be full of Beasts. When you die in a Challenge Dungeon, you lose access and must restart the game to try again.

The Crucible was released back in August of 2016 as the first DLC (Downloadable Content) for Grim Dawn. It allows a player to fight wave after wave of monsters to obtain levels, items and devotion points. Experienced players often use the Crucible to level up new characters to get their first few devotion points before starting the main campaign. Pohx made a video outlining this technique.

The Malmouth Expansion (released on October 11, 2017) enhanced the game greatly by raising the level cap from 85 to 100, adding two new masteries (Inquisitor and Necromancer), tons of new content, four new factions, 14 new constellations and many new epic and legendary items. The expansion also added new Nemesis and Superbosses, expanded stash and the ability to reset attributes and mastery points. As far as the content goes, exploring Ugdenbog and taking over the city of Malmouth is great fun as you fight with the resistance to make headway and slowly reclaim the city. They also made QoL (Quality of Life) changes such as allowing epic crafting materials (Tainted Brain Matter), etc. to be shared between characters.

Another thing that makes Grim Dawn a great game is the ability to create Mods, of which there are many. Some adjust the entire game (adding new classes and skills) while others just add tools to help manage things like Inventory. At this time there are 32 mods, with the top 3 being GD Stash (expands your stash size, allows for searching, etc. Extremely useful), FasterLoot (increases drop rate of epics and legendaries), and Cataclysm (adds 8 new classes, custom items, game changes, etc.). It’s also important to mention the DAIL mod, which was the most popular prior to the expansion. It provides  30 masteries, and a plethora of features so lengthy I can’t list them here. DAIL is currently on hold as the creators adjust it for the expansion, but when it releases, I’m sure it’ll return as the #1 mod. The Grim Dawn Nexus is the place to get mods.

While the Devotion system is very powerful, it is difficult for new players to navigate and understand.

Balance & Gameplay

Grim Dawn has some of the best responsive Combat seen in an ARPG. Real physics allow projectiles to intercept thrown items, the radius and visuals of AoE attacks are visually accurate, and monsters can quickly box you in and block you from moving. Combat can be quick, fierce, and deadly. It’s also smooth as silk, allowing for quick action and reaction. Players can also swap weapons at any time (allowing for the switch between ranged and melee). I also think Grim Dawn has the best “pet builds” of any ARPG; you can have a legion of 15+ pets out at once, and the AI is quite well-done (compared to other games). So if you do like controlling a horde of undead or crazed woodland creatures, this is definitely the game for you. But if you also like to shoot a gun that pierces 20+ enemies in a row (causing them to explode like blood sausage), spread bloody disease thoughout the screen and watch your targets run around in writhing confusion, or flash freeze large groups … well, there are many ways to dispose of your enemies, and all of them are fun.

Characters Level as they gain experience from killing monsters, completing quests and reading lore. One can also level up solely through the Crucible. The maximum level with the AoM expansion is now 100, and the general level of moving from one difficulty to another is 48 (Elite) and 80 (Ultimate). This is taking into account the expansion and completing its content. It’s of interest to note the game dynamically scales the level of the monsters based on your character level and selected difficulty. If you are level 84 when you reach the Warden in Ultimate, he will be level 89, but if you hit the Warden at level 100, he will be level 105. This mechanic ensures the game content will be as challenging as possible, and it’s a solid design that works well. For experienced players, it’s possible to reach level 50 in just two hours. Here’s one example with a Necromancer build. A character receives 3 points to spend from 2-50, 2 points from 51-90 and then only 1 point from 91-100.

The game keeps the Character Stats simple: Physique (Health), Cunning (Bonus Physical, Pierce and Duration Damage) and Spirit (Bonus Magical and Duration Damage, Bonus Energy and Regen).  Underneath these three core values, there is a very in-depth set of statistics, derived damage variables and many other key values that define a character. Resistances, Attacks Per Second, Class Bonuses, Damage Bonuses, Pet Bonuses, Retaliation Damage, Chance to Block, and even Movement Speed are just some examples. One can drill down into these values on the right side of the character sheet (there are 3 pages total).

