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Grimmwood - They Come at Night Review

Grimmwood — They Come at Night is Big Moustache Games’ MMO survival indie that fuses a hodgepodge of genres into one strangely compelling and wickedly unforgiving entry. In Grimmwood, you must come together with fellow real gamers to repel monster attacks that increase in difficulty as time progresses. If you die, you die alone, becoming one of the many hapless corpses to litter the land. If you succeed, you succeed together as a village, working in synchrony to prepare yourselves, each night, for the next cruel wave of fanged foes. You’ll expire far more often than you’ll triumph, but every attempt is a fresh new world that enraptures and ensnares.

Get Used to Disappointment

Roll for your character’s attributes and items at the start and cross your fingers that you end up with useful items and your preferred traits. Don’t get too attached, however — if this character dies in the line of duty, it’s permadeath. You can kiss all those items you greedily hoarded in your inventory goodbye. The permadeath system makes it easier to not miss a deeper character customization process, and the random and limited attribute rolls ensure that your Grimmwood experience is varied, at least, every time you start over.

You have two options before you choose a village to play in: Standard mode or Blitz mode. Standard is naturally the original, and it revolves around a real-time twenty-four-hour day cycle. In Blitz mode, on the other hand, one in-game day equals fifteen real-world minutes. Blitz mode features the same basic goal as Standard, but it speeds everything up and adjusts gameplay to make it more alluring to the gamer that wants to play a frantic and intimate round with friends.

A Village of Many

Choose your village from those listed as viable multiplayer hubs, then enter the forest — at your peril. In Standard, your village can house up to forty real players; in Blitz, your village can house up to ten. Your responsibility is to defend the village from midnight monster attacks, the power of which is estimated by your Tower. What’s also estimated by your Tower is your own defense capability. If your number isn’t substantially higher than your enemies’, and the midnight hour is near, you’d best start saying your prayers. Surely your village will fall to the might of your relentless enemies.

If your village doesn’t survive the night, everyone playing “dies” and must start over with a new village. Naturally, then, you must spend every moment wisely in preparation for the evening attack. For starters? Reinforce your defenses. You’re able to pour time and resources into improvements like a moat and stronger walls, which then provide different boons to your village’s defense. Getting the resources you need, however, requires exploration — one of Grimmwood’s most intriguing and satisfying systems.

Explore the Outer Reaches

Outside of the village is a series of over five hundred tiles that are randomly generated at the start. Each of these tiles contains the promise of much-needed loot, but also the threat of savage enemies. Discover points of interest like hunting grounds, dead travelers, groves of trees, and so on to collect indispensable tools for your village’s defense, including food. You’ll need to keep your character from getting hungry, thirsty, or having a low sanity level to make sure they can perform their duties as admirably as you would in their place.

Your limiting factor? Stamina points. Everything you do costs stamina, and your stamina regenerates at a painstaking pace. Eating food helps to restore stamina points, but if you eat too much, your character will no longer regain stamina from eating for that day. After the night attack, if your village survives, you’ll regain health and stamina. Since night attacks literally only happen once a day, however, you may be in for a long, long wait before you can do anything once you’ve depleted your source of stamina.

Successfully Coercive Co-Op

Sorry, lone wolves. This isn’t an entry where you can go it alone. Grimmwood forces you to work arm-in-arm, side-by-side, and it does so in a way that’s so clever and so seamless that you’ll never be angry about it. You simply won’t survive if you don’t cooperate with one another. Carrying large loads of items in your inventory makes you inexcusably slow when navigating the map, so you’ll want to collect tools and resources to drop off in the shared Storage at the village. Everyone has access to this Storage, but everyone also sees a record of what’s been done by everyone else.

Message boards and a chat function allow for a stream of much-needed communication as you unite with strangers to try and ensure your village’s continued survival. One person might need to dedicate their stamina points to repairing or fortifying a wall, while another explores outside the village to bring back wood for processing. Another person might need help at a tile where they’ve encountered enemies — another might ask for assistance in bringing a particularly large haul home. Since once you’ve exhausted your stamina, you’re basically done until the attack, players pop in and out throughout the day, and there’s no real necessity for you to be pouring more time than you can into Grimmwood. In this sense, then, strangely, it almost feels… casual.

Artistic, Clever, and Hopefully Always Full

Grimmwood is beautiful to behold and, frankly, a pleasure to get your hands on. For a low price point, it provides theoretically limitless hours of sincere enjoyment. However, its multiplayer-focus has the potential to be its own greatest enemy. There’s no real way to play by oneself, and if the regularly-active player base ever dips below a certain number, it’s not especially feasible to continue to be able to play. As it is, village servers are still few and far between, and I’ve yet to see a full one. Should there be a suitable method to recreate the experience for a single-person set-up, Grimmwood would always be playable. In a way, though, that might just be defeating the point.

8

The Verdict: Excellent

Grimmwood – They Come at Night is a cooperative survival MMO that masterfully merges strands of exploration, strategy, and time-management into a cohesive whole. Its ability to consistently and genuinely inspire teamwork amongst its manifold players is a rare, laudable talent. Currently, the title is limited only by its total number of willing gamers, but it’s likely many more, like moths to an unusually attractive flame, will soon flock to Grimmwood’s bizarre light.

Taryn Ziegler
Written by
August 06, 2018
Published in Adventure

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Taryn is a digital content strategist with an avid appetite for literature and gaming. She graduated from the University of Washington Bothell with a degree in Culture, Literature, and the Arts, and since then has been engaged in copywriting for businesses from AutoNation to DirtFish Rally School. While she'll happily play most games set in front of her, Taryn heartily prefers a good ol' turn-based strategy RPG, such as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and Divinity: Original Sin.

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