Wot I Think: Tales Of Maj’Eyal

By Adam Smith on January 10th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

TOME is a roguelike. It’s not a roguelikelike or a roguelite. It’s not a platform game with permadeath and procedural bits and pieces. It’s a top-down, tile-based RPG, with a variety of races and classes to master, and a mean streak wider than Rushmore Jefferson’s nostrils. You won’t have to squint at ASCII imagery or memorise a hundred key bindings to play it either – TOME has integrated tile graphics and a dapper interface. Here’s wot I think.

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote a couple of hundred words about TOME, encouraging anyone who had never tried a roguelike to make it their first port of call. If you had already delved in Dredmor, I argued, TOME should be the next station on your journey toward a terminal case of Dwarf Fortress. Being a sage, I also had this to say: “It’s such a thrilling and potential-packed way to start what dunderheaded analysts are already failing to call ‘The Year of the Roguelike’, and it could mark the opening of a fantastic floodgate.”

Let’s revise a couple of things. I’m a semi-sage. There were certainly a lot of great games with roguelike elements in 2013 and the word seemed to appear in more blurbs and articles than I ever remember it doing before. The term wasn’t simply more common though, it was also applied to a far wider variety of experiences. It was often applied loosely – although I’m still waiting for a roguelike sports game – but many of the hybrids were strong and benefited from the aspects they borrowed, no matter how few.

If 2013 was the year of the roguelite, perhaps 2014 will be the year when we return to the roots. It was in the dying days of December that TOME finally arrived on Steam with a modest price tag. The immediately legible graphics and refined interface would make the game a decent enough alternative to the many longstanding big players – ADOM, Angband, Nethack and variants among them – but TOME has a tighter focus on tactical combat, with characters rapidly gaining a variety of hotkey abilities that overshadow the more usual inventory management and experimentation.

Instead of quaffing bottles of George’s Marvellous Medicine and hoping that the goopy mixture doesn’t cause you to polymorph into a chicken, TOME hands you a bar full of useful abilities and spells at the beginning of your journey. The most valuable items in the game aren’t equipment sets or legendary weapons, although they have their obvious uses. Instead, a successful character is laden with abilities, discovered when inscriptions are attached to a character. These add either a buff or skill, either passive or active, and dispense with the need for consumable items.

Rather than enforcing an eternal hunt for and long-term hoarding of healing tonics, staves or wands, TOME frees the player to concentrate on a character build, which remains customisable throughout the game. Few decisions are permanent and abilities can be swapped and changed, although slots are limited. This changes the entire pace of the game and makes a hero more than a miserable pile of potions.

It’s an enormous change to the usual formula that can feel limiting at first. We’re trained to be collectors in RPGs, filling our inventories with anything that isn’t bolted down, and I spent a few hours scrabbling around TOME’s enormous world in search of unusual and game-changing talismans. That can be a frustrating pursuit, with little in the way of thrilling discoveries, but that’s because it’s the equivalent of trying to find every piece of change down the side of your sofa instead of heading into town and going to the bank. TOME is about forward progression rather than hesitation and grind, and it provides plenty of quests to encourage exploration and daring journeys into abominable places.

Rather than being limited to a single dungeon, as is the most roguelikely course, TOME has a world map and the choice of race during character creation determines where the player starts on that map. Questing locations are varied and randomised, usually covering several smaller maps that increase in difficulty as they are traversed. Each character’s initial quest acts as a sort of tutorial, although without strong guidance, allowing the player to become familiar with their ability set while up against relatively tame opponents.

I do miss the excitement of finding bizarre items around every corner, not knowing if they will be a blessing or a curse, but TOME replaces those pleasures with intricate tactical combat. There are few unfortunate deaths, in the sense that most failures are the result of a mistake. Abilities have a cool-down and timing the usage of a regeneration power can spell the difference between death and glory. I’ve spent more than a minute between turns, mapping possible routes for escape, calculating the correct sequence of attack and shaking my head in dismay as I realise my overconfidence has backed me into a corner.

