Grimmwood - They Come At Night Review
Reviewed on PC
In the deep of night, foul beasts rise from their fetid lairs, hungry for human flesh. Huddling together in preparation, the brave folk of your village have spent the day preparing for this daily horror; repairing and rebuilding, foraging and crafting, some even searching the forest itself for any semblance of assistance, all doing what they thought best in the hope that their effort might hold back a tide of snarling monsters. As midnight approaches, so too do the abominations. Those who survive a wave of blades and teeth crashing down upon them will repeat this cycle and must begin anew come the morning, preparing once more for the worst the night can bring. Such is life in Grimmwood.
New players are tasked with creating a simple character to begin with, featuring their job in the village as well as up to two defining traits and a selection of potentially helpful items. These traits aren't to be taken lightly as your success in some tasks is based solely on them. You might be a Rational Fisherman and find your focus falling on supplying food for the others or perhaps you'll end up being an Unstable, Ugly Scout who's far better off wandering the wilderness trying to find hunting grounds or other points of interest outside the village. You're free to re-roll your randomly generated items and traits up to ten times so there's no picking your strengths or endlessly retrying till you get the perfect combination which forces a varying challenge every time you begin anew.
Grimmwood - They Come At Night's aesthetic is a combination of scene setting paintings and an interface made to fit, with aspects such as your inventory having the appearance of metal trimmed woodwork and your map appearing as tattered paper resting on a dimly lit table. While there are few buildings in the village itself, and as such a relatively limited number of painted visuals to inspire further thought, what is there serves it's purpose well, filling in the blanks of a world otherwise described by text and a player's inference. Those who have played Darkest Dungeon might take a glance at the village itself and see something familiar, and rightly so. Hiding menus and otherwise mundane options behind artwork is a fantastic way to increase immersion and dish out some implicit instruction. For example, the building that looks like a storehouse and when hovered over says "storehouse" will indeed act as your storage area. It might seem elementary, but with some recent games experimenting with basic design choices and failing to hit their mark (I'm looking at you Cultist Simulator), it's worth pointing out that Grimmwood's look fits it's tone and functions perfectly.
Moving outside the village and into the wilderness, that paper map becomes your playing field and your character's avatar appears as a 3d model, as do any enemies or allies you might encounter while gallivanting. The map is broken down into tiles and within each are a variety of different points of interest, or enemies. Upon trying to enter a tile you are given the chance to scout for enemies and prevent any potential ambushes. Points of interest are invisible until someone from the village takes time to search their immediate area, spending a little stamina to do so. If you happen to be stood close enough to something when you search, a small animated icon will appear to tell you what you've found, be it a darkwood tree moving in the breeze or a pond full of jumping fish. Much like the other visual elements, it's nothing extravagant, but the pleasing animation and ease with which you can see what's going on in any given area is ideal.
That stamina I've previously alluded to is by far your most valuable commodity, used as it is to complete almost any task you can think of. You can hunt, forage, cut wood, build or repair items, construct defenses or just wander the landscape, but everything costs a little stamina. During the night you'll recover some lost stamina, more so for carrying around a relatively luxurious bed roll, and can rest up during the day to regain one stamina every five real time minutes. It's a potentially huge stumbling block for some, being limited in your actions and having to wait, but taken as intended it's more of an incentive to think harder and plan with others before wearing yourself out on pointless tasks.
Combat is a simple back and forth based around cool-down timers for attacks and what you're carrying on your person for stats. Zooming in slightly from the broader map view, you're given some simple weapon swinging animations, an attack button and not much else. There's not a whole lot of choice in battle beyond avoiding it or running into it, which is a shame. While real-time action isn't the order here, a little more freedom in the moment to choose tactics and techniques (e.g. thrusting/swinging attacks, tactical retreats, use of cover) would have been welcome as a way of making the combat more characterful and fleshed out. It's perhaps an obscure pull, but Neo Scavenger comes to mind as perhaps the best example of such text based combat and Grimmwood would have benefited greatly from dishing out a similar amount of choice and feedback in order to make it's combat encounters more memorable and dramatic.
Now, all of this might seem like potentially familiar rouge-like gameplay, but the real twist that Grimmwood has to offer is online multiplayer. Where in other games of this nature you'll be solely responsible for your success or failure, here you'll be working as part of a team, ideally. Those starting anew will be given a choice of villages to join and will arrive, fresh faced to locations that have potentially already weathered days of turmoil. On my first attempt, I began as a Beautiful Herbalist and arrived on day 6 to find a struggling settlement, bickering locals and a general sense that today was the day we'd all perish. Someone had been helpful enough to write a post on the local notice board to that end, lamenting a lack of cohesion between players and time wasted digging a moat instead of rebuilding gates that had fallen in the night. It felt somewhat hopeless as I began learning the ropes, gathering supplies and trying to be helpful.
I returned to the game a day later to find that the worst had come to pass and the village had fallen. A breakdown of events was available, revealing that my character had in fact died long before the fighting. I hadn't fed them or drank anything when I first played and kidney failure was what got me as a result. Monsters got everyone else it seemed, the moat never having been finished and defenses never restored. So I began again. This time my Rational Fisherman, Baldrick, was joining a brand new settlement and the contrast was powerful. A notice board filled with people planning defenses and organizing supplies, some offering assistance in fights outside the village. A map not quite so full of revealed enemies. Hope was alive.
In the days since, we've survived a few midnight sorties, built watch towers so our ranged fighters can better defend us and struggled through. The notice board is alive with plans and people thanking each other for their help. Hope is high and the mental states of our characters have not dropped to provoke any breaks in sanity that might scupper our plans. I've fished, gathered wood, scoured for fresh sources of wood and fought off some nasty little dwarves. If we continue to work together, dropping into the game occasionally to spend our stamina and making sure we're set for what's to come, then we might have a chance at a place on the game's leader board as one of those groups that survived against the odds and worked together.
With such a nebulous sense of reward, reliance on strangers and limited actions per day, Grimmwood isn't a game I could spend hours at a time getting lost in, even in it's faster paced, 15 minutes per day Blitz mode, but the temptation to return to the core game for a little while each day to see if I can help is strong enough to warrant my return and perhaps your interest as well.