Grim Dawn Review - IGN (2024)

There’s a deceptive simplicity to action-RPGs like Grim Dawn, and most that have tried to knock off Diablo’s crown over the years. It’s not enough to simply fill the screen with enemies only to pop them open like a gory sheet of bubblewrap; the artistry comes in honing the atmosphere, the satisfaction of every kill, every stat point, every sound effect, and every splatter. Few can live up to the master in that regard.

Grim Dawn is one of the few that can, joining the pantheon of games that do more than merely hold their own against Blizzard’s initially troubled but now mighty Diablo 3 juggernaut. You feel it from the first smack of a sword against undead flesh to the spark of fire in your chosen character’s class skills, and it doesn’t fade - even over many, many hours of blunt brutality and hand-crafted subtleties.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous world too. Even at its darkest, it’s full of detail and texture, with plenty of variety as you hack through semi-Victorian nightmare to underground caves and insect hives, and then blink in the sunlight as the second act pushes all that aside to randomly be about cowboys instead. Little environmental touches are absolutely everywhere, completely selling the idea that this is a fallen land past any chance of actually saving. The abandoned villages; the crumbling walls of dungeons; the sad*stic experiments in Warden Krieg’s sickly green laboratory. None of them are welcoming, and the surviving towns aren’t much better. There’s a reason why one of the earliest quests provides some start-up cash to buy gear with a warning that it’s the only handout you can expect during your stay.Exploring it, though, is a smooth, epic-feeling experience that regularly demands long treks through enemy territory to get to the next boss or quest objective, and just about every path is scattered with both big combat engagements and dungeons to dip into for an extra boss fight and bonus loot. My only real complaint is - and please, wait a moment before complaining or posting that Jackie Chan ‘head blown’ picture - that there’s arguably an overabundance of loot here.

I know. Gathering loot is a cornerstone of the genre, and if killing things doesn’t produce enough tinkling swords and shields to simulate tinnitus then it’s usually not doing its job properly. Here, though, those junk items are worth so little compared to the cost of even buying a basic health potion that it never feels satisfying to sell, and it’s usually usable gear like swords and shields like the one you’re currently using. This makes it a real pain to sort through in search of worthwhile upgrades and gear to hold onto. Going back to town is at least painless, with a free Rift Travel spell that puts you right next to a shopkeeper and a portal back to where you just left, but it gets pretty tedious. I wouldn’t have minded more straight-up junk items instead of common equipment that could either be auto-sold with a button click or just milled into currency, leaving just the worthwhile gear to take up bag space. You can at least set the screen to only show that loot in the first place, but that’s just leaving good money literally sitting around on the floor for no reason.

Forces of Destruction

On the other hand, the power curve as a whole though works superbly, with a real sense of progression even as the enemies scale up around you. Magic in particular quickly steps up from a few basic sparks to screen-filling pyrotechnics, with fire-strikes turning into full explosions and what are meant to be simple lightning-based stun effects packing enough punch to not just kill enemies outright, but send them flying across the scenery as if literally dismissed as unworthy to fight for real.Mana - "spirit," technically - is well balanced to let you cut loose with these abilities on a constant basis, but not simply hammer the buttons at random. You can button-mash through most of Act 1, but as of Act 2 it becomes more important to use them tactically. The Demolitionist’s Molotov co*cktail, backed up with lightning stun balls, is a great way to thin a herd ready for some precision melee strikes with a flaming sword, for instance, with the Arcanist’s take on Magic Missile - one shot that splits when it hits a target - being excellent when faced with a room full of enemies with nowhere to run. Each class (or Mastery, as they're called here) has a powerful set to choose from, though upgrading them and unlocking new skills has to be balanced with leveling up passive increases that help provide the stats needed to wield better gear and keep up with the monster curve.

Friend and Foe

Grim Dawn’s main focus is single-player action, though it supports multiplayer for up to four people - needless to say, minus anything like the Auction House or always-on requirements that didn’t so much blot Diablo 3’s copybook as upend a whole inkwell over its every page.

I quickly found myself skipping over the depressing dialogue from depressing people.

As for the reason we're hacking and slashing our way through these places and creatures, that's one place Grim Dawn could stand to improve. There are some interesting touches to the story, like being able to repair bridges as soon as you have the necessary equipment, including the one that initially blocks the way to the second act, a reputation system that unlocks special gear, extras like a bounty table, and a few choices to make here and there about who to give a lift back to safety that affect the story. Overall though, it’s not a particularly gripping tale, and I quickly found myself skipping over the depressing dialogue from depressing people and just heading to the next star on the map where evildoers awaited a good beating around the face and neck until appropriately sorry.Plot is there if you want it though, in the occasional lore text and conversations with friends and villains, and I did like the slow building up of the town of Devil’s Crossing - the hub - from a town of survivors basically sitting back and anticipating death to actually being a small community with a chance. The acts also unfold out to provide plenty of different scenery as you cross the huge world - huge to the extent that even early quests to a neighboring town feel like small odysseys - which are littered with bonus dungeons of every size, including special challenge ones that disable rift travel and make the only way out either victory or death.

In short, there’s a hell of a lot here, with more coming - a Survival mode that strips the action down to just fighting waves of enemies, and modding tools for new content. Occasionally it makes the standard ARPG slip of having dungeons run just a little too long or not quite pacing the peaks and troughs of combat correctly, or something will underwhelm – like the way that your first hint that you’re fighting the boss of a dungeon is that what looks like a regular guy is just taking a lot more hits than everyone else, and I can’t remember any of them with the raw weight and drama of fighting someone like The Butcher for the first time back in Diablo. What matters, though, is that Grim Dawn understands its genre on every level, from how to keep a world interesting while still feeling coherent even with a jump from Victorian monsters to cowboys, to the essential satisfaction of smack, smack, smacking literally thousands of them before breakfast.


Grim Dawn is one of the best action-RPGs out there, combining excellent hack and slash action with a world and progression curve that makes it worth fighting through. Alone or with friends, it’s hour after hour of top quality combat and looting, with the promise of many more excellent dark times to come.

Grim Dawn Review - IGN (2024)


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