Back in 2008, Iron Lore Entertainment shut down despite being the studio behind highly renowned aRPG Titan Quest. A year later, some of the former members got together and formed Crate Entertainment, the studio currently developing Grim Dawn.
Currently in its alpha stage, Grim Dawn is an action-RPG that takes the genre back to its roots. Everything from the controls, combat and gameplay mechanics and even the graphics feel so very nostlagic to the point that it may even be considered slightly archaic. However, that is not to say that this charming aRPG has no potential of bringing innovative features to the aRPG table.
In this exclusive interview, we ask Crate Entertainment co-founder, manager, and lead designer Arthur Bruno a few questions about a game that revives a genre that evolved so much within the past few years.
What made you decide to create an old-school style action RPG?
What we really wanted to do was capture some of the sense of magic that exploration of both world and gameplay systems had in older games like Goldbox AD&D games produced by SSI. In terms of the combat and other elements, we’re trying to be contemporary or even innovative. Even as we’re working on Act II content, which we hope to release in the next couple months, we’re also always going back and trying to add to and improve what we’ve done. There is still a lot of lore and unique side content we want to add and players can expect to see more of that as we progress. In fact, our next build will add two new sidequests and two lore sources to the first act that can be found through exploring the world.
Grim Dawn is an action RPG that takes the genre back to its roots. Do you think its closeness with more nostalgic mechanics can hinder its potential for innovation?
Not necessarily, I think it is just important to carefully consider changes and innovation and be sure that they align with the vision for the game. I think the biggest danger when trying to innovate is changing things just for the sake for change. I think the best thing is for ideas to evolve organically through the process of development as opposed to just deciding you’re going to come up with a new way of doing something for the sake of it.
Grim Dawn is the “spiritual successor” to Titan Quest. How do you think the action RPG genre has evolved since Titan Quest? Do you like what it has become?
It’s funny, when TQ came out, it was really kind of a low point for the genre. There weren’t a lot of good ARPGs coming out and, probably for that reason, there didn’t seem to be as much interest in the genre as there is now. It is great to see that the genre has undergone somewhat of a revival. There is certainly a lot more choice now in terms of high-quality ARPGs to play and I think that benefits everyone. The only negative I’ve seen is that in some cases, it feels like interesting, complex mechanics and player choice (with the potential to make mistakes) has been done away with, in favor of simple systems that are more accessible to casual players. There are other games though that learn toward the hardcore end of the spectrum, so it seems like everyone is being served.
What features can we expect to find in the future that are more current or next-gen than past-gen?
We’ve done a lot to upgrade the combat over Titan Quest and I think it feels really satisfying now, whereas it fell kind of flat in TQ. We’re adding in more quests that offer choice and consequence, which has been around forever in traditional RPGs but not something you see much in ARPGs. I think that adds an interesting new dimension to the game for people who are more into exploring the world and lore.
I think we also have great itemization, which will be improved further once we roll out our new crafting system. A lot of the more interesting items are not yet accessible but you can get randomized affixes, unique items and even components (item add-ons) that grant unique skills. There is a lot of potential to create unique builds centered around item skills. For example, there are several items that allow you to summon unique pets not available through the regular class skills, so you could collect a few of those, combine them with class masteries that have pets and create an army for yourself.
Grim Dawn utilizes the same engine as Titan Quest; PathEngine. Why use a somewhat dated engine? In what ways, if any, has Crate improved the engine’s capabilities?
Path Engine is actually just a 3rd party pathing solution, which we don’t even use anymore. Titan Quest was a proprietary engine built by Iron Lore. The engine was advanced for 2006 and, with improvements, certainly still has life in it. I think people often make the mistake of assuming an engine becomes outdated over time but that is really only true if you stop developing it. I mean, Unreal Engine 3 is even older than the TQ Engine and is still widely used for AAA, cutting edge games.
Over the course of development we’ve totally replaced the pathing engine, physics engine, upgraded the shader model, added specular terrain, increased terrain resolution, added anti-aliasing up to 8x and anisotropic filtering up to 16x, added post processing effects, dynamic weather, depth of field and soft particles. We actually just made a few adjustments that I think will improve things even further when we release build 16 in the coming weeks.
I read that the crafting system will be very similar to DotA. Will there also be auras that might be more beneficial in multiplayer? Who is your favorite hero in DotA?
It will be similar in the sense that the highest level recipes will call for lower level crafted items, you can sort of plan what you’re aiming for in the end game and begin trying to craft the components for it starting at lower levels. Yes, there are items that can grant auras or other abilities that are useful in multiplayer.
Hmm, tough call… Troll Warlord was always fun just because he was sort of OP but I also enjoyed Faceless Void for player killing and Dwarven Sniper. At Iron Lore, I actually made my own MOBA called Pirates vs. Ninjas that was faster paced and less punishing so that it promoted more hero vs. hero battles, as opposed to DotA, where early on it is very risky to seek out enemy heroes and you have to wait for an ideal opportunity.
It’s funny, we actually tried to get the owners of Iron Lore to let us make a commercial version of our MOBA back around 2006, before they became really popular but they said they didn’t think there was much of a market for it… Oops!
Grim Dawn is so far quite linear in terms of plot. I’ve read that there will be factions in the future, does that mean more diverse dialogue options or just selective quests?
The main plot is sort of linear because we want people who don’t care about story to have the freedom to just play through the game without being gated too much by quest dependencies. The sidequests are where we’re trying to work in more dialog options and consequences. In Act 1 we don’t have a lot that so far, although there is one quest that you can stumble into, which will have some significant consequences depending on how you resolve it. One choice gives you access to a secret dungeon in Act 1, the other has no immediate consequence, aside from not getting into the dungeon but it will have an effect on things in Act 2.
We’re doing a lot more with choice and consequence in Act 2 though and we plan to come back and build some more of it into Act 1 later on. The quest tech was still being worked on when we released Act 1, so there isn’t as much of it there yet.
We’re also planning to do more with factions later on but that is another area where content development is currently outpacing the tech. Once we finish the basic content though, we plan to come back and “upgrade” previous areas.
What else would you like to add about Grim Dawn?
I’d say that fans of the genre should definitely keep an eye on Grim Dawn, especially once we roll out Act 2, multiplayer and crafting early next year. I know the price is a little high for some people currently, largely as a result of our early access pricing for the Kickstarter campaign but it will be coming down a bit as we get further along.
If you’re interested in playing Grim Dawn, Early Access is currently available to purchase on Steam for $29.99.