At first glance, Tower Of Time appears to be a traditional isometric RPG, with a mix of classic fantasy and its own unique art style. Like in most RPGs, you click to move, click on stuff to interact, assign attribute and skill points and worry about healing. However, Tower of Time has a few innovations up its sleeves that might make veteran gamers take notice.
Developed by Polish studio Event Horizon, Tower of Time’s story takes place in a familiar fantasy setting with a world ravaged by cataclysmic events that have left almost no sunshine. An almost extinct humanity is brought back to a tribal state of society, with an everlasting shadow of once technologically-advanced predecessors. Society is brought back to almost medieval times, centered in a D&D world with elves, orcs, mages and elementals. Once you get going, the atmosphere is immediately established, the setting familiar and the characters likable.
All of the gameplay is set a magical tower, buried upside down in the ground and forgotten by time. As the game starts, you are invited by the hero to judge him and his actions. However, in order to judge him you need to understand him first and so the story begins. Interestingly, you don’t actually see, or play the main character. Instead you are given control of a party of his subordinates and other characters that join you as you play along.
Your aim is to descend and explore the tower to find hidden powers that could potentially rescue this slowly dying world. You are compelled and guided on this mission by a mysterious character and the Tower Avatar. However, unlike Dante who had the poet Virgil to guide him as he descended the nine circles of Hell, as you go down the tower you start to increasingly doubt the true agenda of your guides, or their benevolence.
Once you start your first battle you’ll notice where Tower of Time differs from other similar games. Probably inspired by JRPG games, the fights take place on special battlefields, rather than on location in the main game. This gives the combat an almost sports like set-up, where the environment is pre-defined (with some semi-randomized layouts). It would also have been a pretty boring concept, had not the battlefields been given a bit of a variety with some mechanics like tower defense/attack, portal spawning and boss battles.
Enemies move in real-time on the battlefield, and while you can slow time down to issue commands, you are thinking on the fly as you play your characters’ abilities and unique skills. After a dozen battles you learn your characters’ strengths and weaknesses, though, and you generally don’t need to slow down time on normal difficulty. So, the battles are mostly real-time.
As you decent the tower, different levels will provide different types of enemies and it’s all plot connected. You’ll fight orcs on one level and then mechanical constructs on the next. Different enemy types have different approaches to attacking you, and you’ll have to adapt to them and manipulate their placement and movement. You’ll sometimes try to split them up to make them weaker while other times you’ll place temporary magical walls to protect ranged characters.
Enemies come in waves from different spawn points and there is a meter above showing you how many are still to come before the battle is done. I liked how the enemies aren’t leveled to match your level and there will be difficult fights that you’ll have to come back to at a later point to have any chance of winning.
Leveling up is also different from most classic RPGs. You don’t level on the main map, but rather have to go back to town. The “town” reminds me of the cities in Heroes of Might and Magic III, where you had to upgrade each unit’s building to be able to upgrade the units themselves.
Furthermore, since your warriors are already the best this world has to offer, you’ll first need to find lost technologies and blueprints to improve the buildings connected which each type of character in order to level them up to higher levels. For example, I had to upgrade my armory with blueprints found during gameplay so that my tank and archer could go from level 4 until max level 7 (at which point you’ll need the next blueprint to go further). And since your warriors are already experienced, you don’t gather experience, but rather gold, with which you can improve their training.
Speaking of resources, besides gold there are also 3 types of crystals (green, blue and purple) which you use to improve your armor and weapons, add enchantments and craft new equipment.
How does it all connect?
Pretty well, I’ll say. The game is surprisingly well polished for an indie studio first release, with an often beautiful art style and a matching music, too. There are a lot of twists story-wise which keeps things somewhat fresh and if you give it a chance it will keep you hooked until the end. The real-time slow motion combat has surprising tactical depth. However, it is crucial you match the difficulty with your party’s strength. While normal leveling can be slow, if you level up by playing the tower challenges for gold and items, you can become too powerful for most fights on Normal and this can make the battles boring. If this happens to you, change the difficulty to Hard and bring back the challenge.
Your skills and equipment feel important and can change the way you play your champions. You’ll find a generous amount of loot during gameplay. Most of what you pick up will be pretty useless, at least when starting out. However there are a couple of techniques that can turn this junk into serviceable gear. For one, anything you don’t want to use can be dismantled into gems. Also, any decent gear can be improved through enchantments and the Item Forge. There are some pretty useful enchantments, like thorns or life leach, and with the Item Forge, you can spend gems to boost individual items stats. This I found especially useful, as it allowed me customize each character the way I wanted. So, it can happen that some item you picked up a while back and thought it was junk, suddenly after upgrading becomes the center piece of your character.
Another element of customization comes from skill and stats, both of which can be reset with little trouble. If you think you’ve made the wrong choices and want to re-spec some character halfway through the game, you can do so. While there is no character creation and only seven classes – they do differ and can be customized enough to offer something unique. The game overall is less about individual character builds, but rather how the party members support each other and which skills offer great synergy. In this, it brought back memories from Divinity: Original Sin II.
It will take players between 35-65 hours for a full play through. It took me around 50 hours, but I can see how someone might do it faster, especially if you don’t read through the dialogue, or do every tower challenge.
Is it for you?
Is Tower of Time more than just a good RPG game? Hmm, even though I overall enjoyed the game and will recommend it, there were times when I felt bored and the game felt repetitive. Especially if you aren’t the patient one and usually skip past the dialogue, it will be hard for the game to draw you in. The game is made in such a way to give you small parts of the story as you play along – to tease your curiosity and incite hunger in players to find out what happens next. In a way, you are discovering the past and future both.
This, however, means that you start with very little knowledge of the world, or the races and characters that populate it. And if you aren’t invested in the story and the characters, if you find the point and click (or the combat) tedious and repetitive, you’ll soon move on and not give the game a second chance. It almost happened to me and I can see how it might happen to someone else.
So, is Tower of Time more than just a good RPG game? I honestly don’t think so. If you aren’t a fan of RPGs, it certainly won’t change your mind. It is JUST a good RPG game and that is perfectly fine by me. If you love RPGs like Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Origins, then give Tower of Time a look. It might lack the depth of those games, but what’s there is pretty good and you can hardly complain at the price. Me personally, I can’t wait to see what next this indie studio comes out with.
Challenging real-time combat
Unique character management
Heavy in text-based exposition
Linear with tedious point and click
Characters just show up and join you
Leveling up is tad slow