This isn’t going to be a normal review. This game claims 600 hours of play possible in a single playthrough, which would be nuts to actually play through multiple times to arrange for a top-to-bottom review of all the things forever. I’m going to do that eventually and yes, I’ll write my thoughts once I’ve done so, but this review is going to focus on the game’s strengths and weaknesses from a “should I even try this thing” standpoint.
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar (hereafter known as Grimoire) is a first-person turn-based fantasy roleplaying game. If you’ve played old-school RPGs like the Wizardry series (of which I might be a fan of) and older Might and Magic games, you’ll recognize the feel immediately. For those of you who missed that era, the games are about creating a party of adventurers and exploring a grid-based world filled with enemies, NPCs who may or may not be enemies, traps, puzzles and lots of reading and math. They’re known for their crunchy combat, plethora of skills and a bit of a difficulty curve. It’s old school. It’s also $40.
The creator of this game knows this.Their launch screen starts with an in-joke about the creator’s mentality on gaming – “incline” is supposed to indicate a return to form, when games were more challenging (an “incline” as opposed to a “decline”). It also stars a naked golden baby, because further in-jokes. There’s a lot of history in this game that has spanned two decades to make, and not a lot of it is going to make sense if you’re hearing about this game for the first time.
Grimoire is pushing the idea of being old school all the way through, from its loading screens to its UI. The game feels like it was made in 1998, which is the point – per the store page, Grimoire’s been in development for 20 years, and it shows.
But first, let’s take a look at the meat of the game.
So you start the game up, and you’re greeted with this screen.
At this point, most people will have no idea what to do. Why are these characters there? Are they your friends? Are they your party? Why does one look an awful lot like Nightcrawler?
The obvious highlighted answers here are to click “Quick Start!” or “Exit”. They both do exactly what you think they’d do – either start the game with a default party, or close the game. The Story gives you a pile of text, as is to be expected from a game that’s copyrighted 1997 to 2017. We can safely ignore the Credits screen, like we do every game. The smart answer would be to click, wait for it, the Configuration button.
You’d think it would be the Library since that’s the only other button that isn’t clearly labelled (and, spoiler alert, takes you to the character creation screen), but the Configuration page seems to be where you can choose your starting area.
See where the mouse pointer is? That’s the button you hit to cycle through the places you can start in the game. There is no explanation as to what starting area does what, or how the narrative might change between them. Pick your poison, kids, or do what most people end up doing – start a new party at each one and see what they offer.
Once you’ve chosen your starting area that you have no idea if it will benefit you or not, THEN you can go and make your party via the Library menu.
As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff going on here, like “the library of characters that have been made can only be cycled through via a sliding bar”. We’ll get into a big problem with all of this later, but for now let’s talk about character creation itself.
There are 14 races, from “we need a blank slate with no discernible characteristics” human to “yes, we were designed in the 90s” vamphyr, “no really we love the 90s” drow, giants, drakes and saurians, wolves and rats and lion people, fairies, naga, eyes-on-stalks people called Aeorbs, Durendil (creatures that look an awful lot like androids from Dragonball Z) and dwarves which are called Barrowers in this world. Pictured below is a Durendil.
That little text box is all you get for determining what a race can do. More on that lack of information in a little bit.
After you pick your race, you get to pick a gender. Because this is a game designed in the 90s, it shouldn’t shock you that “male” and “female” are the choices, and that women get more “fellowship”, AKA Charisma, and lose strength. One would think that a game released in 2017 would know better than that, even with a game that’s supposed to be a throwback to a bygone era, but here we are.
Once you’ve chosen your gender, you get to pick how you roll for bonus points. This sequence will be very familiar to anyone who played Wizardry, and just like those old games, you will be spending a lot of time here. Once you pick your poison between 4d8 and 5d6 points for your roll, you hit the button and take your chances. You get three tries per character before you’re sent to the start of the line. You will spend a fair bit of time staring at a 23 and wonder if you should hit the reroll button one more time, or just go with it and see what kind of character you can make. Once you hit that button, you’re taken to the Profession screen.
You have a list of professions, and a blurb under each of the ones you can actually pick. Thaumaturges harness primitive forces, and that’s nice, but that isn’t real information for you to base your character on.
Once you’ve chosen your profession that you have access to for some reason, there might be a chance that you have points left over. How you actually know this is anyone’s guess, but if you did really well and picked a profession that seems to match the race (and gender!) well, you can have bonus points. Those points can be thrust into hit points, attribute points, skill points or that most mysterious of stats, Destiny, that I assume works like Karma from the old games, or perhaps it’s a form of Luck.
I Hope You Like Stats
Grimoire, like its spiritual predecessors, has characters with a ton of stats.
You have… So many stats here. Attributes are on the left, covering all of the usual suspects for a game of this nature. Intelligence, strength, constitution, and more are here with a number next to it. There are piles of skills, also with numbers next to them. If you’ve played Wizardry 7 and 8, a lot of these will make sense. You have various weapon types, skills for helping you cast spells, skills for adventuring like swimming, and specialized skills based on your profession like “Music”.
