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Taskmaker vs. Tomb of the Taskmaker

Several website, in particular TV Tropes and Nebogipfel’s webpage, claim that “many corners were cut in the development” of Tomb of the Taskmaker, and that the game has a lot of gaps and “dummied out content.” I don’t see that at all. Tomb of the Taskmaker stands on its own as a complete game, although it might have benefited from more playtesting as I’ll discuss later.

The TV Tropes website points out that the player is told that “the villages south of the mountains have gifted a key”, but there's only one actual village south of the mountains. On that point, there are actually a total of four dungeons south of the mountains: Diggings, Dirtings, Gofe, and the southern entrance to Underpass. It isn’t clear to me what constitutes a village vs. a dungeon in the game, but the “s” in the “villages” message doesn’t make a very strong case that the designers intended to put more villages below the mountains.

Yes, there are five maps (Paradise Keys, Black Rose Pyramid, Backgate, Splinter and Reduce), which existed in the coding, but were not fleshed out into actual playable dungeons. So what? Many games, books, and movies have “deleted scenes” which were not used in the final product due to space limitations, artistic decisions, or quality control. Note that while Paradise Keys and Black Rose Pyramid were finished by fans and added to v1.0.1a3 in 2008, they are not critical to the plot and are also not placed south of the mountains.

So what does Tomb of the Taskmaker have to recommend it? There are ten tasks, the same as in the original Taskmaker. Those tasks include a total of 17 dungeons, vs. 12 in the original. Plus there are 3 extra dungeons (Nottingham, Thieves Guild, and Prisoner Island) worth exploring vs. just one extra dungeon in the original (Lupercelia Lemma) which has little of interest. The final task in Tomb of the Taskmaker leads to The Tomb, a large and complex map, vs. the final task in Taskmaker which is just Prisoner Island, a trivial map. Although some of the Tomb of the Taskmaker maps are not that interesting (including the four randomly generated sub-levels), and none are as complex as say Poet’s Nightmare or Arbalest Catacombs, there are several that are fairly large and complex. New features include a choice of warrior/thief/magician and special abilities that go with each choice, special shape keys, an expanding pouch, crafting elixirs and wands from empty bottles and sticks, the ability to purchase hints or use an Object Compass for help, Ship in a Bottle scrolls, Falling Wall spells, many other new spells, lots of new weapons and monsters, some randomly generated maps, hidden Angels, all-new Outer Terra, almost all-new Castle Hall, revised Tutorial, greatly expanded Hell, and an expanded Prisoner Island. There are some things that will definitely throw you for a loop the first time you see them, like the moving walls in Butterscotch or the Taxmen in Eyearrass that drain your treasury. For fans of the original game, there is a lot to explore and experience.

The demise of Storm Impact likely did cut short the game’s playtesting. One obvious error is that the Object Compass reads east and west backwards. Another problem is the ease with which dungeon puzzles can be broken using cheap ethereal potions and falling wall spells. Apparently these spells were made cheap so that the player could move easily through the walls of the randomly generated levels. However, they also make it easy to break the puzzles in many dungeons, in particular Wheatback, Trading Post, Eyearrass, Butterscotch, Diggings, Dirtings, and Gofe. Grayclay/Tubors is protected against this by surrounding the key areas with impassible blackwall, as are key areas of Castle Hall. Fracture is protected by walls of fire, although this is vulnerable to using missile weapons to throw switches for a shortcut. The game designer seemed to be aware of the problem and in version v1.0.1a3 he increased the cost of ethereal potions and put restrictions on the falling wall spells. This did not really solve the problem since even a single ethereal potion is able to bypass all the puzzles in several levels. Of course the same thing is true in the original Taskmaker.

Would Tomb of the Taskmaker be a better game if more effort had been put into it? Probably, but it is a pretty good game as it was published. I don’t see any evidence that the five unfinished dungeons were in any way critical to the game, or even intended to be part of the final product. For anyone who enjoyed the original Taskmaker, the sequel is likely to be just as much fun.

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