TOME is a more thoughtful roguelike than most. Those who can overcome the monumental challenges of its precursors may scoff at such a claim and it’s fair to say that they have thought about the difficulties of dungeon crawling far more intensely than I have. But there’s less of the slapstick and the pratfall in TOME. I think there’s a growing belief that Spelunky and the like brought comedic disaster to the roguelike model but it’s been there since the early days. Ascii may not convey farce particularly well but it’s the rare roguelike that doesn’t treat adventurers with comical disdain. TOME is a more serious proposition – every race and class combination is capable of heroic acts and there are few unexpected unfortunate occurrences.

The skill system differentiates TOME from its peers and predecessors, and the world outside the dungeons is littered with lore. Unlockable races and classes provide a meta-goal to aim for and Steam Workshop integration provides easy access to tweaks, additions and entire new modules. If you’re not interested in the Workshop integration or the ease of updating through Steam, TOME is also available to download for freedonations, or a later Steam purchase, support future development.

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58 Comments »

  1. Greggh says:

    Angband should be any prospect roguelike player’s first choice, IMhO (I’m not so humble).

    • SillyWizard says:

      Why? It’s ugly and it’s extremely difficult and it’s not particularly intuitive.

      Now that there are games like Dungeons of Dredmore and even Rogue Legacy, introducing a new player to roguelike concepts can be a much, much friendlier experience than Angband offers.

      • Brinx says:

        “It’s ugly and it’s extremely difficult and it’s not particularly intuitive. ”

        So you’re saying it’s a rougelike?

        (Not even saying that this makes the game necessarily bad. On the contrary it’s a huge part of the appeal. Those adjectives all describe Dwarf Fortress too.)

        • SillyWizard says:

          I’m saying if you’re introducing someone to the genre of “roguelike” for the first time, it might be better not to bludgeon his eyeballs with ASCII and his patience with inscrutable complexity.

          My first roguelike was Azure Dreams. Then nothing until Dungeons of Dredmore. Those games gave me enough of a base appreciation for the genre that I’m willing to get past the off-putting elements of “hardcore roguelikes” and have a grand old time.

          I certainly would not have given the traditional roguelikes the time of day without having had that gentler introduction. Things have come a long way in the last few years. I don’t think it’s fair to demand newer gamers to jump through the same hoops that their forebears did.

          • kalirion says:

            Angband did have a few different sets of tiles last time I checked (over 10 years ago.) I somehow doubt they have been done away with completely.

        • Big Murray says:

          Is a rougelike when a woman copies the makeup of rather promiscuous ladies?

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            No its when a person inexplicably has powerful affections for someone who is basically a bastard

            EDIT: Arse. It was a spelling joke.

        • jrodman says:

          Angband is absolutely the most approachable and easiest roguelike to get started in, and it has tiles that work fine.

          The main obstacle to victory is length, which people may appreciate or despise depending upon their preferences.

    • Angthe1932 says:

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    • onyhow says:

      Speaking as someone who played NetHack as first roguelike (a terrible mistake, BTW)…HELL NO. Both of those games aren’t good at all for being the first roguelike to play…hell, I even think they’re more likely to scare prospect players away.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        I started on Nethack too, but managed to persevere to the point where it has been one of my perennially replayed titles for years now (though I still have yet to ascend).

        I play it with a tileset rather than in ASCII, but I think that’s been pretty standard for Nethack for a while now, unless you particularly prefer the ASCII purity for some reason.

        While I didn’t have a ‘gentle introduction’ in the sense being recommended here, I’ve always been prepared to overlook some stuff if a game seemed to have interesting amounts of depth, which I know isn’t the case for everyone. I’d probably recommend Dredmor to start with, but would certainly be on hand with nethack its ilk if the recomendee seemed into the formula.

