By ahoodedfigure 4 Comments
Not sure if I feel like a full writeup on this game, but after playing the hell out of TOME for the better part of a week I have the need to at least spill the basics. I first learned of Tales of Maj'Eyal from Giant Bomb's own Dave Snider when he mentioned it in a video. It took me a little while to even find the thing because of its cryptic spelling, but I finally found it here and downloaded the latest build, number 34 I think it is.
TOME is a roguelike that isn't afraid to update the visuals and the interface for people who are a bit tired of an endless list of keystroke commands. It is still a roguelike in the old mode, with a top-down map, static little characters, plenty of powers and random loot to find, tough creatures lurking in higher-level dungeons that will splat you no matter how great you think your level 2 archer is, tons of classes and races to choose from (many you have to unlock by discovering them in the game world), and what I feel to be some pretty good music.
It even does something I'd like to see in more Roguelikes, which is vary where you start based on certain factors. Most of the time you get started in a forest filled with the usual compliment of trolls and absurdly angry wildlife (which you can instantly back out of if you want, though it's good to stick with it the first few times you play just to bring your character to level six or so), but dwarven characters start in a very different starting area, and archmages another. These starting areas play out similarly, but are differently configured each time you create a new character, with new loot to find that might help you decide what sort of character you want to build.
The game is heavily skill based, and has skill cooldowns and resource points for just about all the skills no matter what the class. Non-magic classes tend to have stamina as their resource and mages have mana, but as you unlock new characters you'll find other powers and power sources. It's kind of impressive to see just how many different kinds of characters you can get, although the racial powers and attribute mods aren't total game changers.
Character builds can go in a bunch of different directions, although some choices, at least to start, are certainly better than others. My mage characters didn't survive very long unless I maximized some offensive spells right off the bat, and archers do better if you just stick with stuff that helps them shoot many painful arrows. My most successful character class so far has been the alchemist, which in addition to some cool gem creation and minor offensive abilities, it has a golem pet that acts independently, can shoot beams from its eyes, carry heavy weapons, wear heavy armor, and explode when its master dies, taking out a good chunk of bad guys.
Of course death is prevalent in this game; it being a roguelike you normally get one life, although you can pick an optional multiple lives mode where you get a certain amount of resurrects, and you can find items that will give you extra lives. I think this option is really welcome, having been crushed by the loss of some pretty cool characters in the course of play, but so far I've stuck with the single-life option. When I have managed to get brought back to life, I get to keep EVERYTHING I was carrying, which is such a relief. I can't imagine lasting for long if I had to recover my stuff. If you're not into dying at all, those who register (for a fee) with the game designer can actually have unlimited lives as a thank-you for your support.
If someone had told me about all this stuff and said it was one of the old ASCII character style presentations I would nod approvingly, but I might not ever play it. I guess I'm a bit burnt out on ASCII style games for the time being because that is often synonymous with arcane interfaces and needless complications. For the most part Maj'Eyal skips all of this, with point and click power usage, movement and attack, a verbose and fully transparent GUI with ways to figure out EXACTLY what powers will do, and you can see how long until the cooldown expires and how much resources you used, with plenty of pop-up explanations when you mouse-over, adequate graphics, and some pretty cool music (don't let the starting area get you down, there's plenty of diversity in environments and music once you explore a bit).
On top of all this, the game has a nice difficulty tree if you're willing to follow it (I'm not, thus I run off and get killed like a dumbass), although some of the bosses can be surprisingly brutal, especially on certain character classes. Still, it wouldn't be a roguelike without nasty surprises. The loot varies decently, and the loot and monsters seem to scale a bit based on where you decide to go first, but not so much that every place seems tailored to your character; some places need to be skipped until you're strong or suicidal enough.
Overall I'm quite pleased with TOME. I have encountered what seems to be a memory leak, which makes it so I have to reboot if I play the game too long, but this is on a PC that's nearly a decade old. The crashes did result in the loss of a game or some progress, but you can optionally save it after a major accomplishment, just like you would in a plain old RPG, and even the errors won't be a big deal, assuming you run into them at all. It's still a work in progress, though, so I expect these problems may be smoothed out eventually.
Ask in the comments about the specifics if you want to know more.