Grim Dawn’s Xbox Port Has Problems

Xbox screenshot captured by the author.

The excellent action RPG Grim Dawn finally launched on Xbox last month, several years after the initial announcement of the port and five years after its launch on the PC platform.

Unfortunately, it makes a bad first impression. The opening cutscene video is extremely compressed, with large blocky artifacts easily visible on screen and sound that warbles with distortion. It’s almost as if the video was re-encoded from the file included in the PC original, instead of just using the same asset.

That technical uncertainty echoes throughout the experience of playing the game on Xbox, in spite of it already receiving one big patch. The game was developed for the base Xbox One, and gets compatibility across all of the newer machines thanks to the way the Xbox ecosystem works. When it launched, it was stuck running at 1080p and capped to 30FPS. The big patch added an unlocked framerate option that you can take advantage of on Series consoles or One X for better performance…but there’s still a long way to go performance wise. Many technical issues remain, and a couple are so obvious that they’re hard not to see.

Xbox Screenshot taken by the author.

Grim Dawn is a fast-paced action RPG built upon a heavily upgraded version of the Titan Quest engine by many members of that game’s development team. It’s an enjoyable, loot-filled epic with tons of content and a stylish gothic aesthetic. The Xbox release is the Definitive bundle, meaning that it comes with all the expansions. However, that also means it comes in at a high price of $54.99.

I don’t think it’s acceptable to release a nearly-full-priced version of a five year old game on consoles and not have it run perfectly, but Grim Dawn is just that. The dev team has an excellent track record for post release support, so I have no doubt that it’ll eventually get to where it needs to be, but since it took so long to make in the first place I wish they’d just delayed it for another few months.

The deal- breaking bug for me is audio related. Most of the sounds in the game play from the wrong channels. The monsters in the world of Grim Dawn all emit weird groans or shrieks to let you know they’re nearby, and many of the environmental objects like portals, rivers, and creaky buildings also contribute to the soundscape.

Xbox screenshot taken by the author.

All of these ambient noises currently come from the wrong direction in the soundscape. Things to your left will play their sounds to the right, and vice versa. This is maddening within a few seconds and it never gets better. Not all of the sounds in the game are affected by this bug, so combat sounds come from the right places at least. The messed-up sound mix is prominent on speakers and makes me feel like I’m completely losing it when I listen with headphones.

Furthermore, the game seems to have a stuttering issue on AMD Jaguar-based Xboxes. So, if you’re playing on an Xbox One, One S, or One X, you’re going to see frequent hitching. I tested it out on my One X and sure enough, any time the world needed to stream in some new data for the landscape or spawn in monsters, the game ground to a halt.

I’ve never seen this sort of hitching in many hours playing the PC release, even when using a mechanical hard drive, so I’m guessing it’s due to the weaker CPU in the older Xbox consoles. My Series S doesn’t suffer from this issue at all. It’s curious to see this sort of obvious performance problem in a game based on old tech that was mainly developed for the base Xbox One hardware and had so much time in the proverbial oven.

I loaded up Titan Quest to see if it was still bad, and at the start of a new game was greeted by these unloaded gray blobs. So at least Grim Dawn is better than this. Xbox Screenshot captured by the author.

Fortunately the controls, UI, and overall graphical makeup of the game are great. The game plays smoothly and has settings comparable to high on PC, in spite of the locked resolution. I haven’t made it into the latter parts of the game yet, where more precision and tactical use of skills are both required, but I think the controls will hold up just fine. It’s much better to play and better to look at than the beleaguered console port of Titan Quest.

Still, the sound bug and the hitching bug are so prominent that they need to be fixed ASAP. And at this price, it would also be awesome if they rolled out enhancements for the current generation of consoles outside of the hacked-in framerate selector. I know that development kits are hard to come by for the new generation right now (the developers have said they’re working on it) but again, this is an ancient and popular PC game. Did it really have to come out on Xbox right this second?

The major problem that an imperfect and full-priced Grim Dawn faces in the console market is that you can buy better, smoother-performing action RPG games for less money. The biggest elephant in the room is the recent beautiful remake of Diablo II that sells for just $40. Titan Quest has many issues, but its base game also only runs $30 on consoles with constant discounts. The Torchlight series has good ports available at a fraction of the price. The list goes on and on.

The opening cutscene has garbled audio, a sign of things to come. Xbox screenshot captured by the author.

I know that the team at Crate Entertainment is small and they can’t weather a discount with as much of a buffer as a large game publisher, but they’ve had many years of success on the PC platform. The game goes on sale on Steam all the time, and it’s a deservedly-beloved classic. This same definitive package is $55 on that platform…but they also have a piecemeal version available, with the base game going for just $25.

Xbox gamers don’t have the same history with this game as PC players, and it doesn’t have any exciting enhancements for the current consoles. It needed to be perfect, and given the age of the game and the modest requirements of the engine, there’s no obvious reason for the easy-to-see new bugs that are present in this $55 version. Grim Dawn on Xbox feels like a clear victim of a “shove it out and fix it later” mentality. I’m sure there was internal pressure after spending so many years on this port, but I’m not sure why it took so long and still didn’t come out fully cooked.

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