    • scottrstrauss says:

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    • The Random One says:

      I’d suggest Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup (which is as helpful as can be while still being uncompromising and has actual tutorials) but once you get used to its quality of life improvements you won’t be able to deal with any other classic roguelikes.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        This. I can’t stand the non-persistent nature of Angband’s dungeons, doesn’t make sense to me. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup on the other hand has a near-perfect balance of all roguelike elements and offers a ton of content.

  2. Nenjin says:

    ToME is the kind of game I’d recommend to people who like sword and sorcery and dungeon crawling, but don’t have the patience for older roguelikes.

    ToME is just less punishing than other roguelikes unless you choose to play it hardcore. As Adam said, you’re never getting screwed for resources like you are in other roguelikes. You get the basic tools for survival right at the start of the game. There’s no food or starvation clock constantly hounding you.

    The mode where you get several lives automatically makes it a different breed than other classic roguelikes. The hotbar is instantly familiar to anyone who has played an MMO and you’re already at a level of comfort with the game when you pick it up, compared to a lot of the fumbling and tutorial reading that goes with less GUI driven roguelikes.

    Character development is what the game is all about, and even within your class selection you’re offered a lot of options, like the chance to graft other class skill trees to your’s. Can make for a lot of replay variety.

    If ToME feels weak in any one area (I just made it to the East), it’s that it feels a little bland, a little generic at times. The classes and the lore go a ways toward fixing that, but the constant reuse of tilesets and recycled enemies hurts it. But as I said, if you have a hard time approaching ADOM, DCSS, Angband and Co., ToME Is a much friendlier and more forgiving experience. For the first half of the game, anyways.

    • KirbyEvan says:

      I too thought it was bland and generic until you get the more interesting classes like temporal warden and paradox mage, and some of the bonus dungeons have really cool concepts.

      I mean paradox mage has pretty much one of the coolest abilities ever, summoning a future self to help fight enemies with you, and after the spell is done, you get to be that future guy helping your past self out, until your past self goes into the past to become you and so on and so forth.

      • Shadowcat says:

        I’m not sure I completely followed how that works mechanically, but clearly this is one of The Most Awesome Things Ever.

        I think if this entire article had just been your comment and the link to the game, more people would be clicking that link :)

  3. vecordae says:

    TOME is a grand game. It’s difficult without being needlessly cruel. It’s graphics are serviceable. It’s mechanics are deep and interesting. And you’ll die. A lot.

  4. Captain Joyless says:

    Meh, TOME is ok. The problem for me is that, like many bad roguelikes, TOME relies on metaknowledge too much. If you know where things are and what later enemies are like, you’ll alter your build accordingly. Also, I don’t really find the combat that interesting. Especially at the start, it’s your typical “bash in to enemy until dead” gameplay. Even later, it’s just a statistics game, not really interesting. Some classes get more interesting but for the most part it’s not really innovative.

    Melee combat doesn’t have to be like this. There’s an amazing iOS roguelike called Hoplite that makes combat and character building the entire focus of the game. But doing it TOME’s way is hardly different than Nethack or DCSS.

    • ulyssesswword says:

      re: metaknowledge

      I didn’t get that feeling from playing it. Sure, knowing the right order to do dungeons in is beneficial, but that doesn’t take very much experimentation to figure out. I generally don’t tailor my build towards specific dungeons either, even the orc Prides, and haven’t felt like I’m losing out because of that.

      When I compare it with Angband (my #2 roguelike), the difference is black and white. For Angband I need to know when to get the various resistances, or else risk getting instakilled. For ToME, I have always had the option of running away or else fighting with a suboptimal build.

    • DrunkDog says:

      Thank you Captain. My weekend hobby of trawling the AppStore and Google Play store for RPGs has yielded very little of interest of late. Hoplite looks just the ticket and with glowing reviews to boot.

  5. Lambchops says:

    As someone who hasn’t played any of the “proper roguelikes TM” I can recommend this as I reckon most people will get their money’s worth.

