Release Date: March 26th, 2019
Platform: Windows(Played on Windows)
Developer: TALEROCK
Publisher: Asterion Games

Copy provided by publisher

Step into the world of Grimshade, a throwback RPG and the first game from studio Talerock. Join a diverse class of characters as they work to untangle a political conspiracy, which will finally give you the opportunity to live your life-long fantasy of being a gun-wielding badger. Unlike other role-playing games, there are no levels and stats are limited for a streamlined experience. The focus here is the writing, and the strategic turn-based combat. While there are many neat ideas, Grimshade largely fails to execute on them.

Grimshade is a game which very clearly takes many of its cues from old school RPGs. This means a laborious amount of writing has been done to flesh out the world, characters, and story. Unfortunately, this tends to highlight some of the bigger problems throughout the experience.

The game begins with two quasi cut-scenes, neither of which make sense. They are filled to the brim with jargon specific to the world and drag on for far too long. After finishing both, the opening is played and your journey begins. You’ll then spend the next several hours fleshing out all of the information that is needed to understand what you’ve observed in those opening cut-scenes. This muddies the delivery and makes the story a confusing mess until you’ve been given the information you’d need to understand it in the first place.

Grimshade also overindulges in its writing. Every conversation drags on due to the sheer volume of unnecessary text. Some of it is due to a stylistic decision to make the characters sound like they’re from the 16th century, but the charm of this is lost when they continually spout out mountains of exposition. A fair amount of the dialogue is dry, which makes it feel akin to reading a textbook, rather than an exciting fantasy.

The world building suffers the same problem as the character dialogue. It’s far too verbose and reads like an engineering manual. This, in particular, is a shame because there are seeds of good ideas scattered throughout. The main plot is one of political intrigue where there is clear roots of corruption spread throughout the city. The art, and mannerisms of the people within the city show the effects of this, but the writing is insistent on reminding players of these details that are so clearly communicated visually.

If this wasn’t enough, seeing frequent spelling mistakes certainly doesn’t help. The development team is Russian, so my assumption is the English version of the game I played went through translation, but there needed to be a finer comb of proofreading. A few spelling mistakes I could look past, but I regularly ran into spelling mistakes, improper tense, and some sentences that didn’t make any sense. The frequency of these errors is exacerbated due to how much Grimshade leans on its writing, highlighting what a poor job the English translation is.

To add to the list of issues, sometimes the game wouldn’t save, however, there is a very generous auto-saving feature which mitigates this problem a bit. Sometimes the quick restart option in combat would get stuck in a loop preventing the combat from actually starting again. Sometimes after a quick restart, multiple copies of a given character would appear in the combat zone. And numerous times the music just stopped playing and would not come back on unless I restarted the game. In a better game, some of these might be easy to look past, but each re-occurrence of any given problem continued to try my patience.

Grimshade also runs rather poorly. Within the overworld everything is smooth, but while in combat the game would frequently stutter when asked to render multiple combatants. As your party gets larger, the problems become more frequent as you regularly fight large hordes of enemies. While combat is strategic, rather than action-focused, it is yet another problem to compound several others.

Speaking of combat, generally, I enjoyed that. It’s not nearly deep enough to support the game for its full length but provides an almost puzzle-like design to each fight. A character’s available skills are determined by what equipment they have on, so figuring out what configuration of equipment is needed to defeat a group of baddies can be enjoyable. There is even a quick restart option included so that fights can be quickly reset if you discover the optimal solution mid-fight and would like to retry. The bugs related to restarting a fight can get in the way of this, and the lack of available skills hold the combat back, but similar to bits of the world writing there are seeds of good ideas present.

Art is one of the area’s Grimshade does more good than bad. The in-game character models and the world all look fantastic. The cel-shading and hard outlines make all of the visuals pop giving the whole game a distinct look. An excellent use of colour in some areas also helps to make the majority of the game visually appealing. One area the art is a bit lackluster is the character portraits in conversations. They’re all a bit flat and lifeless, which is especially odd given the character portraits used in combat aren’t.

Grimshade’s side quests are also, for the most part, good. You’ll pick up side quests as random tidbits of information, or requests that are made to your band of heroes. You’ll then have a note of it in your quest log, and the rest is on you. I really enjoyed trying to work out many of the quests. Rather than using waypoints as a crutch to guide the player, it felt like I was solving each quest through subtle hints from the game developers. Some quests in the second half of the game devolve into “go here, do this” style quests, which is a shame, but the good on offer here far outweighs the bad.

Grimshade is, in a word, a mess. There are seeds of good ideas that can be seen in the world writing and combat, and the art and side quests are mostly good. However, mountains of dry writing, numerous translation errors, bugs, performance issues, and the overall lack of depth to the combat make the experience drag. What’s truly a shame is there is clearly potential in the game, but it’s choked out by all of the issues it has.