The world of Cairn tells a tale of human strife and conflict against seemingly unstoppable foes. Each area is meticulously hand-crafted to immerse you in humanity’s fight for survival. While the general layout of the world is static, various elements within are randomized with each session.
On subsequent sessions, you may discover that a path you had taken is now blocked off by a burning wagon or a cave you had visited is no longer there. Quest objectives may spawn in multiple locations and monster packs can completely change, or not spawn at all. Grim Dawn strikes a fine balance between hand-crafted level design and randomization.
Clearing the Way
With humanity nearly wiped out, many places have fallen into disrepair from lack of maintenance and human activity. Areas that were once thriving human settlements are now overrun with beasts. Roads are littered with the remains of raided caravans, tipped-over wagons blocking key routes. Bridges once connecting entire regions of Cairn have collapsed.
However, not all of these obstacles are insurmountable. Using materials you collect on your journey, you can clear the way to inaccessible places. Repair bridges with scrap metal and iron bits, opening up shortcuts or access to new regions. Destroy avalanches or collapsed tunnels using dynamite, revealing secrets thought forgotten. But beware: not all things sealed away behind stone and rubble are meant to be unleashed.
Challenge dungeons are areas of Grim Dawn specially tuned to provide you with increased difficulty. Entry into these areas is never closed off by invisible walls or “Are you sure?” hand-holding pop-ups. It is up to you to decide when you are ready to face off against some of Cairn’s most vicious monsters. Challenge dungeons are fraught with danger and require ample preparation, but they also come with great reward.
At the pinnacle of challenge dungeons are what we call rogue-like dungeons. For those not familiar, “rogue-like” games were early predecessors to the modern action-RPG and the name is derived from the 1980’s game Rogue. Rogue-likes are characterized by random layouts and permanent death that made the experience intense and final victory all the more satisfying.
Unless you have started a hardcore character, you will not die permanently in Grim Dawn but we have tried to capture the thrill of rogue-likes in these special challenge dungeons. The first such dungeon, known as the Steps of Torment, can be accessed in the wilderness of Act II. It is one of the most challenging dungeons in the game, featuring some of the strongest enemies and biggest rewards.
The last two floors of this sprawling five-floor underground encompass the rogue-like dungeon. The entry to these floors is barred by a set of ancient doors which cannot be opened by any traditional means. Thankfully, there are those who know the secrets of the Gates of Anguish, and perhaps they will divulge this ancient knowledge with the right motivation. by sealing the door upon entering and disabling riftgates so that there is no escape except by gruesome death or fighting your way triumphantly to the end.
The Skeleton Key is the only means by which the Gates of Anguish will re-open. But beware: the key is destroyed upon use and the doors will seal promptly behind you. The Steps of Torment will gladly devour the lives of the ill-prepared.
Rogue-like dungeons will test your skills and prove your worth. Death will come swiftly to the unwary traveler. Devious traps and powerful enemies line the halls. In fact, you may not even be able to take the same way through as the last time you entered and the treasures you seek may not appear in the same locations. Adventurers beware!
The world of Cairn is filled with innumerable wealth that awaits those brave enough to seek it out. At the core of this feature are one-shot chests. These exalted stashes are scattered in remote corners of the world, hidden deep within side-dungeons and dangerous lairs.
These chests only spawn once per character but offer a guaranteed epic drop for those who take the time to search them out!
As you explore the world of Cairn, you will uncover effigies dedicated to various fiends. These Monster Totems harbor powerful foes, but also vast wealth. Vanquish the enemies that spawn and you will be handsomely rewarded.
Monster Totems can be found throughout the world, even inside dungeons, but do not expect your foes to erect them in the same location each time. Likewise, the challenges you face will not always be the same.
(Monster Totems are available in the Forgotten Gods expansion.)
Grim Dawn is loaded with secrets, from hidden treasure rooms and difficult to find quests, to alternate routes through levels and even entire secret levels not shown on the map! The dungeons of Cairn contain dozens of hidden stashes and treasure rooms concealed behind destructible walls. Other breakables lead to new paths through levels or open up hidden side areas. There are even remote side areas with unique boss encounters or quests waiting to be discovered.
We have been able to include so much optional and secret content because of the independence granted to us by crowdfunding. Normally publishers would frown upon so much secret content because they feel that it is a bad investment to expend time and money developing content that will not benefit all players.
However, our feeling has always been that, as a player, knowing that such secrets exist in the world gives it a sense of mystery and provides a greater thrill and reward to exploration, even for the player who only finds a small portion of the secrets. There is also a satisfaction to finding something that you know not every player is going to see and knowing that you’ve had a unique experience. That is something that you do not get in games with more guided experiences.
The world map is your view of the wider countryside. It serves both as a reference to various locations you may hear NPCs and quests mention as well as a means to fast travel via riftgates you have previously secured. Cairn was once home to an expansive empire, shattered by the Grim Dawn and the tragic events that followed. As you travel the world, you will discover remnants of humanity’s once proud achievements, as well as memories of long-forgotten civilizations.
The local map provides a detailed overview of the area. You can use it to navigate through dungeons and to seek out nearby points of interest, such as cave entrances and NPCs. Areas that you have not yet discovered are shrouded in black, only revealed once you have reached them.
The compass map is a lens view of the local map, showing only what is near you. The map is anchored to the top right of the screen, but can be toggled three different ways using the button located on the right of the Quickbar: small, large and off.
Riftgates are inter-connected portals that travel through the void itself. Aetherials are known to use them to rapidly deploy their forces across Cairn, with riftgates frequently opening near once densely populated areas. Most humans that attempt to travel through riftgates are never seen again, that is unless they are guided by someone attuned to the chaotic portals.
You, as a rare survivor of Aetherial possession, are capable of traveling through these riftgates unharmed. This makes securing new riftgates a critical step in your journey across Cairn. As you arrive at a riftgate, you will automatically surround it with a ring of salt, a material hazardous to Aetherial beings, and it will turn from an aether-green to purple.
As an aether-touched being, you are capable of opening smaller versions of riftgates in any location. These personal riftgates are connected to all other riftgates and allow you to quickly travel between them.
Note that you can only have one personal riftgate open at a time, opening a new personal riftgate will close an existing one, but you can return to it indefinitely.
From time to time, you may find a riftgate in a locked down state, nothing more than sparks of energy floating over the ground. Access to such a riftgate is being blocked. Frequently, this means that you must clear out nearby enemies, which may spawn in waves. Once you have secured the area, you can then claim the riftgate and add it to your fast travel network.