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Freeware Game Pick – Tales of Maj’Eyal: Age of Ascendancy

In a year when Dungeons of Dredmor was released, and Dungeon Crawl ascended to new heights, Tales of Maj’Eyal (aka TOME 4) won the hearts of dungeon crawlers in the ASCII Dreams Roguelike Of The Year awards, and was voted best of 2011. What makes this sleeper hit such a big deal, winning over even the most hardened of loot-hoarders and monster-mashers, and usurping the would-be-king that was Dredmor? Find out after the break in our freeware pick of the day.

Roguelikes are known for their steep learning curves – it’s no grand secret. You go into a procedurally generated dungeon full of monsters and loot and keep dying until you learn the ropes. This even applies to the less hardcore Dungeons of Dredmor. TOME does not take an age to learn. It’s accessible, driven primarily by an intuitive mouse interface. It has relatively nice (if not animated) graphics, and even gives you regular extra lives at various points in character progression. Most notable of it’s many traits is that it drops a lot of the elements that normally bog down roguelikes.

Story? In MY Roguelike? Likelier than you'd think.

For starters, you won’t be finding potions or one-shot scrolls or hoards of expendable items that can be used to cheese your way to victory. Instead, TOME is skill-based. Your character has health, stamina and (sometimes) mana bars, and a range of intrinsic abilities gained on levelling up and from class choices, as well as equipment. Most of these function with individual cooldowns, although use of multiple skills will extend the recovery time for all other actions. It’s intuitive stuff for anyone who has played an online RPG, or many modern singleplayer releases, such as Dragon Age.

The slog of exploring a large dungeon is lessened significantly by a handy auto-explore button (F2 by default) that will scoot you around until you find an item, exit or enemy . You don’t have to worry about starvation – normally the force pushing you to progress in the genre – as there are no food items. TOME is a game all about the combat, and it’s a much more fleshed out combat engine than most games in the genre, due to being all about your character and classes abilities, and the powers that various enchanted pieces of gear bestow upon you.

13 enemies at once? Liberal application of magic can fix that.

It all works on a larger scale than most roguelikes, too. You’re not limited to just a single dungeon. There’s some story – at least to begin with – and there’s an overworld with towns and villages, and NPCs to give you quests. There’s mountains and forests to explore, and generally speaking it’s just bigger and more open. To ensure that players aren’t too overwhelmed, you’re only available to pick from a few classes and races at first, with more becoming unlocked upon completion of certain quests and objectives, increasing replay value.

Bringing in a couple more modern features, the game has online persistent stat/achievement tracking, and an IRC chat client built into the game itself. Should you ever encounter a problem that the in-game documentation doesn’t immediately help you past, just ask online and in-game and you should get a response within moments, due to the current popularity of the game. Seeing occasional bits of background chatter while playing does help cement the idea that there’s a community out there, and that you’re not the only one getting stomped by a particular boss monster.

Gelatinous cubes everywhere! A dungeoneers worst nightmare.

It’s a really well fleshed out package, and while I’ve not delved into any of the more advanced, unlockable classes yet, it looks like there’s a lot of depth to be found here. Rather than character class being just a rough template that you fill in the blanks of via equipment, your class really does define how you start and how you’ll develop, with each new level giving you a lot of tough choices to make regarding what skills you enhance, learn or expand on. To top it all off, Tales of Maj’Eyal is just the default ‘module’ running on the flexible T-Engine, the RPG framework powering it all. In short, the game is expandable and moddable by anyone.

Tales of Maj’Eyal and the T-Engine are available now, for free for PC, Mac & Linux with the source-code available for any other third-party ports that you might want to do. The game is being very actively updated, and new versions are released every few weeks. The public have spoken, and I can’t help but agree – this is one of the best roguelikes out there, and well worth your time and attention. Give it a shot.

[Tales of Maj'Eyal]