Tangledeep

“It’s… a traditional roguelike,” was Roarke’s summation of this game. “It’s pretty fun. I’m not sure I’d rec it, though.”

‘Mildly fun grindfest with no requirement for emotional investment’ was actually what I was looking for because I’m so tired of like, life and stuff, so oddly enough if he’d been like “I FUCKING LOVE IT” I probably wouldn’t have bought it. As it was, it was indeed a very traditional roguelike that was a mildly fun grindfest that I would not recommend and also exactly what I wanted out of a game at the moment, so score one for human communication.

Spoilers inside, though calling anything ‘spoilers’ in relation to this story is a bit rich.

Tangledeep is obviously a labor of love, and it tries its darnedest, but it doesn’t really quite seem to *get* gameplay mechanics. When it replicates what it knows from other roguelikes, it’s quite solid, because those gameplay elements have been distilled and refined over a relatively long period of time to appeal to their playerbase. Opening repeated lootboxes in randomly generated dungeons and killing enemies is something that makes brain release lots of happychemicals, so since game was nice enough looking and ran relatively smoothly my brain responded in kind. This is perhaps not a commentary on Tangledeep so much as it is affirmation that video games are fun. The main thing Tangledeep provides is pretty much the roguelike experience by someone you haven’t seen before.

Tangledeep starts to run into problems the instant it deviates from the formula. It sells its class system really hard, but… it doesn’t really have a class system, because all skills and weapons are available to all classes, completely eliminating the whole damn point of classes, which is that you have to weigh the tradeoffs. I can’t even say the classes are just skins, because the class skins are also all available to you no matter what class you are. You can technically be a Ranger who wears Knight armor and only use Mage Staves to cast spells, all while dressed as a botanist. Switching classes is just a matter of an absurdly tiny fee, and there’s no penalty. Which is great if, like me, you give no fucks and just want a game to fool around with, but it’s not really all it’s cracked up to be.

The other problem with the class system is that the game is so stupidly easy that there’s no motivation to fool around with different combos; I started as a Paladin using melee weapons and heavy armor and that’s how I ended because at no point was I anything but absurdly powerful. Which, again, fine if you’re not trying to think too hard, but not technically very good game design.

This is related to the other major attempt at innovation, which was the implementation of a monster-raising system, something you may recognize as the most direct way to pander to me. The thing is that a) monsters only level up by getting a portion of your exp and b) the exp you gain is cut as you level up until monsters start giving you 0 exp. This means that after a certain level it is no longer possible to train up a monster, because the only enemies they can survive now give 0 exp. And so the entire system becomes unusable in a very predictable manner. Trying to tame high-level monsters did not solve this issue because once my level was maxed out basically everyone was too high to give any exp, and monsters you’ve bred are so much stronger and the game calibrates for that so even high-level wild monsters are useless in the endgame.

If I squint and turn my head to the side, I can kind of see that because you carry monsters through death, in a game where you died a lot, you would be able to start training monsters each time you had to start over, but a) this still means they’re useless in the lategame unless you repeatedly suicide and b) I think I died I net total of 3 times in like 30 hours of gameplay? It’s just such a game-design 101 error that I don’t understand how it wasn’t caught.

In similar news, the game also tries to implement a day system where items and quests refresh and veggies grow each time a day rolls over, then makes the incomprehensible choice to tie day rollover not to movements made or time passed but to dungeon progression, meaning that if you either get stuck or get to the endgame it becomes almost impossible to roll over days for new items and quests. Again, I kind of wonder if the game thinks it’s a lot more challenging than it actually is, because if you constantly die this system is still stupid but at least functions, while if you don’t die — “don’t die” being the whole point of the game — it’s utterly broken.

