Grimrock 2 feels the same as the original, but I had a lot more fun with it. I think the changes of scenery, from dungeon to open air to crystal mine and so on, did a lot to keep me from burning out. Non-linear design has its ups and downs: being able to hoard my stuff in a hub I could always return to, seeing enemies (and their drops) respawn, and having a surplus of food squirreled away made me feel safer in meandering between the various puzzles I was stuck on; they paced things well. But some puzzles actually require players to get a hint or item from another place, which is really frustrating if you spend a lot of time trying to solve a puzzle with what you already have on you. You also might pick up a sheet of paper with a hint on it but forget the context of where or how you found it, which could be important. This was probably the only thing Toki Tori 2+ did more appreciably in not having puzzles associated with item or skill progression.
The puzzles aren’t as challenging as those in Fez, nor should they be in a game with food and resource mechanics, but they also aren’t as well-designed. Take Grimrock 2’s coded word puzzle: as with Fez, you can work out rules and patterns. Write the contents of signs down and you’ll find six verbs as well as a few frequently-appearing but optional suffixes. The platforms are of the variety that can’t be weighed down with inventory items, so there’s no chance of a “drop item here” verb. Compass directions only make four verbs, so that’s out… but movements relative to facing, like “step forward”, along with “turn clockwise” make six. Pretty straightforward, right? But what had me stuck for the longest time was that I assumed the instructions began at the signs. Instead, you’re supposed to read the sign, and then move to the start of the room and carry it out from there. And yet… there’s another one of these signs in a forest, and for that one, you do just act from the sign. You certainly don’t move to the start of the forest. That inconsistency kept me stuck for probably over an hour, and I don’t think Fez ever would’ve overlooked something like that.
Other puzzles also had me stuck, and when I checked a guide, it told me to do some esoteric nonsense for no discernable reason. Probably something hinted by a piece of paper I tossed in the hub that said something cryptic, like “At the crossroads, I moved slowly toward the sunrise, turning back when I feared the dark.” But to be fair, there were only a few of those, and most of the puzzles were very satisfying. As long as you keep detailed notes and are willing to move on to another area when stuck, you aren’t likely to miss much.
I don’t remember all the specifics of the original Grimrock, but not only is the sequel a much more ambitious game in scope, skills have been reworked and are more satisfying now. I remember not being able to use the cool swords I found in the original game, because I had built a character around the axe skill instead. But in Grimrock 2, various weapon skills have been merged together, although there are still light weapons and heavy weapons, and some of these are dex-oriented instead of str-oriented, which means you might not find a use for all of them in your build. I think it’s also much easier to attack from the back row with standard weapons, now: you just need a couple points in accuracy, which players can get pretty much immediately.
But there are balance issues. Magic seemed weak compared to the damage my melee attackers were doing, and it required more invested levels and more player skill. Of course, on top of that, the attacks were limited by one’s mana pool. Frankly, that seems ridiculous. While I didn’t focus on ranged combat, I also read unencouraging things about the firearms skill, in that guns would jam and ammo was unretrievable.
I also think a few tweaks would also be an enormous help for the feel of the game. The way I can “queue up” my next movement immediately after starting the previous one causes a disconnect in my brain that is very tricky to adjust to, given the whole second or so it actually takes to move between tiles. Some of the trickiest endgame challenges in the Castle simply ask the player to move efficiently despite awkward controls. My recommendation is that actions shouldn’t queue up until I’m much closer to being able to take that step, and what’s queued should change if I still press something else in that time, as I would if suddenly reacting to something.
Maps and notes are also a big part of the game, so it’s a shame I have to drag and drop symbols to the map instead of pressing keys where my cursor is, or making notches on the map with my cursor itself. There also aren’t enough symbols I can use to distinguish certain features, compared to the clean notes I could leave myself in Etrian Odyssey IV, and any changes in elevation within a floor are especially hard to read. It’d be asking a lot if I said I wanted proper text editing, but the clunky type-and-erase-only thing most games do really does keep me from making notes as comprehensive as I’d like them to be.
A few areas were highly reminiscent of EO4, and made me feel a bit nostalgic. I’d say Grimrock 2 isn’t quite on its level in a couple areas. Grimrock’s combat requires skill, especially if you’re luring enemies out for backstabs and trapping others in force fields, and it deserves some mention for that, but it’s also somewhat clunky with the existing movement controls and doesn’t change much over time. Conversely, EO4’s combat could be grindy at times, but were the truest puzzles that game had. But Grimrock challenges the player’s mind more in its dungeons, and doesn’t overstay its welcome: while I tend to like shorter games that don’t require me to slave away at them for weeks, I was actually a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to the postgame dungeon (overall, I was wholly satisfied with Grimrock 2’s length, whereas it hurt to commit as much time as I did for EO4). EO4 had beautiful music and characters that made me feel more of an emotional attachment to what I was playing, but Grimrock 2 was really fun, and I feel confident giving it a score in a similar range for playing to its strengths.
So to wrap this up, here are some picks for the Grimrock soundtrack that exists only in my head:
Twigroot Forest: EO4 – Labyrinth I: Cerulean Woodlands
Keelbreach Bog: EO4 – Labyrinth II: Misty Ravine
Crystal Mine: EO4 – Labyrinth III: Grotto of the Adamantine Beast
Castle Nex: EO4 – Labyrinth IV: Library of Puppets
Cemetery: of Montreal – Old People in the Cemetery