Tales of Maj'Eyal Review
Tales of Maj'Eyal ReviewGenre: RPG – Roguelike Release date: 12/31/2012 Developer: DarkGod (Nicolas Casalini) Platform: PC Retail: Free ($10.00 suggested donation)
I have courted the roguelike genre for many years now but I’ve never reached the true dedication that games like Nethack have inspired in their communities. Something about the gameflow has always kept me from dedicating too much of time to the genre, so forgive me if I’m a bit out-of-the-loop as I tackle this game.
Tales of Maj’Eyal (or And The Sky is Full of Stars) has been in development for nearly 3 years and, though its official release didn’t quite get the attention it deserved, it’s a hell of a game. Billed as “deep and complex” yet “fun and accessible”, Maj’Eyal has made some daring design choices that question many of the traditions of its genre. While one of more grievous offences to the RPG community as a whole has been casualization of the genre, Maj’Eyal’s tweaking of the roguelike formula hardly places it among transgressors like Skyrim. The focus of the game’s design is more about adding a sense of fluidity to the roguelike experience.
One of the most notable additions is the MMO-style skill bar at the bottom of the screen. To the uninitiated this might seem like a perfectly logical feature for an RPG but it’s a rare sight in many of the more established titles (Dungeons of Dredmor doesn’t count). In addition to the skill bar, the level up screen is richly detailed and does a great job of conveying the depth of Maj’Eyal. Of course none of these could be effectively integrated without the full mouse support that the game offers. Put together, these features do wonders for the game’s flow and help eliminate the tedium that often plagues the early levels of similar games.
Of course the slick UI isn’t just for the sake of user friendliness. The game has an incredible amount of information to convey to the player that is absolutely necessary. While Maj’Eyal forgoes many of the more nuanced rogulike features like hunger or limb-specific damage, the dozens of active skills and passives keep the game true to its RPG roots. Most skills synergize with others through damage or duration bonuses, but never in a way where you feel corralled into a particular build. Some of the tankier classes can auto-pilot through the first few levels pretty easily but the game still makes an effort to empower your choices through character progression. At the later levels of the game, you’ll really start to feel the pain of a fully offensive build when you’re constantly being stunned or confused. There are very few simple solutions in Maj’Eyal and the need to explore (not grind) is what elevates it above a hack and slash numbers game.
Casalini has stated many times that his goal was to create an approachable roguelike that was still a rewarding experience. To that end he’s made many choices in the design of the game that are decidedly un-roguelike. The most notable of these is the persistent world map that every character uses. While the various locations are randomly generated, the structure of Maj’Eyal is actually rather straight-forward. Player’s are guided from location to location by a main quest-line, but also have the freedom to explore other areas at their own risk. While death is as frequent as any other roguelike, Casalini has included an extra-life system that grants you second chances based on your level progression. Additionally, the game unlocks classes and other account (don’t worry, you don’t have to sign up or pay anything if you don’t want to) persistent features as you complete certain quests in the game. It’s a very effective way to soften the blow of a high level character dying and it allows for character specific goals. For example, I’m currently trying to rescue one of my Zeek brethren from a monstrous text subject in an abandoned halfling compound. I can let him die and still continue my character but the promise of unlocking a new class that will be available long after that character dies is incentive enough to push myself to that end.
What Maj’Eyal ultimately accomplishes may be seen as an anathema to its genre. Most gamers are wary of their favorite genre being stripped of its originality and mass marketed. I think it’s fair to say that Maj’Eyal has found quite possibly the happiest medium in gaming. Instead of eliminating the nuance and complexity of earlier roguelikes, Casalini has shifted the game’s emphasis towards combat, progression, and exploration. While games where you can pray to the wrong god in the hopes that he’ll smite the creature you’ve been swallowed by certainly have their place, the wide appeal of great RPG doesn’t always need to be hidden behind ASCII characters and a lack of mouse support.
Finally I’d like to ask our readers to take a moment to vote for Tales of Maj’Eyal on Steam Greenlight. Even if roguelikes aren’t your thing, this game has been one developer’s labor of love for nearly 3 years and he hasn’t lost sight of his ultimate goal: to make a game that’s worth playing.