Android games make hardcore gamers snarl, crack sarcastic jokes or just dismiss the whole platform outright. We understand. As hardcore gamers who spend some time scouring Google Play’s endless throng of IAP-ridden Android titles in an attempt to find games we might actually want to play, we know. The nice thing about this sorting however is that every once in a while we stumble upon a gem. And I don’t mean high profile titles like Xcom or The Banner Saga games which one expects to be good but rather the hidden gems, the handful of superbly mobile-first games by micro-developers like Little Killerz’ Tales of Illyria series or any one of the Trace Bros. excellent titles. Olline’s Grim wanderings is such a gem, even if it is in some ways still in the rough.
As Grim wanderings begins, you choose from one of five standard dark fantasy-themed races as well as a class for your hero character. The graphics caught our eye early on. Though a mixed bag in terms of technical quality, they ooze atmosphere and when they’re on point resemble something between expressionist art and medieval icons. The vibe and much of the gameplay calls to mind both the Disciples and Hand of Fate series, which is not remotely a coincidence as the product description explains that the game was inspired by both.
Starting in your race’s capital city, the first orders of business are choosing your hero, grabbing some quests from the local leader and slapping together a party of warriors. Once you’ve strung together your medieval badasses, you hit the map. Represented abstractly by a rectangular grid of icons, each map plays out via a number of quests, which generally have you traversing the map grid either gathering food, gold or precious items. Each cell on Grim wanderings’ map is represented by one of a number of icons, each one representing a different type of encounter. A menu at the bottom of the map screen provides essential information like the location of your current quests and the difficulty level of nearby map cells. Tap and hold on a cell and you get the skinny on its type. There are city spaces, each run by different races, where you can procure exotic troops, resources or heal troops; encounter spaces where you are often given the option of attempting an ambush; food spaces where you can gather food for your troops by hook or crook and still others where you can do things like buy experience or travel to the next map.
Unfortunately, the game’s tutorial at present is a number of paragraphs, which obviously is not the best way to teach players how to play a detailed game. We ended up learning the finer points of play by tapping on things, which worked but made for a few rough starts. Once you actually get Grim wanderings’ GUI down, however, manipulating the map to keep your troops fed and alive is fairly simple and engaging.
As in the early Disciples games, you level up your troops and hero as you travel the map and slap serious whupass on the baddies you encounter. Also like its antecedent, Grim wanderings is a pretty challenging game. Even though we generally ventured only onto map cells that were on or below our party’s level, we often enough found ourselves starving or getting our backsides handed to us, which forced us to take the game’s mechanics more seriously, a dynamic that made said mechanics rather compelling.
If you ever played the early Disciples games, you will instantly recognize the game’s combat model. You start out with a roster of four warriors, including your hero character. As your hero levels up, you are allotted extra slots in your troop roster for a total of six. Your warriors level up alongside your hero, but unlike your main dude, your troops will also be promoted to new uber-class types that come with augmented and sometimes new skills. For a game that is as satisfyingly detailed as Grim wanderings is, we would have liked to have seen a greater variety of skills for our warriors. That said, we enjoyed sifting through the game’s various classes and uber-classes to plan out our future war band. With four to six slots and warrior, healer, magic user and sometimes giant-sized troops to choose from, putting together a viable party is essential if you hope to survive. If you have not played the early Disciples games suffice it to say that like those superb hybrids, Grim wanderings’ combat provides simple, elegant turn-based brawls that will prove satisfying and challenging to RPG fans.
While we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by Grim wanderings, the game does have a few trenchant issues. On our first outing, after having played the shizzbit out of the first map, we were disappointed that we had run through our troop’s promotion trees, and would have liked to have some new classes to look forward to on the second map. While the graphics are moody and weird in the best way, they are a bit on the bare bones side, and there are number of portraits that were technically a mess. To be fair however, Oleg Bondrov who along with his wife Ellinia Bondrova created Grim Wanderings, explained to us that they are hiring a pro artist to make up for these shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the Android platform has been on a bit of a down slope these past couple of years, and games that scratch the hardcore gamer itch and are not at the same time incessantly begging for chump change are few and far between. At this juncture the most vibrant aspect of the Android market are indie titles, the best among them often the product of small development teams like Olline. When we stumble upon a game like Grim wanderings we are pretty thrilled. Though still rough around the edges, Grim wanderings makes up for its production shortcomings with excellent strategy and RPG chops that will keep many a hardcore mobile gamer happy for hours.
Is it Hardcore?
Though its bare bones production values could use some work, Grim wanderings offers up a nuanced and satisfying strategy-RPG hybrid.