Prepare for a long read!
First off the Story:
Grim Dawn is full of interesting dialogue and well written textbooks that truly immerse you into the game. Furthermore there is a multitude of sidequest that often allow you to make meaningful decisions and sometimes even determine the fate of a whole village.
Unfortunately these stories are hard to follow for someone who doesn't read through all the text. As much as I know the devs plan to voice the main story towards release.
The graphics present you with a harsh and sinister environment which is further emphasized by the great music and sounds. The handcrafted maps are quite large and feature hidden passages from time to time. It also feels great when you encounter hostile factions attacking each other and follow the transformation of Devil's Crossing from a small survivors-enclave to a small town as you progress through the story.
Only downpoint for me was the repetitiveness of some maps, especially the 3 swamps in act 1 and arkovia/broken hills in act 2. I was told that the devs are planning to rework some of these areas though in terms of visuals.
Gritty, fun combat, just as you would expect from an ARPG. The constitution system makes sure that you don't just wait to regenerate and the scarcity of potions underlines the fact that you are survivor of a perished world. Unlike Diablo 3 leveling feels rewarding and presents you with relevant decisions that influence your progression later in the game. The dual-mastery system of Titan Quest opens up a ton of possibilities and will further improve the more classes are available. The locational damage will probably not suprise TQ-veterans, but for ARPGs in general it's a really noteworthy feature that adds further depth to the game. (On a site note: There is an existing faction system that will be dramatically improved in the upcoming build)
Since build 20 there is a well-working multiplayer, unfortunately the damage monster deal is also scaled if you play together. Resistances don't show much effect if they are not pushed quite high and casts and even aoe skills can miss enemies. Coming from WoW I was never very fond of a "accuracy" stat as it pretty much forces players to cap it.
The game features a multitude of stats to choose from: many types of retaliation, skill bonuses, damage modifiers, resists, etc. etc. This and the fact that there are procs and even entire new skills on items massively increases the number of possible builds and the fun collecting every item. Unlike other games in the genre there are not only random rolled yellows and greens but also static epic items which helps to reduce "bad luck", legendary items will drop from 50 onward, but are not available yet. Like Titan Quest there is also a huge number of augmentations to further personalize your gear. The two unqiue blacksmiths to choose from make use of these augmentations to craft a bunch of new items and relics from blueprints found in the world. All items are fully tradeable with other players.
It seems there are some apparently obsolete stats though: Armor and physical resist pretty much do the same and "increase resistance x by x%" isn't really needed either.
The game has a multitude of options and a fully scalalbe interface, which makes it highly customizable. The data sheets are well categorized and easy to access.
Sometimes the text on items can get a little bit long though.
Same goes for several skill descriptions, some of which only offer vague information, e.g. Solaels Witchfire - what exactly do the 1st and 2nd rune increase? You will have to try that out for yourself.
Grim Dawn is not finished yet, but it already has act 1-3 which offer fairly much to do and even on the second playthough reveal some suprises. Hallowed Hill, Depraved Sanctuary and Steps of Torment provide some lasting "endgame" content, the latter even comes with a cohesive and interesting story. Due to the fact that the current maximum level is 40 the number of build possibilites is limited of course, nontheless there is plenty of them already. I'd say there's roughly 150-200h of playtime right now if you don't try the more fancy builds.
I haven't encountered many bugs which is refreshing for an early access title these days, here are the most prevalent ones:
- Getting stuck especially when using teleports/charge
- Hit detection sometimes doesn't work for aoe skills like "shockwave"
- Some attacks can clip though walls, both hostile and friendly
- Items occasionally drop through the floor, especially annoying with epics
* The devs seem to be aware of these bugs and will address some of them in B24
To sum it up:
- in no way generic or boring quests that offer real decisions; story may be hard to follow if you don't read through every text though
- dense atmosphere, brilliantly handcrafted world that sometimes feels repetitive because of the lack of different textures
- good mix of fun gameplay, diverse builds and multi-layered mechanics with only minor problems here and there
- interesting and complex itemization with a few debatable stats
- well done interface, many options, but sometimes useless skill/item descriptions
- reasonable quantity of well thought out content, likely 150-200h
- few bugs, very polished for an alpha
I have never had so much fun coming up with new builds and testing them right away. The gameplay is mostly fluid, the graphics and audio help create a unique atmosphere that supports the many stories you find about the world of Cairn and it's residents. It may take some time though to see through the complexity of the skill tree and items and appreciate the thought that has gone into it. All in all I'd say that Grim Dawn even in it's currents state is worth every penny as it not only offers the usal ARPG features, but also comes with it's own fresh ideas and shows promise of even more.
P.S. I have noticed that many reviews on youtube are from people/magazines who invested less than 20h and therefore don't go really deep into the many mechanics Grim Dawn has to offer. This doesn't do the game justice in my opinion. Please don't take those reviews seriously and give the game a chance if above points take your fancy.