    This recommendation comes with the caveat that just how much you get out of it will depend on a combination of your skill at the game and ability to put up with repetition’ your mileage will probably vary on this but just be aware of it.

    What I mean is that eventually you may well get sick of grinding the first few levels to get powerful enough to move on towards new content. This issue is somewhat alleviated by the randomized starting locations and the sheer number of character options (with more unlocked by good play and exploration), which put a different spin on how you play the game. Indeed I think thanks to the relatively wide number of low level locations to explore this succeeds fairly well, certainly better than something like Dredmor, where I found myself sick of the sight of the first level fairly quickly.

    However, there came a point where I just couldn’t bear to painstakingly wander through the forest with a low level character yet again, even though a good run had unlocked a new character to get to grips with, this wasn’t motivation enough for what was becoming a grind through the same locale, with nothing new to discover. This is where skill comes in a bit I think, if you’re better at this sort of game then it might be that you can move on swiftly to the more challenging areas; but personally I found that I had to level up through tackling the easier portions before being confident enough that I’d even stand a remote chance of toughing out what would be the new and more exciting areas.

    That aside, I had several enjoyable runs through this totaling many hours of play time before reaching the threshold where I lost interest (though somewhat sadly my last character suffered from what I felt was a rare completely unfair death). There’s also options to have a few extra lifes, which I’d recommend taking unless you are an absolute purist as it eases the frustration of being sent back to the start again.

    So yeah, it’s worth playing if you haven’t already.

  6. Snargelfargen says:

    Hah! I think RPS’ comment filter blocked my post referring to a rather questionable part of TOME’s plot. No I wasn’t being rude, that part of the game is just reaaalllly sketchy.

    It is a good roguelike though and everybody with any affection for the genre should give it a try.

  7. Grey Poupon says:

    The first time I actually broke a mouse due to overuse was because of Castle of the Winds. It was also my first roguelike. I’m sure this is a lot more complex, but if the first experiences for someone, who’s not familiar with roguelikes, is as pleasant, I’m guessing this is a great stepping stone to the horrible world of overly complicated and hostile RPGs.

    • kalirion says:

      Forget broken mice – the key is to try to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome…

  8. supermini says:

    I sunk 1200+ hours in this game (having played it since beta 36). It’s more beginner friendly than most RLs – It doesn’t rely on meta knowledge, it doesn’t have that steep of a learning curve, it has ‘multiple lives’ and ‘infinite lives’ modes so that you don’t get frustrated when starting out, the community is (generally) helpful. If you haven’t tried it yet, be sure to do so. It’s the most fun roguelike I ever played.

  9. Sigh says:

    How is the platforming and does this offer daily challenges?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      It’s not a metroid-like, it’s a traditional top down grid-based roguelike.

      Funny how ubiquitous platformers have been this past year. Not a fan of em personally, but I can see how you made the mistake.

      • Sigh says:

        I was joking, but it was rather deadpan.

        You were kind though in your response!

        • Snargelfargen says:

          Well I was going to call you a dummy, but it was a timely joke!

    • ramonkahn says:

      The platforming is no problem at all, I’ve never died due to terrain, only to mean mobs. There are no daily challenges, but there are special seasonal events.

      PS: ToME is really a great game, and if you think it’s too easy, there are harder modes / roguelike mode available.
      PPS: For buying on Steam, you effectively get the donator’s version – a new class and exploration mode.

  10. Arona Daal says:

    Its nice for Newcomers, which have no Problem with the bit grindy Gameplay.
    I found Combat not *that* interesting,*because* :
    1. Its mainly about forming a build out of given mostly Nonrandom permanent Abilities.Not many consumable (Tradeoff) Abilities.
    2. Surroundings plays almost no Role.

    Also the TOME i know is (legally) free.Maybe they sell an advanced Version ?.

