The Depths Of Tolagal Review
Nary a day goes by when a new roguelike game doesn’t pop up on Steam. The arrival of new roguelike dungeon crawlers on the digital platform is so regular, you could almost set your watch by it. This near-daily arrival of new games which give you one life to live does have some downsides though. Chief among which is the visibility new entries into the genre can garner. There’s a need for some unique selling point to get people interested, and this is where the concern begins for The Depths Of Tolagal.
Why? Well on the face of it, there’s nothing special about in the game. Or is there?
The Depths Of Tolagal‘s story is one of woe and loss. You play as a butcher whose son has disappeared so it’s up to you to find him. Until the very end of the game, that’s about it. Even as the curtains start to close, this tale only progresses forward one step. There are plenty of well written notes and interesting pieces of flavor text that try to bring some much-needed life into the narrative. They just don’t really present themselves as anything more than a little interesting piece of writing. So the story’s nothing great. Moving on.
This title’s desired unique selling point isn’t even to be found in the visuals. No gigantic explosions or mewling fantasy nasties with a billion heads to be found here. It’s all present in a very retro and pixel-driven format, much like 95% of roguelikes to be born from the busy developers in the past few years. While again there’s nothing special about the visuals, they lend the game an intrinsic feel of what’s to be expected. Nothing over the top or fancy here. Just a game that’s been made. They’re not great though. Moving on.
Maybe The Depths Of Tolagal‘s sound design is similar to that of an angelic choral hum, rolling over distant hills to fill your ears with honey and dreams. Sadly again we’re going to have to go with a no on this one. The Depths Of Tolgal sounds about as far from bad as you can get though. It’s accompanying music and in-game sound effects are inoffensively capable. That’s it though, they’re quite literally the definition of okay. Moving on.
There’s a pattern of some sort forming here. You see it? Nothing really stands out with The Depths Of Tolagal. No big shiny ball of wonder is promised to those who cast a quick glance over it. There’s no outlying incentive to go and play the game. Hell, even The Depths Of Tolagal as a name is about as memorable as your typical bowel movement. They say a picture paints a thousand words. Going on the picture, sound, even story that this game makes, no more than a couple of hundred have to be said.
Luckily, the picture that’s being painted so far here is totally wrong 30 minutes into actually playing the game for one simple reason: The Depth Of Tolagal’s gameplay is astounding.
Movement and actions outside of combat are fairly standard. It’s when you take the game into the world of fighting monsters that The Depths Of Tolagal goes from being something of a lame duck to a glorious swan that’ll have your mind tactically engaged for hour after hour. This isn’t a game to play laid back in your chair, devouring custard creams like Jabba the Hutt on cheat day. Even the simple art of moving around in a combat situation takes careful thought and precision.
Activities play out in your standard turn-based fashion. Move a space and you’ll spend one of your three action points. Attack an enemy and you’ll spend one of your three action points. Use a healing potion and… you get the idea. You’re only given three of these action points at any one time, meaning that simply running into combat and swinging your trusty weapon is far from a good idea. Instead, The Depths Of Tolagal demands that you take the time to think, demanding that even the most innocuous of moves is considered in the highest regard.
This powerfully tactical gameplay gives The Depths Of Tolagal its unique selling point. Those three action points are all that stand between you and certain death, so using them wisely becomes more important than actually breathing. When everything from moving forward one step to the simple act of readying your shield takes an action point, decisions have to be meticulously considered before making any decision.
With The Depths Of Tolagal‘s turn-based system, this committee-esque decision-making process is far from stressful, praise the Helix Fossil. What is stressful though is actually putting the choices into motion. Your enemies are constrained by the same action point system that you constantly struggle against throughout The Depths of Tolagal, but they’ve usually got some special ability to make your life a little less enjoyable.
For example, you may find yourself walking into a location with three basic goblin characters and a hulking troll. The goblins have two basic action points but can enrage to have four at any given time, making them dangerous at times. Clever use of a shield to negate their damage while managing your hitpoints can easily lead to victory.
The troll however is a totally different story. This lumbering monstrosity only has one action point a turn unless it sees you. Then it can enrage to have a grand total of four moves available to pummel your face into nothing more than a reddish paella. With only three action points available to you there’s a choice that has to be made; either buckle up and take the damage, or move into range, hit it, then move away to try and whittle down the beast.
With only a small amount of weapon types available to you (swords, axes, maces, and bows of varying power) it’d be reasonable to assume that there’s not a great deal of variety to combat. That assumption would be a sorely painful mistake to make thanks to The Depths Of Tolagal‘s intent on ensuring you’re never comfortable. Later on in the game, you’ll be offered more powerful axes and swords that can be used to cut your foes to ribbons – at a price.
This idea to give with one hand then take with the other epitomizes The Depths Of Tolagal‘s gameplay beautifully, wrapping everything into a neat little package. It lacks much of a story (which honestly can be ignored after one playthrough for the amazingly engrossing Infinite Mode) and doesn’t score any points in the looks department. When you’ve taken a little time to become fully indoctrinated into its gameplay, everything changes.
Those rather iffy looking sprites become an angry monster hungry for your blood. The so-so music becomes a perfect accompaniment to a festival of nail-biting decisions. Even the story finds life as it becomes your sole desire in life. The Depths of Tolagal has a near-unmatched ability to take you in, turning minutes into hours and hours into days with gameplay mechanics that punch well above this small indie title’s weight.