The game has a health regeneration system called Constitution. This mechanic kicks in after you haven’t taken damage for a period of time; however if you run out of constitution, you cannot regenerate. Constitution can be reclaimed by gaining a level, picking up Vital Essence (33%) or Food Rations (75%), looting Untouched Meal, or speaking with the cook in Devil’s Crossing or Homestead (once per game session). Health and Energy Regeneration can be activated by using Tonics of Mending (35% instant recovery and 40% over a few seconds), or Elixirs of Spirit (33% + 500 instantly). Health potions are on a 8 second cooldown and energy potions are on a 30 second cooldown.

DoTs and Auras are another key part of the game. and greatly augment the overall experience. DoTs cause a specific type of damage (e.g. Poison or Acid) over time while Auras are almost always defensive (but many provide offensive enhancements). There are also Exclusive auras; only one of which can be toggled at a time. Each Mastery has at least one Aura, usually unlocked after putting 50 points into the core build. Curses are a critical part of the game as well, the most common being Curse of Frailty, which lowers movement speed and resistances.

Most Damage Types in Grim Dawn have a primary and secondary support duration. For example if you have Fire Damage, it can cause Burn damage (a DoT). The primary damage types with support are: Physical (Internal Trauma), Fire (Burn), Cold (Frostburn), Lightning (Electrocute), Acid (Poison), and Vitality (Vitality Decay). There is also Pierce, Aether, and Chaos, but they are only primary and have no DoT support. Bleeding is the only damage type that’s independent of all base damage types. A comprehensive review of Damage Types can be found here.

Love a clean character inventory! Oops, gotta get my Pierce Resistance up!

There are 10 core Resistances in the game: Elemental (Fire, Cold, Lightning), Poison & Acid, Vitality, Pierce, Bleeding, Aether, and Chaos. Resistance are key to survival, especially in Elite and Ultimate difficulties. Characters often have to sacrifice damage for resists as they are leveling up, especially in AoE-intensive areas like the AoM expansion content (which will eat you alive if you don’t have good poison/aether resists). There are other resistances (such as Physical, Life Leech, Trap, etc. but they are considered secondary. Item augments sold by faction vendors are a must for end-game resistances. A great overview of components and their associated resistances can be found here, and a great overview of augments can be found here (note this hasn’t been updated for AoM as of yet). Characters can also craft potions that provide temporary (30, 450 or 900 sec) resistances. These can be very useful for fighting bosses that do a specific type of damage the character may not have max resists for.

The Learning Curve of Grim Dawn is gradual, but can get tough later on; while the beginning of the game easily allows any player to dive in and have fun, things start getting difficult as one approaches the Warden (for new players) and resistances become a necessity. Many new players on Reddit constantly post (for example) “I’m level 50 and die to everything”, only to find out they chose a poor combination of skills, have no regen/leech, or no resistances. Many builds also require the use of one skillset build to level to ~50-60 before switching to an “end-game build” (one example is leveling a Ranged Tactician; most players level as Soldier using Blade Arc as their main attack – until they switch to ranged Cadence in the 60’s). Overall, there is a lot to learn, but for those who put the time, energy and effort into trying to master Grim Dawn, the rewards can be great.

Pets are a big part of the game for many of the builds, allowing the character to focus solely on healing their buddies as they run around and murder everything. There are also Totems (from the Shaman mastery), which can do solid end-game damage. Conjurer (Shaman + Occultist) and Cabalist (Necromancer + Shaman) are currently the strongest pet builds in the game (Conjurer is held as a bit more safe and better for nemesis farming due to survivability).

Following the traditional model, the game features three Difficulty levels: Normal (Veteran), Elite and Ultimate. When you complete the first storyline (non-AoM), the next difficulty level opens up (allowing a character to move into the next difficulty without running the expansion). Elite has a 25% resistance penalty, and Ultimate has a 50% resistance penalty. Not only do monsters get tougher and the resistances lower with each difficulty, the size of the “packs” increases as well. If you think you’ve been swarmed in Normal (Veteran) just wait until you see the number of nasties in Ultimate. There are also reasons to go back to a previous difficulty; sometimes because it’s better for farming and survivability (Elite vs. Ultimate for example), or to complete a quest that wasn’t available before (such as the Mogdrogan’s Shrine quest). In my opinion the game doesn’t really show everything it has to offer until Ultimate, so make sure you get there! The game also has a Hardcore option for those who want the extra challenge. When the character dies, that’s it.

The Death Penalty is very minor when compared to other games. When you die, a “grave marker” appears, and if you are able to run back and get that marker, you recover a percentage of the lost experience from death (in Normal difficulty, you recover 100% of it). If you die in a Challenge Dungeon, you are unable to retrieve your marker. Once a character reaches level 100, there is no penalty to dying anymore, and a character cannot lose a level from dying.