The sheer number of skills is great if you like these sorts of games. If you want your berserker in the front line to be able to identify the things she is slicing through, then pump up mythology. Did you find a shiny whip in a chest somewhere? Then I hope you have some spare points to throw into “Lash & Chain”.
It’s also worth noting that, like the earlier Wizardry games, skills are grouped into three classes, that don’t share points between each other, and that each profession gets more points in some groups than others. Your Warrior isn’t going to have a ton of mental skill points to divvy up. You can also gain skill points in skills when you use them, which is a (totally random) bonus.
Art, User Interfaces, and Your Eyesight
If you haven’t noticed, the art in the game ranges in quality. I realize that saying that line is like saying “the temperature changes a bit between Florida and Alaska”, but what we have here is quite unique. Some of the character art is gorgeous – well done, and better than the Wizardry series did before it moved to Japan. Others…
I hate to critique people for their art, but they probably should have gotten the person who did their portrait art to do the race representation pieces and really stand out when compared to other parts of the game.
The levels themselves look really straightforward with their art. It looks like it came from the late 90s (so, serviceable if not flashy), with one notable exception. When you turn left or right, it’s like the entire window panel slides away to show the new facing direction. Let me give you a visual example:
As you see, it looks like a glitch. After a while it can be ignored, but when I started playing the game it bothered me fiercely. I’ve never played a game that did this, and it bothered me during my play.
And while we’re looking at this screen, let me direct you to the bar in the middle below the view window. That is your inventory for the game. You scroll it left and right to find the things you want. There is no rhyme or reason to it outside of “the latest stuff is at the rightmost”. I’ve heard rumor that there are bags you can find eventually that can help, but in the meantime enjoy trying to find that Rod of Resurrection once you’ve collected a bunch of stuff. Oh, and learning how to use specific items is a challenge too. Just clicking on them won’t always work – sometimes, you have to have a character attempt to Use Item (see those circles near the portraits? Those!) on the item you want, which may be successful or not.
Swording and Magicing things in the face!
At this point, it’s worth talking about the combat. If you’ve played Wizardry 7, you know exactly what to expect. Weapons have different attack types (so some weapons can slash or thrust, or bash, or throw) and spells can be adjusted for power level. Those attacks might hit a specific part of the enemy, and different attack types can penetrate armor better than others. And yes, the game will tell you if you didn’t penetrate at all. Now I know how my first girlfriend must have felt.
A lot of the combat would be tons more fun, if I had a rough idea what I was doing, which is sad because…
There’s no manual.
As of this writing there is a news post saying that they’re working on a manual, but since Grimoire was released as a full game I consider this oversight fair game to bring up. Nothing explains how Strength helps you with anything. There are abbreviations that are esoteric even by my standards. Skills have a description box below them, and the information in there is helpful up to a point, but there is zero guidance in the game. The list of resistances and conditions would baffle anyone except someone that was rather intimate with the Wizardry series, and some of them would baffle those. For example, I have no idea what “Luma” resistance is. It could be resisting lycanthropy, or it could be resisting moon minions. I have no idea, and the game isn’t helping.
And outside of all of the other issues, this one is the hardest to work around. There is a distinct lack of information ingame to explain anything. Assaying weapons and armor gives a little bit of information about it, but it’s really hard to parse out. There’s a difference between “old school crunch” and “I’m Johnny Knoxville, and this is Grimoire”.
The wheat in the chaff.
Now reading all of this, you’re probably thinking that there’s a lot of problems with Grimoire.
Well, there is.
That said, there’s a lot of good stuff in here too. The mechanics are still solid, if a bit understood. There’s so many skills to choose from, and lots of neat combinations of races and professions to let you customize characters to your play style. The world itself is quite large and full of NPCs that are intriguing to talk to. Once you learn how the interface works, there is a depth here that you can’t find in today’s games.
Okay, but should I buy it?
As always, your mileage may vary. I picked up the game when it as 10% off, and the publisher has stated that it will never go on sale. It’s hard to recommend the game based on the state that it’s in, with no manual or other way of figuring out how the game works outside of trial and error and a lot of the rougher edges that come from having a game be in development for two decades. If the idea of female characters not being as strong as male characters bothers you even a little, then I’d step away.
There’s some nuggets of greatness in here, but right now it’s hard to pick through them all. Once the manual comes out and a few more patches go by I might be able to recommend this more readily, but unless you’re seriously itching for a new experience and have beaten all of the Wizardry and Might and Magic games enough times to have memorized them, I’d have to give it a pass.
This game was purchased by the reviewer out of his own funds because he’s a sucker for this sort of game, and has no ties to the developer or publisher that he knows of.
This user has been playing video games all his life, just like everyone else on this site. What makes him different? His lack of pants, for one. His indepth knowledge of RPGs and horror games for another. His favorite tabletop RPG is Legend of the Five Rings, his favorite game series is Silent Hill and his Steam game collection is out of control.