Bards Tale III – my introduction to 3D like adventure
Back in the late 1980’s I worked for Simcoe Computer Consultants at the 400 Market, outside of Barrie, Ontario. The 400 Market was a mixed market of many vendors, one of which was Simcoe Computer Consultants. I spent the weekends manning the company’s booth, selling the odd item, and spreading the word about the company’s computers and services.
One weekend Cec, one of the company owners, mentioned that a lead from the market had helped them sell a bunch of computers, and I was welcome to pick a piece of software as a reward. I picked Bard’s Tale III, Thief of Fate, a dungeon crawling game with a 3D-like interface. Bard’s Tale III quickly became one of my favourite games, it mixed D&D elements with a more urgent element where one wrong turn could lead to a face to face encounter with deadly monsters.
Legend of Grimrock
Legend of Grimrock reminds me of Bard’s Tale III. The two games have very different stories, but the interfaces feel similar, and the sense of not knowing what might be around the next bend, is common to both. Legend of Grimrock has fewer character slots, but characters are more developed with the ability to develop different skills, in addition to assigning main stat points.
The biggest difference between the two games is the significantly better graphics of Legend of Grimrock. Bard’s Tale III got a remaster, but I’ve only extensively played the original game. I bought the remaster of Bards Tale III, but I didn’t get very far before getting killed off, and setting the game aside. Early in Legend of Grimrock I also got killed off, but there was something about the game that made me come back to it right away, an element that intimated I’d missed some learning that would have kept me alive.
In Legend of Grimrock you play up to 4 prisoners tossed into the Legend of Grimrock with nothing. It’s your job to escape the dungeon. The character creation screen lets you create up to 4 characters, and choose from among 4 races: Human, Minotaur, Lizard Man, or Insectoid. Base statistics change depending on the race chosen. Humans have no positive advantages, but also no negative disadvantages. Minotaur’s have increased strength and vitality, but take a hit on willpower. Lizard Men have increased dexterity, but also take a hit on willpower. Insectoids have increased willpower, but take a hit on strength. During character creation players have the ability to assign up to 10 points across all statistics, so any negatives can be negated, or positives can be increased further, to a point. Base statistics can further be increased by choosing special “traits.” The strong mind trait, for example, adds +2 to willpower. Base stats are sometimes capped at 18, and can’t be increased further through the initial assignment points, but can be buffed beyond 18 through trait choice.
One of the downsides to Legend of Grimrock are the limited classes, characters be a Fighter, Rogue, or Mage. A lot of Role Playing Games of late tend to have many classes, and dozens of skills across several skill trees for those classes, allowing a lot of variety. Legend of Grimrock is simple, but simplicity is part of its charm. A word of caution, make sure you’re choosing the class you actually want to choose for each character. I inadvertently created a fighter and stuck him in the rear last slot, when I intended to create a mage, a fighter with 8 strength. Also, don’t forget to give your characters unique names, “New Prisoner” won’t hurt game play, but isn’t very original unless you’re planning a clone army.
Runs on a potato
If you pull up Legend of Grimrock on Steam you’ll notice versions for Windows, MacOS, and Steam (note: we’re talking about the original Legend of Grimrock, not Legend of Grimrock II, which only supports Windows and MacOS). Normally, games that run on SteamOS also have a SteamOS/Linux tab in the System Requirements, but Legend of Grimrock does not. For Windows the requirements are as follows:
- Processor: Dual Core 2GHz Intel, or 2.8GHz AMD
- Memory: 2GB RAM
- Graphics: ATI Radeon X1600 or NVIDIA GeForce 7600. Shader Model 3.0 needs to be supported. The minimum resolution for the game is 1024×768 or 1280×720 for wide screen.
These are minimum requirements. Recommended requirements are as follows:
- Processor: Quad Core 2.66GHS Intel or 3.2GHz AMD
- Memory: 4GB RAM
- Graphics: A graphics card supporting OpenGL 2.1
I ran Legend of Grimrock on a system with Intel onboard graphics (XEON E3-1200 v3/4th Gen Core processor Integrated Graphics Controller) that supported OpenGL 4.6 and it ran very smoothly. This is just to suggest it might be possible to run the game on integrated Intel graphics as well, as long as it supports OpenGL 2.1 and the resolutions mentioned before.
Solving puzzles, wandering around, and combat
Legend of Grimrock starts out slowly, but characters also start out empty handed, no weapons at all. Wander around enough and you’ll start to pick up clothes, items that can be used as weapons (tip: you can use torches as weapons), food, and other items.
Some items can be used to solve puzzles, things that when placed strategically stop traps from springing, or open doors, or other passageways. There are hidden passageways that can be triggered by pressing parts of a wall, and messages that give hints on how to solve some of the dungeon puzzles.
The game starts so slowly you might think that there’s not much to the game, but be wary, there are monsters on the first level, and they can easily kill your entire party if you’re not prepared. There is no swapping characters in the middle of the adventure, you’ve been dumped down a pit into the dungeon – no escape until you burrow down into the furthest reaches.
You can save your game in spots. There’s an autosave, but it’s also helpful to save your game in a separate slot in case of death… which can easily happen between the game’s monsters and traps.
Giant Slugs are the first monster encountered in Legend of Grimrock. You might expect them to be wimpy, but they take several hits from both characters in the front row, in addition to thrown weapons from the back row, to kill. Better weapons mean easier kills, but by the time you acquire better weapons you also have to deal with more difficult monsters.
Controls, a bit jank at first
Legend of Grimrock uses a combination of keyboard and mouse controls. WASD is used for movement, Q and E are used to switch views, left and right. Right mouse click on an equipped weapon to use it. Only the front 2 characters can attack with melee weapons, the rear two characters have to rely on missile or spell weapons.
As you progress through the dungeon things become a bit confusing. Thankfully there is a slick automap that runs in the background. To bring up the dungeon map hit the TAB key. The dungeon map doesn’t stay on the screen, as it does in many RPGs. I actually like that the map disappears, it makes the game slightly more challenging.
Legend of Grimrock is available on Steam for $16.99CDN + taxes. I bought the game when it was on sale for $6.52 + HST. If you don’t mind games that test your patience, than Legend of Grimrock is probably worth the full price. But if you’re looking for something like a Diablo-esque game, this really isn’t it.
There is a dungeon editor included with Legend of Grimrock, and it loads fine in Xubuntu Linux 22.04, but I haven’t actually used it to create any dungeons – the game is challenging and interesting enough that I’m still enjoying the base game. There will come a time when I’m sure I’ll appreciate the editor, but for now the game is fun enough without the editor. There are several guides for Legend of Grimrock on Steam, including a description of the skill trees and spell formulas for the mage class.
There is also a PDF manual if you click on the Manual in the Addition Content section of the Steam page for Legend of Grimrock (note: this only shows if you’ve purchased the game). The manual looks very nice and reminds me of the kind of quality that used to go into manuals years ago.