    But as someone who has played about two Dozen Roguelikes,i would recommend for those who are interested in a more complex Roguelike:

    Dark Days Ahead Cataclysm (Zombie Apocalypse with crafting and all kinds of Stuff like custom Carbuilding)
    or
    Incursion Halls of the Goblin King (sadly abandoned and buggy but a *TON* of fresh Mechanics and Abilities)

    Other honorable Mentions from Newbfriendly to cryptic:
    DoomRL
    Dungeons of Dredmor
    Zangband
    Stone Soup
    Ivan
    and ofc Dwarf Fortress

    No ADOM because it is pretty basic and imho overrated.

    Edit: apparently there is an PermDeath Option for Tome,so i scratched that.

    • supermini says:

      What do you mean there is no permadeath? Select ‘roguelike’ in the ‘permadeath’ box when making your character.

    • SuddenSight says:

      I was going to mention Incursion myself as my most played roguelike.

      I tried ToME a little (through to the “second” dungeon) but couldn’t get that stuck on it.

      For me the joy of roguelikes is the random deaths (finding out the blue potion was poison) and trying to survive against ridiculous odds. I have never actually won most roguelikes.

      I enjoyed Incursion in particular because there was so much chance and customization before you even start playing. It raises the stakes when you role some fantastic stats and then feel the need to live up to them.

      Tome (as mentioned above) feels a little too repetitive, especially because I feel like infinite lives defeats one of the core principles of roguelikes (the excitement of getting some good stuff followed by the sudden sadness of a stupid death).

      • Snargelfargen says:

        There are no infinite lives, unless you use the adventurer mode (similiar to the wizard mode in classic roguelikes)

        There are two modes: permadeath and one where you get a limited number of lives (5 over the course of the game, I think?).

        Random death is an odd thing to seek in general, since many roguelikes actually strive to prevent it in favour of balance and encouraging learning. There’s no point to self-improvement if death is random. One of the core design tenets of DCSS is that there should be always be a solution to any dilemma so long as the player is creative. Quaff ID’ing potions can definitely be harmful but the only times it can lead to death is if the player makes a mistake.

        • Arona Daal says:

          In my Experience DCSS (Stone Soup i assume) has some unavoidable Deaths.Especially in the early Levels and without Metaknowledge.

          Sure , with paranoid Character building especially with metaknowledge (which is usually paid for in Deaths),and step by step planning you can improve your Chances hugely,but Shit can always happen.
          And always running at the first Sign of Problems maybe to grind some other Sublevel or just to be Sure,is not exactly fun in the long run.
          Find a Problem which cannot be solved with your Options and which you cannot run away from and you are dead.

          I am not dissing Stone Soup,imho it is one of the best roguelikes.
          But saying *every* Problem can be solved with “Creativity” seems a bit optimistic,for a Roguelike with (in Comparison) an average Range of Options.

      • Arona Daal says:

        The Thing i personally liked most about Incursion is the Influence of Sensoric and Terrain Mechanics.
        One of my First characters got killed and absorbed by some sort of living Carpet which was hanging undetected on the Roof ,dropped on me ,grappled,killed and absorbed me.
        Each Character after that had at least a few Points in Perception.
        Sadly my favorite Character Build (Diversified Magic-User) usually crashes the Game around the Third Level.
        Imho its a real Loss for Gaming that the Creator did neither finish nor opensource the Game.

        • MercurialAlchemist says:

          > The Thing i personally liked most about Incursion is the Influence of Sensoric and Terrain Mechanics.

          Well, you’ll be happy to know that stealthed rogues and shadowblades will happily backstab you from stealth. As for the role of terrain, you have underwater dungeons and something like the Sandworm Lair, where you fight in pockets of air connected by ever-collaposing tunnels created by sand worms. So you should feel right at home.

      • onyhow says:

        …you know that random death is random, right? If you want death to be teaching lesson, it should be player’s fault on why they died, not due to RNG.

  11. rolandormcquiston says:

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  12. b0rsuk says:

    This is a single-player MMO. You have been warned.

