Developer: Chris McFarland
Publisher: Chris McFarland
Release Date: March 3rd, 2015
Platforms: PC (Steam)
A copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purposes of review.
Tallowmere is the flagship title of indie developer Chris McFarland. The action roguelike pits the player as a nameless hero tasked with roaming the endless dungeons of Lady Tallowmere. Along the way, you will fight endless hordes of enemies, collect loot, face unique challenges, avoid traps, and ultimately die. Why would an intrepid hero take the impossible and endless task of clearing a never-ending dungeon? Love? Greed? Extremely low self-esteem and lack of concern for personal safety? We never know, and it really doesn’t matter.
The gameplay for Tallowmere consists of roaming through randomly generated 2D dungeons that progressively become larger and fill with more enemies. Players begin the game with a basic axe and shield, as well as a single health potion. Better gear can be found in chests throughout the dungeon, or purchased from merchants in the home base and as you find them in Lady Tallowmere’s dungeon cells. Standing in the way of all this dungeon loot are mages that fling fire and lightning, flying sawblade fairies, and archers, ogres that fling stunning projectiles, leapers that kill the enemies to harvest their souls. Collect enough souls and find a demon statue (there’s one on every level) to acquire an increase of health, attack power, and a random stat bonus.
Tallowmere fits very snugly in the roguelike genre alongside other dungeon crawlers such as The Binding of Isaac or Dungeons of Dredmore. Traditional of roguelikes, dungeons are procedurally and randomly generated, and has the player bouncing from room to room, clearing the dungeons of baddies and collecting any loot from the mutilated bodies. Quick reactions are a must, and I found that if I didn’t have a plan before an encounter then I usually ended up dead. Permanent death and lack of a save feature manage to instill a sense of anxiety and fear for possibly losing everything earned in the past hour due to a stupid mistake.
If you seek a challenge, speak to the Reaper to set extra handicaps to make dungeon crawls even harder. I personally never enabled any of these challenges because I am terrible at roguelikes — making this game harder would just be kicking me while I’m down. But say you’re looking for a challenge and find yourself biting off more than you can chew. Don’t worry first-timers, McFarland’s got you covered: increase your max health by sacrificing a kitten!
I really liked the weapons system that Tallowmere utilizes. There are seven different weapon types in the game and each drastically changes gameplay. Rocket launchers provide huge amounts of damage, but you run the risk of dealing splash damage to yourself with each shot. Frost Wands provide mid-range homing projectiles but can only be used when standing on solid ground — not an easy task in later levels when rooms are pretty much made out of spikes. Emerald daggers allow you to turn invisible when alone, allowing you to sneak up on enemies unnoticed for the quick kill, but are pretty ineffective when you’re spotted. And my personal favorite: the katana that teleports you with every strike to a random nearby enemy. Mashing the attack makes your screen erupt in blood and most everyone, including yourself, dies.
Every single room is randomized, so each round of gameplay is different from the last. Play styles shift based on which weapons and gear you pick up at the start of the run: you can find a frost wand in the opening level’s first chest while a different run might yield nothing but armor in the first eight rooms.
I really enjoyed McFarland’s choice to implement a creative system for establishing difficulty in the game rather than the traditional choice of easy, normal, or hard difficulties. The scale is set by players, gauging their own handicaps by sacrificing a few or many kittens, as well as by having many choices from the Reaper when it comes to increased challenges. I personally never used any of the punishments as I was pretty bad at the game, and only managed to gain consistent success with no sacrificed kittens after several hours of gameplay. But it was really nice to know that gamers who live and die by roguelikes will have something to go above and beyond in terms of challenges, more than simple modifications like decreased damage or lower health.
And finally, McFarland made the grand slam decision to implement co-op into the game. This brings Tallowmere out of the generic dungeon roamer category and into a hilarious adventure to share with up to three friends in local co-op. When played with a friend, the entire atmosphere surrounding the game changes. The seriousness of solo-play is replaced by light-hearted fun where you and your friend(s) are competing for loot and item drops. Solo play has nothing that can replace the feeling of snatching a health orb away from your partner who is heartbeats away from death. The difficulty increases per player, but in exchange players can resurrect one another, creating a much more forgiving game. I loved this mode and had the most fun by far while playing with a friend.
The 8-bit graphics and simplistic concept really show that this was the work of love from a very small team with limited resources. With the exception of gamers who live and breathe roguelikes, the game gets pretty stale after an hour or so of gameplay. The lack of a save feature made me Alt+F4 more than once after having a particularly long run only to be chain stunned to death. Those who want a bit more from their games will be left thirsting for more or feeling a bit dissatisfied with Tallowmere.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Tallowmere is a solid and yet basic indie game at its core. However, this simplistic and unforgiving gameplay is not so much a negative for Tallowmere. Rather, it secures Tallowmere in a fairly comfortable niche. Tallowmere isn’t the kind of game you binge play for countless hours at a time, spending entire weekends marathoning like the outside world doesn’t exist. Rather, Tallowmere is the gaming snack you have after getting home from work to help you unwind after a few runs. Not only that, but the unique difficulty system allows players to shift the game to a setting that allows for their own unique difficulty for fun. Playing Tallowmere didn’t really make a massive impact on me, but it was undeniably fun. And at only $4.99 on Steam, the game is a total steal for those looking for a something to fill the spare hours they have in the day. Anyone still on the fence about the game should keep an eye for it appearing in any kind of Steam Bundle, as Tallowmere is the kind of game that makes a bundle worth the purchase.