Players can open a Riftgate most anywhere at any time, allowing for quick and efficient Travel throughout the world. There are also Waypoints that are discovered as the character explores the world. It often wise to drop a riftgate right before a boss fight, so if you die, you can just port back to your location rather than having to run from the last waypoint. The world Map is easy to navigate, showing every waypoint that has been secured as well as shrines that have been discovered (and cleansed).

When you purchase the game through Steam, you are able to unlock 124 Achievements. While they don’t really award anything, they are fun to see pop up. Players can also look at these achievements and see how many other players have unlocked them. To give people an idea of how difficult end-game is, as of this time, no player has completed the expansion final quests in Ultimate Hardcore mode.

Character Progression is very well done and balanced, one key reason being the dynamically adjusting level system associated with monsters. A character can easily reach level 100 simply by running each world quest line (all the way to the end, including the expansion) through all three difficulties. Devotion points are easily acquired through shrines, and skill points put in the right place can greatly enhance damage actions, allowing for quick and efficient killing of targets. The game gets difficult in Elite and very difficult in Ultimate; but the progression feels right.

The End-game of Grim Dawn is all about farming (Bosses for Legendaries and Blueprints), hunting Nemesis, running Dungeons (including Challenge Dungeons), and gaining faction to obtain access to the best items (and blueprints) a faction vendor has to offer. Hunting for specific Legendary items, Monster Infrequents, Blueprints, gathering materials, and running the end-game “dungeons” on Ultimate difficulty is guaranteed to keep players busy for quite some time.

The Replayability of Grim Dawn is solid. One would think a static world would be too repetitive, but the zones are so large and the minor differences each time you run through them make for great incentive to create multiple characters and run through the game world again and again. Add the numerous (and nearly unlimited) differences in builds and you have a great game that has nearly endless longevity and replayability. I’m sure there are some players out there who have found every legendary and blueprint in the game, but the massive majority of players (even those who play 4+ hours a day) always have something to work towards. I’ve played since release, and I’m still finding (and searching for) blueprints and specific legendary items.

Adventure time in Ugdenbog!

Systems & Technical

Given the size of the team at Crate, the Graphics of Grim Dawn are top notch. The lighting, water, shadows, models, terrain, and particles; all of it synergizes fantastically within the game. There are Performance issues relative to frame rate, mainly during crazy combat with a ton of monsters and particles. I run a 1080GTX on maximum settings and often drop below 30FPS during such combat.

The Sound & Music are simple yet defining. No other game quite sounds like Grim Dawn. Passive nostalgic dirty electric guitar music softly plays while strange environmental Sound FX immerse the player in this dark, demon-infested world.

Grim Dawn supports Multiplayer through individual hosting. It’s very well done (despite not having a chat lobby) and smooth (even with higher pings). The player can browse internet games or play on a LAN. Internet hosted games can be locked with a password to only allow friends. At the time of writing this review, roughly 600 games and 830 players are online; while most of the hosted servers are protected, there are a number of “public” games a player can join. Up to 4 players can join the same game, and the strength and health of the monsters scales based on the number of players; but so does the loot. Many more legendaries drop with 4 players than they do in single player, so many people team up with their friends to run the dungeons and share the legendaries that drop based upon matching builds. There is the option to enable PvP (for those who want to have some fun). Loot can be set to free for all or individual, and experience is shared between players as long as they are in the same area and party. Chat is available in a multiplayer game (by pressing T), both in party form and player tells. Players can also Trade Items with each other by hosting a multiplayer game. For those who want to find specific items, or ask other players to craft relics one may not have access to, the Steam Trading Forum is the place to go. But the truth is Grim Down is mainly a Single Player game for most. It’s nice to be able to hit the space bar at any time to pause the game in order to answer the phone or make a cup of coffee.

When it comes to Bugs, until the AoM release, I encountered perhaps 1-2 crashes over a period of years. The game’s stability was fantastic – however it appears the expansion has caused some problems and I have had numerous crashes; often one per day. There is also a serious issue where Grim Dawn interferes with other applications that are running (it did not do this prior to AoM). I have reported this (as have other players) and hope they are able to resolve these issues soon.