    • Velorien says:

      Would you care to elaborate? “Single-player massive multiplayer online game” is not as intuitive a concept as you may think.

      • ulyssesswword says:

        Many stats, cooldown based combat, strong community, good Skinner-boxing, development is ongoing (though it will probably be slower now), online character vault for bragging/asking for advice/storytelling.

        I’m sure there’s more, but I don’t play MMOs.

  13. Velorien says:

    It’s worth mentioning that more recent versions of TOME have taken a step towards alleviating the repetitiveness of early (and indeed some mid-) levels with randomly applied variations – an evil elf faction that normally has a dungeon lair might be above ground, the Old Forest might be undergoing an invasion of living crystals, or the eldritch-horror-filled ruins might be flooded, forcing you to deal with aquatic horrors instead (hope you brought magical breathing gear).

    TOME also has a great community – there’s an ingame chat full of helpful people, and a very lively forum with an attentive developer. Many of the game’s neatest features (like the one I mention above) started out as player suggestions.

    • Lambchops says:

      Interesting. Plus I reckon it has been long enough since I last played for it to feel fresh again anyway. Might dip into it again, though hopefully I haven’t forgotten how not to die horribly!

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      That’s good. I always thought that roguelikes and similar games with permadeath needed an “inverted pyramid” of content as you go down in the dungeon: you’re gonna see the first few levels way more than the rest of the game, so they should have the most variation in content to keep things fresh.

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  15. Hencts says:

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  16. Ergates_Antius says:

    The person who laid the turd in the 3rd picture really needs to change their diet!

  17. spleendamage says:

    I like it. It’s light and not terribly complex. I like that it stores your characters attempts and accomplishments so you can go back and revisit your historical data. I like the mechanics and the variety of abilities, opponents and gear. I played it for quite a while before I paid anything for it and I certainly wasn’t required to, I just did because I had gotten plenty of enjoyment out of it.

    All the above is based upon over 30 hours played always on permadeath with an equal split between “normal” and “nightmare” difficulties ALL with the same race/class combination: halfling/rogue
    (The reason is that according to the game database no characters match “winner” as roguelike, nightmare, halfling, rogue. Only 3 match “winner” for roguelike, normal, halfling, rogue and dammit, I’m going to break that chain. My list of failed attempts is here)

  18. Bobtree says:

    I enjoyed TOME 4, having started it just recently and putting 40 hours into a couple of characters, but it ends up feeling like an attrition-heavy ARPG dressed up as a roguelike. It is endless combat, character building, and loot evaluating, but it left me wanting more of the genre specialties like resource management and surprising interactions.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      While I get what you mean, and sometimes miss those things myself, I don’t feel TOME should be criticised for not being what it isn’t trying to be. Managing finite resources is something it very deliberately doesn’t focus on, character building is its core. Sometimes I want resource management – then I go play DCSS or similar. Doesn’t make TOME any less excellent at what it does.

      I also don’t get the “ARPG” feeling from it at all. It has about the same amount of combat as most roguelikes, and while you do generally need to beat the majority of enemies sooner or later, there’s still plenty of running the hell away.

      • MercurialAlchemist says:

        The big difference I see compared to many roguelikes (apart from the “cooldown, not consumable” thing) is that it feels very fair. It’s going to kill you anyway, but you’ll have been warned, and with how much information you have about your enemy, dying is really your own fault, it’s not an issue with hidden information.

  19. ZedZed says:

    I’ve played TOME and it just didn’t grab me. I mean, it was OK – but it felt more “limiting” than Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (or DCSS, as it gets shortened to). DCSS has so many character types and options – so I’d urge anyone that tries TOME to also try DCSS. Yes, there isn’t a manual and so forums and the Wiki will be your friends, but there isn’t a single other game in the past 5 years that I’ve played more (and enjoyed more) than DCSS. The sense of achievement when you escape with 3 runes for the first time really is above anything else I’ve experienced in any other game :-)