Roguelikes are a notoriously challenging genre to get into, but one of the most rewarding ones to explore.
They also play host to some of the most active independent and open-source developers in the entire gaming community, and some of the "classics" have been undergoing active development for many years now.
One such example is Tales of Maj'Eyal, formerly known as Tales of Middle Earth, and before that as Pernband until a cease and desist letter from Anne McCaffrey's representatives in the late '90s.
Tales of Maj'Eyal began as a spinoff of the popular but old-school ASCII-based roguelike Angband inspired by McCaffrey's Pern universe, then morphed into a more traditional Tolkien-themed experience with the first name change. It has since morphed into its own original creation, though the strong Tolkien influences remain intact. Over time it has evolved further from its original text-based incarnation into a more modern-looking experience with graphics and special effects. While it might not look like much from its screenshots, it's one of the most compelling, addictive and brutally difficult turn-based RPGs you'll ever play.
Unlike many roguelikes, which tend to focus on a single, incredibly long and possibly infinite dungeon, Tales of Maj'Eyal is structured more like a traditional role-playing game, complete with a world map, numerous towns and a quest system. It maintains the core concepts of the roguelike genre, though -- challenging but fair gameplay; randomly-generated maps and items; and, of course, permadeath.
Tales of Maj'Eyal has been available for free from its official website for some time now, and its engine is open-source, allowing other aspiring roguelike creators to make use of its features when creating their own games. The game is technically donationware, though it doesn't nag players during gameplay at any point, and has been collecting donations from generous, appreciative players via its website for several years now.
More recently, however, Tales of Maj'Eyal has started being distributed as a traditionally-sold product as an alternative means of soliciting donations. You can acquire a copy on Gamersgate, for example, and it's looking to get on Steam via Greenlight. In this way, the game enjoys wider promotion via well-established storefronts as well as attracting more in the way of income, which is good for its ongoing development.
The latest place you can find Tales of Maj'Eyal is as part of the latest Indie Royale bundle, where it sits alongside four other games: side-scrolling platform/action game Stained; jet ski racer Tropical Heat Jet Ski Racing; physics-based platformer Logigun; and randomly-generated RPG Crayon Chronicles.
For those who haven't encountered Indie Royale's model before, the bundle is distributed on a "pay what you want" basis, but with a minimum price. This price goes up as more people buy the bundle at the minimum price, but goes down when people purchase it for over the asking price. There's also a bonus music album available if you beat a particular milestone, too -- check the official page for the current price.
The current Indie Royale bundle runs for the next seven days. Tales of Maj'Eyal alone is worth supporting, but the other games look like fun, too. If you want to "try before you buy" in the case of Tales of Maj'Eyal, download a copy from the official site.
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