I think it’s clear from what I’ve written that I really enjoy roguelike games. However, it’s a hard love to share with others. Roguelike games are cold and unwelcoming. Their unforgiving difficulty, lack of tutorials, and overall lack of polish make them a hard sale for the uninitiated.
However, Tales of Maj’Eyal (TOME) seems to be a roguelike that refuses to have the shortcomings that are taken for granted in the genre. The winner of Ascii Dream’s top roguelikes for two years in a row, TOME is a genuinely enjoyable game that also happens to be a successful roguelike. It’s free, so you should go download it right now, but if you want to find out what exactly is different, read on.
The Roguelike Legacy…
The core of any roguelike is a crunchy, complicated single player roleplaying game where you slay monsters, explore dungeons, and are brutally punished for mistakes. TOME is no exception. It delivers all of the frustration and all of the rewards that roguelikes promise and then some. The combat is deadly and requires an intimate understanding of the rules. Character development is detailed and allows for a huge degree of customization. Environments and loot are all randomly generated. Monsters are widely varied and all viciously efficient at killing heroes. Character death is eventually permanent. (The game will allow you a handful of “extra lives” so you may fight another day.) In every way a roguelike needs to be good, TOME excels.
But we’ve been here before! We’ve had computer games that meet all of these requirements since the ’80s. There is already a large number of free roguelike games that are fun. Why pick up TOME over any of the others, especially when you’ve probably already gotten used to the warts of your favorite game?
…Without the Baggage
You should play TOME because it wants you to play it. It has clear and enjoyable graphics. The interface is organized and puts all of the information you need to make life-or-death decisions at your fingertips. You can do everything with the mouse if you wish or you can pilot the game completely with key strokes. Tool-tips explain all effects in the game, there is nearly no hidden information. There’s even music and sound effects! This is no normal roguelike.
TOME extends the player the ultimate of helping hands in its two comprehensive tutorials. (No need for a player-curated wiki here.) The first gets you on your feet so you know what button does what. After spending five minutes with the first tutorial you’ll have all the skills you need to, well, die over and over; but you won’t be blindsided! The second tutorial is only for those interested in the nitty-gritty combat mechanics, laying bare the calculations that will determine how many rounds you’ll stun a goblin with a shield bash. While the second tutorial not at all necessary for success, it is a breath of fresh air in a genre that jealously guards its mechanics.
TOME can be played without making excuses for it. It’s a fully fleshed out and polished game. While it certainly feels like “indie”, there is exactly zero friction between you and jumping into the punishing, unfair, immensely rewarding dungeon crawl. This is actually a roguelike that you can suggest to your friends!
Story and Unlockables
The truly unique element of TOME is the story and the unlockable content. The campaign that comes with the game will explore the history of the world and the ancient threat that threatens to consume it. Wizards that delved too deep, corruption that sleeps under the surface, and paranoid governments getting rid of magic users are waiting for your little roguelike hero to interact with them. I can enjoy a game that starts and ends in a single dungeon with just the thinnest of premises, but I genuinely enjoyed the story within TOME.
As you progress in the story and turn over rocks, you’ll permanently unlock lost races, new classes, and even whole new game modes. I’d estimate that a third of the game is available when you first install it, uncovering forgotten races and forbidden magical arts for your next character is extremely satisfying.
Also, this game is fully moddable. The game allows everything from items to monsters to whole campaigns to be created. I haven’t explored the mod scene yet, but it sounds very promising.
Play It Already!
TOME is an easy game to recommend, which isn’t something I can say about really any other roguelike game. (Not even my favorite one, DoomRL.) The story and unlockables are strewn about, giving you incentive to play more. The graphics and sound go a long way to make you feel like a badass as you take on hordes of enemies. And the game will still seriously exercise your gaming muscles as you lose one hero after another.