by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I enjoy the classic RPGs of old. The ones where nothing is handed to you, you solve puzzles and put in lots of work just to get around. While I enjoy these games, technology has improved, and sometimes, those old ways of doing things can be seen as archaic. Some of these are rotating cameras, mini-maps, quest-tracking, things of that nature. But I recently sat down with Tower of Time, an RPG by Event Horizon, and it’s a call back to those games of yore on PC. One thing that is interesting, albeit jarring, is that you do not play the main character. He’s there, and you control him briefly, but most of the time is spent playing as a band of heroes that serve him. You start off as a nobody and wind up a powerful lord through means that are not explained in the early parts of the game. I won’t spoil the story, but your team explores the Tower of Time, this derelict tower in the north-eastern part of the “town map”, where you do almost all of your upgrading and training. This is a game that will not hold your hand at all, though there are a few difficulty options for those who want to be challenged, and for those who simply want to enjoy the story. There are secrets to find in the Tower, and only your heroes can do it.
Specifically, the “Story” difficulty is for those people, and anything over “Normal” is pretty damn hard.You start off with just two characters, Kane and Maeve (Kane being a melee warrior, Maeve being a ranged archer) and as you explore, you’ll gain more characters and can have up to four of them in your party at once. These characters all feel different and have their own abilities to utilize. For example, the first addition to your party is an Elf, Aeric the Druid. He has a totem for healing, a weapon enchant (Earth Element) and can summon an Ent! The Ent will fight wherever he’s summoned, but if there’s nothing going on there, he might wander around. I am still not very clear how his AI works. But the Ent is a tank, can taunt and is pretty beefy. Certainly worth using in almost any situation. These characters are supposed to be the “best of the best”, but they start off at level 1. Winning fights does not give xp, but does give gold, gems, and items. Those gems can be used to forge new gear of various rarities at the Blacksmith in town. What you need are Blueprints, and finding these Blueprints in the tower is paramount.
Using gold+blueprints to upgrade buildings in town (Mage Tower, Armory) will increase the amount of leveling up you can do. The base building is level 4 per character that uses it (casters use Mage Tower, for example), and the second is level 8 and so on. When you’re back in town, the Keep is where all of this goes on (and you can still access this menu while in the dungeon). This is where you equip weapons, set your skills ( as you improve, you gain new skills (8 skills in total per character) and you can equip four of them at once. You can also use skill points as you level to improve these powers, so if you aren’t 100% sure if you’re going to use a skill forever, fear not, because you can refund those skill points. Stat points require a Rare gem to refund, but skill points don’t seem to. You use gold to improve your character levels, but here’s where I run into my next problem. Though you can craft armor and weapons in the dungeon, you can also do it here in town. It’s a very simple process: Pick a character, an equipment slot, a tier and a gem. Each gem corresponds to a rarity of gear, and it takes 3 of a gem type to create a piece of gear. The item will be randomized 100%. I’m personally not all that crazy about games where almost all of the gear is randomized.
I wound up with a real serious clutter of worthless weapons and armor though, since every chest gave one, and every fight seemed to give one too. I was sincerely hoping you could sell these somewhere in town. There are several buildings on the town map you can click on, none appeared to let me sell. The only recourse I found was to dismantle them for gems. The rarity of the piece will give you the corresponding gem, which is nice at least. But I need gold! So I have to keep going back and farming money to level up characters, despite the game telling me they are the best badasses in the land. So there’s a pretty major disconnect there. It’s not too hard to gear up but you will spend some time going in and out of the Tower to farm. That’s not a big deal, that’s pretty standard RPG fare. There’s plenty of challenge here, too. Most of it is in actual gameplay, but again some of it seems to be weird design choices. Combat is done in a real-time format. You click “Start Battle” and the enemies begin to spawn from several locations on the edge of the map. The spawn points always make sense, but the maps always feel too big. There’s a lot of empty space on them, and you can’t quite scroll out enough to see them all, in many cases.
You choose your character with 1, 2, 3, or 4 and while that took a little time for me to get used to (I’m so used to clicking on them and then performing actions), that was okay with me. That could be chalked up to user error by all means. But there are some pretty weird choices. A prime example is Kane. He has a dash that can clear basically the entire screen. It’s his initiate and has an incredible range. It will also ignore walls, tables, chairs, any object or structure in his way, he just slides them through to get to the target. But if a ranged caster seems to even have a structure in the way, they’ll walk, slowly, around it to try and line up a shot. There are several enemies that poison/life drain also, and they have a line that fires from them to their target. It will also cover most of the screen and from the moment they spawn, it’s blasting someone on your team. You can get out of the line of sight, but they’ll find it eventually. However, this does lead me to one of the coolest parts of the game: Kane’s wall. His “W” ability summons a temporary wall of rock that appears out of the ground.
Why this is really cool, is you “draw” the wall. You use the mouse to draw a line/U shape to pin opponents down, force them out of the line of sight, or keep them stuck at their spawn point while you deal with other matters. There are also times when enemies can have a slow-moving AOE which will be warned by a red circle on the ground. You have to quickly swap to that character, move them out of the way, and then resume what you were doing. Combat feels slow in general, but this only slows it down further. The combat is good, mind, but it drags a little. I also feel that melee characters could have their threat-range increased. I’ve had enemies well within moving/striking distance of Kane, and he would just stand there doing nothing, whereas ranged units start shooting as soon as someone is in their shot reach. The other thing that I think is interesting about this is when you use abilities, you get a Time Slow/Stop, such as you’d find in The Matrix to give you time to figure out what you’re doing. This could have been removed if the game were turn-based.
Definitely Moving Forward: Still Hyped
I could have seen this as a turn-based game, but the real-time element worked fine. It does take some getting used to, and once you have some decent gear it won’t feel quite so overwhelming. The battles are mostly visible in the dungeon, but there are moments where you can get ambushed, based on what you do (throwing a stone down a well, for example). Sometimes these include traps and one or more members of the party will be caged, and those have to be broken before they can help. I do enjoy the real-time combat though, despite the few peculiar design choices, and this is one of the reasons the game has a lot of potential replayability. There are quite a few characters (7 in total) to pick and choose from, and each has their pros and cons. This game has plenty of side-quests and optional missions too, from offering sacrifices to a death god, optional battles (which are certainly challenging early on), secret passages and so much lore. There are of course bugs still (I started up and had to completely redo the Forge Quest that I did the day before, despite having saved) but it is Early Access, so that sort of thing is to be expected.
You even have “challenge” battles which take place outside of the regular exploring, and while it might seem there’s not much to do from the outset, you’ll find that is not at all the case. There are secrets you might not even realize are in front of you. There are magical fountains that can be consumed that change facets of your characters. Depending on the color of the water, they could be positive or negative, and can only be used once. Tower of Time is a throw-back in the best way. It’s not quite ready, but that’s the point of Early Access. It does feel slow at first, but the pace picks up once you’ve completed a few quests and gotten used to this new world you are exploring. Tower of Time could use some quality-of-life upgrades, such as a mini-map, but even without them, I think it will do just fine. It rewards exploration and clever thinking, and every choice you make will matter. The motion outside of battle feels a little weird though and can upset me visually after seeing it for long periods of time. All told, it still needs a bit of polish, but I’m enjoying my time with it and am looking forward to discovering more of its secrets.
A review code was provided for this piece.