Tales Of Maj'Eyal is utterly magnificent, but I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't even heard of it until a few days ago.
Its genesis is as deep and incredible as its lore and universe. Starting life as an open source ASCII game created by just one developer, Nicolas Casalini AKA 'DarkGod,' Tales Of Maj'Eyal went through numerous iterations and versions over the course of several years, eventually evolving into an utterly enormous roguelike that's entirely free to download and play. Naturally players can donate to support DarkGod's painstaking work, unlocking extra content in the process, or go all-in on the cheap yet feature-packed Steam version.
That's amazing in and of itself, but Tales Of Maj'Eyal cements itself as quite possibly the best Roguelike on the market because it challenges what the genre is capable of while staying true to its roots. Though the game is definitively a Roguelike with a capital 'R,' down to the turn-based dungeon crawling, strong strategic mechanics and stern difficulty, Casalini has managed to turn what is often a fairly limited genre into an entire world just itching to be explored, and a sprawling RPG epic that's utterly mind-boggling in scope.
Now that a massive free update is just hours away from releasing on Steam, allow me to explain why I've been getting so little work done of late. And why Tales Of Maj'Eyal ought to be on your radar if, like me, it had completely passed you by.
It all starts with your character. You're free to choose from a huge selection of races and classes, from humans and elves to numerous varieties of melee damage dealers, tanks, ranged archers, wizards and more. The more you play, the more you'll unlock and the greater the variation of specialised subclass you'll be able to experiment, such as brutal Cursed warriors with a tragic past and bloodlust on the brain. Your choices all feed into an exceptionally versatile skill and talent system, allowing you to mix and match a plethora of different buffs and attacks, theorycrafting to an utterly insane degree to eke the most out of your builds.
However, your character created, Tales Of Maj'Eyal doesn't just throw you into a random dungeon. Instead you'll face a unique starting area depending on your race and a quest to fulfil, grounding you in the setting and making you feel like you really have a place and stake in the world. It reminds me heavily of Dragon Age: Origins in that regard, fleshing out our characters through gameplay, not just tooltips.
Eventually you'll emerge into the world -- a world, mark you, not a menu. You'll freely explore an entire world map, delving into new locations, launching dungeon raids, finding villages, engaging in battles with roving enemies and even encountering entire questlines along the way with unique dialogue, characters and rewards. Everything from characters and decaying diaries to unique items carry their own brilliantly-written lore, bolstering what's normally just a premise into a genuine setting. Rather than just dungeon crawling for the sake of it, it feels like we're actually on an epic adventure.
Naturally this makes Tales Of Maj'Eyal astonishingly addictive too, at least once you've grown accustomed to the retro aesthetic.
Despite this exceptional degree of world-building (remember we're talking about a single developer here!), Tales Of Maj'Eyal is still a proper deadly-serious Roguelike. It's deep and fiercely tactical fare that forces you to think about exactly how to spend each turn, precisely where to move, what spell or skill to trigger, whether we should step into cover or wait a couple of turns to lure the enemy out. It's brutally hard in places, allowing you to easily over-reach yourself if you don't pay attention to how your character feels about a particular location. Half chess, half mental maths and all satisfyingly strategic, it really is a masterpiece on that front.
Yet you can choose exactly how tough you want it to be, or more accurately how punishing. Perma-death is a choice, not a demand, and you're free to decide whether you'd like to respawn back into the fight or back in town should you so choose. It's a good thing too, because I really wasn't ready to let go of my first character after a cursed warrior hacked me into tiny pieces. There's an auto-explore function. There's health regeneration. And there's a delightful emphasis on versatile cooldown-equipped abilities rather than consumable items, letting us minutely customise our build down to the most granular detail as opposed to faffing about with our inventory. As such, it's a great Roguelike for people who think they hate Roguelikes but love traditional RPGs, a scalable gateway into the genre.
And I'm just scratching the surface here. You can tunnel through dungeon walls to find hidden treasure. You can create time paradoxes. You can easily chat online with other players to compare notes and boast about loot. Oh, and unlock over 1,300 Steam Achievements in the process.
Tales Of Maj'Eyal is about to receive another major content pack on Steam, which I've been testing over the last few days. Version 1.3 includes graphical and quality of life enhancements alongside a ridiculous slew of new features. Have a look at the trailer for more details.
Consider this my retrospective ode to Tales Of Maj'Eyal, then, and overdue recommendation that I should have made years ago. The community is still going strong, and I'll do my best to find a deal. Hopefully some of you will enjoy what I've been missing.