First off I’d like to say that I firmly believe that when our goal is to be constructive and actually learn from feedback, positive or supportive feedback should be much more numerous than negative or corrective feedback. Hence I’ll start this off with saying that I think Grim Dawn, for the most parts, is a good game. It has a nice atmosphere, interesting skills and a good variety in builds. To anyone interested about finding a fresh ARPG to play, I recommend it as one of the best options there currently are.
Nevertheless, even though I principally like Grim Dawn, I find that for myself, my playing time has now stuck at 64 hours. I missed the kickstarter, but bought the game years ago in early access. I’ve played it when there was just one act, and now I’ve played it with all the acts and the first expansions in place. Played it solo, played it with friends.
But ultimately, the core gameplay, to me, is just not satisfying enough.
When I’ve played Grim Dawn in longer bursts, it has very quickly started to feel like a chore void of creativity, learning or even the requirement of paying attention. The reason, I believe, is that the game has a very low player skill cap, skillful play isn’t rewarded, and most mobs are just clutter in your way of finishing a quest.
There’s two sides to this. Firstly, there’s the actual builds. It’s quite easy to just create a build where you put on a bunch of passive skills and then use 1-2 active skills while you basically stand in place and wack monsters until they’re all dead. You can create a build based more around evasion, flashing in, dropping a skill, then retreating and repeating, but honestly, those builds are not any stronger than the less “active” builds and thus there’s no reward in doing that. The order you use skills in doesn’t really matter all too much either. You can mostly use skills often enough - or then they have long enough duration - that you’ll get the benefit of e.g. debuffs no matter when in your use chain the debuff skill is. Plus, unless you’re playing the very end tier content which needs a long time to reach, the monsters aren’t tough enough to handle such optimization - they’ll die easily with much less effort all the same.
Another closely related part to this is the monster and monster ability design and the associated animations. The vast majority of monsters and crucially, bosses, do not have clearly distinguishable attack patterns that you needed to learn and time your attacks around. Most don’t have any particular skills that you needed to be wary of, not anymore than any other attack that they have. It’s difficult - or impossible - to time your entries in sync with enemy behavior to e.g. avoid attacks. Rather, it pretty much feels like that you just randomly get hit sometimes when you’re close to enemies and sometimes not. The boss fights (I’ve heard rumors the expansion has a nice interesting boss fight, but I haven’t reached him/her/it) aren’t of much more interest - most bosses you just stand next to and hit them until they die, or then you flash around healing, attacking, healing, attacking, … but without really needing to react in any particularly manner to the boss itself.
I’ll also add that I’ve never played the game on normal since veteran was added. After that, it’s been only veteran for me. I’ve also mostly played on hardcore.
Now nostalgia may tint it a little, but I recall that Diablo 2’s boss fights were a lot more interesting and felt more dangerous. There were clearly distinguishable attack patterns to the bosses and some of their skills you really needed to be wary of. For more modern examples, Dark Souls and Torchlight 2 (on harder difficulties) require active thinking when going against the bosses. Some MMOs also do a good job with making the central fights interesting and challenging. I’m not much into MMOs, but recently been playing Lord of the Rings Online with my spouse, and I’ve been impressed with how much attention, skill cycle tuning, threat level management and how much reacting to your teammates it takes to beat skirmishes, raids and boss fights that are at or above your character level. Wolcen, for all its bugs and an awful launch and lacking content, also does the core gameplay loop well - if you avoid the game-breaking glitchy builds, you genuinely have to be smart about how you approach fights and there’s a lot of cool synergy you can have with your co-op pals. That’s by the way another thing I kind of feel is lacking in Grim Dawn - co-op. Of course there is multiplayer, and maybe half of my game time has been together with my friends, but it really just feels like you have a bunch of people coincidentally on the same server, coincidentally doing the same content. There’s only a handful of meaningful ally-boosting skills and they’re mostly just straight buffs that don’t need any skill to utilize. PoE has the same problem - co-op feels like a bunch of individual people trying to have the best DPS instead of a bunch of people genuinely cooperating.
In summary, I suppose what I find lacking with Grim Dawn is challenge that required attention, pattern recognition and raw game skill to overcome. So, mobs and even bosses just feel like clutter in the way of finishing a quest, rather than a true challenge to overcome with skill and preparation.
Yet I enjoy many aspects of the game and I do not regret at all having bought it. And if my friends get excited about playing it again, I might even consider buying some expansions.
Thanks for reading.