And then there’s the baffling story, the moral of which is apparently that everyone is actually a slave to a computer hivemind trapping them in the village and the person trying to free them is evil because [not found]. The best I could glean is that when they uncouple from the hivemind there will be (understandable) chaos and some people might get hurt, so it’s better they stay enslaved forever. The protagonist really comes across as a villain. Like, the ‘villain’ has a great story — she has weird powers that terrify everyone so they ditch her in the dungeons, where she learns that everyone except her and you are mindslaves and instead of being resentful of the people who abandoned her, she resolves to use her powers to save them… and then you call her a dipshit and murder her, then climb out of the dungeons on the other side talking about how the world is wide open for you, not bothering to mention that it’s only opened for you because everyone else is still trapped and the only person working to free them is now dead. Like??? I was so frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to side with Shara. It’s that thing Elmo always complains about where the only choices you get are the ones the devs have predetermined to be right. You get to choose how mean to Shara you are as you destroy her life and eventually kill her, but it’s far predetermined that you can’t do anything but kill her. Why even give dialogue options at all?

The most lulzy scene is where the protag and Shara discover they’re both manifestations of the hivemind tasked with caring for it, which is why they’re not mindslaved, and as Shara has a complete breakdown (again, understandably), the protag just scornfully looks down at her and goes,”You self-involved fool, how could you not have seen how utterly special we are, yes, this makes perfect sense,” and just wtf.

I do not for the life of me understand why this isn’t a story about a hero being to first to make it through the dungeons and set the village free. That is so much the obvious story to tell here that everything else about it is just baffling.

Though! I will say, one bit of story-gameplay integration that I really liked was that your being an avatar of the hivemind explains how you keep coming back to town after you die.

I also liked that this was very quietly a cast populated almost exclusively by women, though gamerbros reacted predictably in the Steam forum for the game, because cooties or w/e.

If you really just want an easy-to-play roguelike with pleasant looks and intuitive, mindless progression, say because your doctors are purposefully poisoning you and you don’t have the energy to do anything else, this is absolutely ideal, even fun. I don’t regret buying it, and I enjoyed my time with it. But if you’re actually looking for like, a really good roguelike, I imagine there’s roughly fifty thousand games you should play before this one… though I also would guess there’s fifty thousand you should not. Tangledeep seems right in the middle, and I get the sense it’s okay with that. It’s nothing other than what it is.

6 Comments

  1. Roarke says:

    I haven’t played Tangledeep in a bit, but if I remember right, you do essentially free everyone else at the end of the game. You kill the mindslaving computer she fuses with, after all. So it’s less you sabotaging Shara (whom I love) and more standing on her corpse and claiming credit.

    I didn’t realize there was a dearth of male characters. Sure, women were very prominent, but like, there’s Turtle Priest, Bull Trainer, Bird Boss, Frog Farmer, and various other guys serving important RPG/roguelike functions, like quest-giving and shop-keeping.

    score one for human communication

    I found this entire post hilariously surreal.

     

  2. Kaze says:
    I think this is the first time I’ve seen a critic say straight up that a game was ok at best while also admitting that they liked it. (Maybe you’ve done this before, I don’t know, I’ve only read like 1.5% of the articles here.) It sounds like your experience with Tangledeep is pretty similar to mine with Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga. It’s a grindfest with a super simplistic and cliche story, complete with dialogue choices that literally don’t matter, and a weird sound setup that make your footsteps the loudest noise in the game, but fuck if I haven’t sunk 50 hours into it.

    Maybe I’m just a sucker for brainless roguelikes, because I was actually pretty intrigued by the game – until you explained the situation with Shara. Having an antagonist who’s actions are largely heroic can be a really interesting setup, and seeing that go to waste sounds excruciating.

    Here’s hoping for your fast and smooth recovery!

    1. Roarke says:

      Shara was, I believe, being set up for the quintessential ‘ends justify the means’ villain arc. It’s just that, in a story that’s so bare bones, the reasons that the ‘means’ were bad were never properly established. We’re left with a powerful character with a tragic past and heroic goal butchered, in her moment of triumph, by a nobody self-insert.

  3. Nerem says:
    I have a fondness for this game.

     

    As a note, you can bring this stuff up on their Discord. They absolutely listen to feedback, and have been doing a lot to make the game better.

    1. Roarke says:

      Fondness is a good way to put it. I’m also fond of the game. It’s got a lot of personality and flavor for a roguelike. The item descriptions still crack me up.

      1. Nerem says:
        Agreed! It’s a diamond in the rough in my eyes. It’s these guys’ first game and it shows, and their willingness to change things to make it better has been very admirable.

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