On average, the team at Crate releases Patches every 6-8 weeks unless there’s a reason to post a quick hotfix (to fix a broken mechanic, etc.).

Gameplay Issues

There are a number of issues with the game that, if addressed, could greatly improve the quality of life (QoL) for all players. Below is a list:

  1. When you have a large number of pets (9+) they often “lag” behind and pop as they try to follow you.
  2. AoE damage in certain areas (namely AoM) persists for far too long, often lasting 30+ seconds after a monster is killed.
  3. Many areas don’t have “return portals” to take you back to the beginning. The Black Sepulcher is a perfect example, forcing the player to either run all the way back or port to the last waypoint.
  4. Even with the loot filter on, the label system often results in the player clicking on other items they didn’t want to pick up (usually yellows).
  5. Granted the recent crashes are rare (only once every day or two), they need to be fixed. The FPS performance issues are also a problem. Even on a 1080GTX 4.6 GHz M.2 SSD fresh install system, my frame rate regularly drops below 30FPS during combat (2K 144Hz).

While Grim Dawn is fantastic, addressing the above issues would make a big difference for all players.

Nothing like the demonic glow and darkness of a Chthonic Rift to brighten your day! … wait … what was that sound?

Recommended Enhancements

What changes could make a big difference in the future for Grim Dawn? Below are a few ideas.

  1. Players need a custom Sound FX (or some other notification) when a legendary item drops since they can drop off-screen.
  2. With over 900 legendary items in the game (not even counting Epics), the shared stash is still far too small; it really needs to be 2x – 4x bigger (even after the recent expansion release).
  3. The Stash desperately needs a Search feature (to find any search text on an item; that way players can scan names, modifiers, etc). Path of Exile does this fantastically.
  4. Blueprints should be their own unique color so they are easier to pick out of item stacks.
  5. Once you hit 100 and get all of your devotions, the only progress is really with Items and Faction. Some sort of post level 100 Alternate Advancement System for a character would be very awesome.
  6. The game world is so huge, we really need the ability to mark our maps. This would add an extra depth level of the game, enticing players to explore every corner of the world and annotating each area.
  7. A Multiplayer chat lobby (like old-school Battle.net for Diablo 2) would be fantastic for bringing players together to form parties. A leaderboard would also be a great addition.

Once the new AoM dungeon comes out (which should be over the next few weeks), the team at Crate is going to start working on whatever the next major release is (if they haven’t started already). I hope they consider adding some of the above features!

Recommended Builds

Having played Grim Dawn since Alpha, I wanted to list what I consider to be the top builds that are fun to level and fully playable to end-game. As mentioned above, most any build can play the game in full, but the below guides provide detailed steps for new players to follow so they can enjoy the process of not only leveling, but have direction on the best way to craft their character during the process.

  1. Skeleton Necromancer Cabalist (Pet Build)
  2. Storm Totem Warder (Tank Caster)
  3. Meteor Sorcerer (Caster, Early version)
  4. Bleed Warder (Melee)
  5. Lazy Pokemon Conjurer (Pet Build)
  6. Top Pierce Builds (Ranged, Melee) by Autentist (No guide, but complete GrimTools buildouts for more experienced players)

Each of these builds is solid for fun gameplay all the way to 100. I have played every build listed above (including some by Autentist) except the Meteor Sorcerer, which has been recommended by many players.

Conclusion

Grim Dawn is a complex, beautiful and immersive game of great depth, challenge, fun, and replayability. Players can put thousands of hours into this masterpiece and enjoy every moment. That really says a lot about what the game has to offer. The key is in trying new builds and farming legendary gear to build new characters that can pursue and take on the most difficult end-game challenges and content.

If you haven’t done it already already, get this game. There are some people who have only played Grim Dawn for a few hours and just “didn’t get into it”. For some, it’s just too complex, and for others it’s just not their “style”. However, I have yet to meet a player that has really played Grim Dawn (40+ hours) represent any form of regret or dislike for the game. Everyone who gives this game a chance and really plays it absolutely loves it. But it’s so large, complex and in-depth that in order to really get a taste of what the game has to offer, the player needs to get their character(s) into Ultimate, which is the “real” game. Normal and Elite are only there to prepare a player for the end-game challenges that Grim Dawn has to offer.

Here’s to Crate continuing to evolve this fantastic game, which is truly a work of art.

The Ashes of Malmouth expansion is dark and beautiful.

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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