Review: Tower of Time
Review copy provided by developer
I’m always a little wary of indie RPGs. Solid role-playing titles require quality story and writing, enjoyable game mechanics, and enough details to really dig into. That’s a tall order for anyone, and even the big-name RPG franchises foul them up sometimes. So, you can imagine my surprise when Tower of Time managed to surpass my expectations on every front. The factors that make this one a success aren’t just solid, they’re unique, and that makes the entire game a much more engrossing and rewarding experience.
The land of Artara is dying. Plants wither, rivers dry, and not even the sun will shine through the thick clouds. But you (yes, YOU) have a secret that could avert the impending doom the world faces. Long ago you wandered into a strange tower buried beneath your hometown, and were fated to one day return to claim its power. That day has come, and while the crystal throne affords you unexpected powers, the true key to saving Artara lies much deeper within the ancient place. Entrusting the task to your attendants and their allies, you must guide a diverse group of heroes into the tower to uncover secrets of the world that none of you thought possible.
Tower of Time is an apt name for this one, because your entire adventure takes place solely within the hidden tower. After a brief prologue that explains your history with the place, you start your descent with a party of your two closest allies. Each floor of the tower is vast and unique, featuring crumbling halls, ramshackle scaffolds, entire towns, ancient libraries, siege workshops, magic academies, and so much more. While the upper floors contain familiar and expected features, your surroundings begin to shift from fantasy to sci-fi as you approach your goal. It’s entirely fitting with the story and the revelations about Artara’s distant history, and takes some very surprising turns.
As you explore the floors you’ll come across numerous points of interest, whether they be books or machines or deities. Sometimes whatever it is will kick off a quest or a choice, like meeting the god of death on the first floor of the tower. He offers your party a deal and your members disagree on how to proceed, so the decision falls to you. With your nigh-omnipotent power upon the crystal throne you can nudge your party to decide one way or another, or leave it entirely up to them. These sequences affect their morale, which can provide stat boosts or penalties to the whole party. The choices are never clear-cut either, forcing you to do some soul-searching when weighing the cost of lives against loot.
Speaking of loot, you’ll find the requisite chests and relics throughout each level, loaded with gear for your party. Equipment is more in the ARPG vein, having rarity tiers and random stats to balance. You can also craft and upgrade gear back in town (which is really just a fancy menu for party management), as well as train your heroes using gold. There’s no EXP in Tower of Time, all of your character levels come at the cost of gold and require building blueprints to break past certain level limits. This gives you a little flexibility in advancement while keeping you in a steady place where challenges won’t be too easy or too hard.
I say that, but Tower of Time doesn’t have a problem giving you fights out of your depth either. It’ll warn you super hard, either through dialog or environmental context, but you need to be prepared for fights. Combat is perhaps where the game’s uniqueness shines the brightest, because it’s really the only real-time battle system I’ve ever liked in a CRPG. Your team of up to four heroes fights against waves of enemies on a special battle map full of choke points and barriers. Each has up to four skills with clear effects and simple targeting systems, and instead of pausing you can shift to slow motion to give orders and watch key moments unfold. Every battle requires different strategies, especially when they introduce portals or mana orbs that must be protected, and commanding your forces is so simple and responsive that working out those strategies is a real pleasure.
I hope I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture of this one, because over 15 hours in I’ve only grown more interested in seeing the story through. There have been rough patches, like the first portal battle beating me up or the magical scrolls and fountains you can partake of often cursing me instead of benefiting. But Tower of Time has received some incredible post-launch support that has resolved these issues just in the time I’ve been playing. Major systems like those scrolls have been overhauled, item and difficulty balance has been shifted, and plenty of quality-of-life improvements have been added. It’s an even better game than when I started, and any gripes I’ve had were either addressed or melted away as my quest grew more intense.
Put simply, Tower of Time is excellent. The combat is tight and enjoyable, the story is fascinating, the characters are charming, and the exploration is thrilling. Every floor of the tower is a new land of wonder, hiding unique monsters, grand treasures, and greater secrets still. It reminds me a little of the original King’s Bounty, how maps would be covered in items to find and quests to follow and all sorts of interesting things. Here it all ties together into a compelling story and engrossing package, promising dozens upon dozens of hours of adventure. I’m not even halfway through my descent but I’m looking forward to nothing more than seeing what lies at the bottom of the next staircase.