Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One massive roguelike - Tales of Maj'Eyal

NOTICE: The version of the game reviewed is the paid version, including the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC, your experience with the base game may vary.

Tales of Maj'Eyal, Which I'll be calling TOME from now on, is interesting in that it's both a very young game, and a very old one. It started life in the 90s as a variant of the game Angband called  Pernband, based of the Pern series of books. Now, the Pern series is know for having a somewhat strained relation with it's fans at times, so it's no surprise that Pernband got slapped with a cease and desist letter. In the face of this, the game was reborn as Tales of Middle Earth, throwing out Pern and replacing it with things form Tolkien's writings, and was developed as this for years.

This actually continued up until 2010, when the game was recreated again, this time as Tales of Maj'Eyal, which is what I'm reviewing here. The developer did this for two reasons: First, it removed any possibility of the game getting a second cease and desist letter thrown at it and second, it allowed for parts of the game that didn't quite mesh with the Middle Earth setting, such as time magic and Psionic powers to make a lot more sense.

TOME is a roguelike that takes place on the continent of Maj’Eyal, currently in a time of relative peace after hundreds of years of war. Surprisingly, for a genre that's usually pretty light on story, there's actually a lot of it here, mostly told in letters and scrolls you find on your travels. There's actually a lot if information with each area of the game having it's own lore snippets to find and Despite spending several hours with this game, I've barely seen what it has to offer story-wise, there's that much info to take in.
Each dungeon in the game has several lore snippets, like this one here.
At it's core, TOME is roguelike dungeon crawler, complete with permadeath, interesting, the game has a few departures from typical roguelikes. The first is that the game has no consumables, there's no potions or scrolls. Instead you have infusions which you an equip and use. They work a lot like potions in other roguelikes, doing things like restoring hit points or decreasing damage for several turns, except instead of being used up, they go on cooldown for several turns after use. It's actually a pretty nifty system, as you never have to worry being cheated on potions, but you can't just spam your infusions when in trouble. In fact, to further discourage that, using an infusion grants a temporary debuff that increases the cooldown of other infusions.

On top of that, there's also the dungeons, instead of a single dungeon to get to the bottom of, TOME has several dungeons, with an overworld to connect them all. The dungeons are quite varied, from woods to a giant labyrinth. Some even have unusual gimmicks, like an underwater dungeon where you have to watch your air levels, or a den of sandworms where you need to rely on the worms that live there to dig new paths for you and if you're not quick enough, they'll collapse behind you.
Dungeons are varied not only in appearance, but enemies and floor layout/
The game also has a lot of race and class options. Not only are there typical classes like berserk or rogues, but there's also a lot of unique ones. One of the classes I tried was called the cursed, a fighter who's surrounded by a cloud of gloom, powered by raw hate, that debuffs enemies who get too close to you. There's also alchemists, who have a golem to help protect them and can make powerful explosives out of gems found in dungeons.

While you start with a few options available, You also have to unlock races and classes by doing various things, which range from the simple, such as killing 1,000 humanoids across all of your games, to the very difficult, One race in the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC requires killing three very tough optional bosses in the same game.

The game also comes with several difficulty settings, the most unique of which is the permadeath setting. Alongside traditional permadeath and an exploration mode that gives you unlimited lives, There's also an adventure mode. Adventure mode is a sort of compromise between exploration and roguelike modes, you are given extra lives as you level up, but once you run out, the next death is permanent so there's a lot of options available to either turn the difficulty down for newcomers, or crank it up if your looking for an extra challenge.
TOME has a lot of character options to chose form. Also shown: proper dwarven naming.
The games graphics are pretty good. The game is tile based and the tiles are nice and detailed, with plenty of tile sets for the game's varied areas, there's even some nice splash images for loading screens and the occasional background image. There is however a small problem in that nothing is animated, all the tiles are static. Though the game does make up for this with spell and ability effects, providing some nice particle effects to give some extra oomph to your spells and abilities.

The game also has a good soundtrack, leaning towards an epic orchestral score. Each area has it's own theme, and while I encountered some minor issues with songs not quite looping properly - there was a small pause when the track restarts - Everything fits the game and is nice to listen to. The sound design is also decent, with some areas having some atmospheric sounds and a decent number of effects for various spells and abilities, though in my experience the game focuses more on visual than audio cues, which is fine as this is a turn based game, so you have all the time you need to take note of things.

The overworld connects the various dungeons together.
The game is pretty solid and I didn't encounter any real bugs. The only major flaw I can think of is that the game is massive, and that's great that there's so much content but it's also perhaps a bit too big for it's own good. While the dungeons I entered were fairly short, usually only about three floors each, there's a lot of them and unless you're playing with exploration mode on, you have some form of permadeath to deal with. I know roguelikes are supposed to be difficult and that's fine, but trying to beat a game this big on one life, or even several in adventure mode, feels like it might be a bit too tall an order. For those used to games like Dungeons of Dredmor or Sword of the Stars: The Pit? You've got a long, hard trek ahead of you and it'll take a good bit of effort to start seeing mid and late game areas.

Also, I should take a moment to talk about payment, since the game's payment system is a little odd. The base game is actually free and open source, you can however, donate to the game to help development and keep the servers running. Paying also gets you some minor perks such as access to the exploration mode mentioned above, and the stone Warden class. Finally, you can buy DLC such as the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC. You can find more information on this on the game's donate page here. Note that buying the game off Steam or GoG gives the same benefits as donating, as well as giving you access to the game through those platforms.

Overall this is a very big, complex roguelike that's a definite must play for fans of the genre. There is a lot of content here, so much that I actually feel a bit under prepared for reviewing it. Though I could likely spend a hundred hours on this and still feel the same way. Not only that, but the game is still in active development, so there's new content being released and/or old content being updated all the time. This is a game you could readily spend hundreds if not thousands of hours on. Lifetimes could be lost to this thing and with the base game being free, there's little excuse not to try it at least once.

Tales of Maj'Eyal developed and published by DarkGod. It is available on Steam, GoG, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchasing option is available here.

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