capsule review

Tales of Maj'Eyal 4 Begins a New Chapter in the Roguelike Genre

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Tales of Maj'Eyal 4

    PCWorld Rating

    TOME 4 adds basic graphics and networked chat to the Roguelike experience.

Tales of Maj'Eyal 4 is a roguelike game, which means a top-down experience where you control a single character who traverses a semi-random world in pursuit of power, glory, and finding new and interesting ways to die. TOME 4 does quite a few things differently, though, and they may make it appeal to some who like old-school CRPGs but dislike some aspects of roguelike games.

TOME 4 (Tales of Maj'Eyal 4) screenshot
In TOME, you need to watch out for killer bunnies, as well as the usual suspects.
First, TOME 4 is graphical by default: You're an icon, not an @. To be very clear, the icons are static, 2-dimensional images with fairly basic art; you can tell an ant from a ghoul, and large creatures take up multiple squares, but that's about it. Don't expect Skyrim--or even Daggerfall--quality here. However, that's not the point of a roguelike. The graphics are functional, they let you know what's about to kill you and how far away it is, and that's all they need to do. There are some minor animation effects for auras, and there's a dynamically adjusting line-of-sight which accounts for lighting, special senses, and blindness, as well.

Second, it's less random than most. You have a lot of quests to guide you, although you're still free to wander in any direction in order to meet something too tough for you and die. Item generation is mostly random, in the "adjective noun of noun verbing" mode, with a few powerful artifacts hand-placed. TOME 4'/ items can be very cool; I got some gloves, early on, that let me spit fire, a nice feature for an otherwise melee-bound combatant. There are also randomized areas within the quest areas to make sure things aren't too predictable.

Third, TOME 4 has an active community with a chat window. It's very nice to be able to ask for help while playing, or to show off the neat item you just found, or get sympathy on your latest demise. My experience is that the community is very friendly towards new players, which is only logical; as a genre, roguelikes have a small fanbase that isn't interested in driving off anyone who might just be dipping their toes in the water.

TOME 4 starts you with a limited set of possible classes and races, in order to ease you into the very deep mechanics of the game., But even the most basic class, a straight-up sword-and-shield fighter, offers you a multitude of options to pick from and choices to make as you gain in power. Playing also unlocks additional classes and races.

TOME is slightly more forgiving than many roguelikes, allowing you to optionally earn extra lives as you play, but these can go very quickly, especially as you pass the earliest levels of the game. A small run of bad luck, or a few poor decisions in a row, will take your lives much faster than you can earn them. Purists can choose to play with only one life, and there's also an option for unlimited lives.

There are a few minor bugs in TOME 4, as well as confusing interface issues. I was unable to scroll the windows with the mouse, but keyboarding up and down them worked fine. Some features, such as showing the list of monsters known, produce a message indicating they are working but don't do anything currently (I confirmed this is a known bug and not me doing something wrong.) There is a wiki which provides documentation, but it is sparse and acknowledges its incompleteness in several places. As with many games produced as labors of love, players must be prepared to roll their sleeves up and do a little work and research in order to get the most from the game. This sense of community can be part of the appeal.

TOME 4 was created with the (included) TE4 engine, and it1s possible to completely modify TOME, or to create your own custom roguelike. The engine documentation is extremely sparse, though, and there are several query threads in which the best answer given to some problems is to look at TOME's source code and reverse-engineer it to figure out how to accomplish a given task.

As a completely free download, the only thing you risk trying TOME4 is some time.Based on my experience, you will risk losing a lot more time if you like it, as it can have that "just one more minute" addictiveness that keeps you up many minutes more than you have.

--Ian Harac

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    TOME 4 adds basic graphics and networked chat to the Roguelike experience.

    Pros

    • Chat mode
    • Great skill/talent system
    • Graphics

    Cons

    • Non-standard UI
    • Some bugs
    • Spotty documentation
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