I decided to take a chance on Legend of Grimrock 2. It's a modern take on the old-school dungeon crawling formula of D&D days, the grid-based movement system and party of four adventurers. The Steam community feedback was very positive, so I gave it a go -- and it has been one of the best surprises of this year for me.
At first glance, I thought the game might be a bit too reliant on hidden switches and trapdoors. What I really wanted was some intelligent combat. Four people in a party acting as one organism, struggling to beat all the challenges on their mysterious island. I got that good combat I was after, but I was wrong about what the star of the show is. Grimrock 2 is a case of "come for the combat, stay for the amazing puzzles". Unless you came for the puzzles, in which case, aren't you a little smartypants.
There is a wide variety of puzzles on display in the game. The occasional combat puzzle is there, figuring out how to get past an enemy with a new trick. There are movement puzzles based on the grid system, such as "move three left and three back", or "two North and one South". There are plenty of switch puzzles, seeing what a pressure pad does and reacting accordingly. Riddles? Oh, you bet. Block moving? Mmhmm. There are also language puzzles arcing over other puzzles (think Fez), slowly figuring out what means what on the island, and working your way up to a meta-puzzle.
It can be very Myst-like, at times, except I actually stand a chance at solving these. Grimrock 2 eases you into the rules of the game very well. It'll let you know in simple ways when the answer is just a hidden switch, or how the pressure pads work, before introducing tougher problems with less handholding. It's also very masterful at showing you you're not done with the puzzle yet. There are plenty of secrets, and it'll allow a glimpse of a shiny object on a platform you can't get to, or through the bars of a door you can't open, just to let you know you haven't exactly 100%'d this area yet.
It also looks damn pretty. At times, I just right-clicked into its free-view mode and had a look around.
The exploration of this massive island, and the puzzles with connections to other puzzles all over the place, has already taken about 40 hours of my life, and I regret nothing. Grimrock 2 came out during the most hectic period for triple-A games this year, and I remember being worried about it, along with other indies. I'm pretty sure it'll do fine, now. Not only has word of mouth spread how great the main campaign is, it also has spawned an active mod scene, just like the first one.
Creating your own dungeons and puzzles is easy, and someone has already made a shifting maze, and a procedurally generated Grimrock for infinite dungeon-ing. That's on top of piles of smaller packs you can download from Steam community members, with just a handful of neat puzzles for you to solve.
After my late nights noticing the sun come up, shrugging my shoulders, and continuing to play, I'm finally at the giant castle in the middle of the island, about to discover its secrets. The entire time, I think I've come across just one puzzle that I didn't really like.
There are so many games being released right at the end of this year, both in the triple-A and indie scenes, that making a Game of the Year list is even harder than usual. I have about five I really want to play before I'd feel good about it. But this one definitely has a spot.