Tower of Time is developer Event Horizon’s first game and it’s not bad for a first try. It promises to bring something refreshing to the CRPG genre with its “revolutionary arrow-time combat” while also delivering a deep and rich story. But does it live up to those promises? Read on to find out.
Let’s start things off with the story and the world building. I like the world of Artara a lot. The writers have created a fairly interesting, if occasionally generic, fantasy world with a strong premise to draw you in. The world was a fine place once; the tall, nature loving elves lived in the forests, the dwarves were happy hammering away in their forges and the humans were there also. Then magic was discovered. Strange crystals appeared out of the ground, granting people magic powers and civilisation flourished. Unfortunately it didn’t last and the magic brought sickness and ruin to the world. Some cataclysmic event happened but it was so long ago nobody knows what it was. Now Artara is a desolate place with almost no hope for survival.
That is, until the main character finds a big upside down tower. Once inside a mysterious voice calls to him and tells him the secret to saving the planet is at the bottom of the tower.
I think the basic plot of Tower of Time is quite good. The world is interesting enough and details about it are presented bit by bit so you want to keep going to find out more. Find out what happened all those years ago, discover the identity of the voice in the tower and make everything better. However, I feel like the story is let down by its dialogue. The lore and history of the world is told mostly through cutscenes with pretty pictures to go along with them and they’re great but what’s not so great is the dialogue between your party of mostly one dimensional characters. The main character isn’t present for most of the game. He sits on a throne in the first room of the tower which allows him to see through the eyes of his companions.
The companions are fairly dull though. You start with the warrior Kane and ranger Maeve. Kane is stoic and cautious, Maeve doesn’t take things seriously and likes to make “witty” quips a lot. The third character you find is Aeric, the elf. His name might as well just be “fantasy elf” for his character traits include loving nature, being taller than everyone else and thinking he’s better than most. Then of course there’s the dwarf. Big beard, Scottish accent, likes smithing. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. I could forgive all the generic fantasy stuff if the characters were interesting but the writing just isn’t strong enough to keep me interested in them. Perhaps the gameplay can make up for it.
Tower of Time plays out like someone took a CRPG and mixed in rogue-like elements. Outside of combat you explore the floors of the Tower from a fixed camera viewpoint, getting into fights, solving mostly simple puzzles and of course fighting skeletons and orcs and the like. Exploration is fun as each floor on the tower has plenty to see, though there is always only one way to the exit. There aren’t many characters to talk to since the Tower has been long abandoned but there are diaries and journals to find which give you a glimpse into the lives of those who explored it in days gone by. On top of that are the forges and fountains. Forges allow you to upgrade 1 piece of equipment and fountains can give a party member a permanent skill boost or decrease. The effects are random and both fountains and forges are single use only. This random element I feel really takes away a lot from the game. All treasure, all upgrades and even crafted weapons and armour are random. When you open a chest it’s a random loot, which is fine but crafting should allow you to choose what you want.
In the crafting menu you can only choose which piece of equipment like sword, axe, helmet etc. you want to make. You craft them using green, blue or purple crystals which determine the power of the item. At least they should anyway. Any time you craft an item its stats are randomised and it may even have elemental damage too. This would be fine except you never know what you’re going to get so you can waste all your crystals trying to make a fire sword you need because that’s what the next boss is weak too, but you end up with a water sword with shitty stats. This really took away a lot of enjoyment from Tower of Time. I don’t mind getting random loot from chests but when so much is left up to luck it makes it feel like you have very little agency in the world. That same randomness can also really screw up the difficulty curve. For example I had an awful time when I got to the second floor because I only had fire weapons and all the enemies there resist fire. I needed stronger weapons but I wasn’t getting them. Then out of nowhere I just got lucky and was able to stroll through the rest of the floor without any effort.
I have to say though, not everything is totally random. You can choose specific enchantments and upgrades to put on your weapon at the forge in town. Levelling is also not random. Unlike other RPGs your characters don’t level up by gaining experience points. Instead you need to spend gold to upgrade certain buildings on the town screen, then spend more gold to upgrade individual characters. Take the warrior class. In order to level up any warriors you need to upgrade the barracks building, then you can level your warriors but only up to a certain point. To advance further you’ll need to find blueprints in the tower that allow you to upgrade the barracks and so on. I don’t know how I feel about this system. On the one hand, levelling doesn’t feel as exciting when you’re just shelling out cash to get stronger but it does offer more control over how your characters level up and it means you can level those you aren’t using in battle so you don’t have to grind to get them to the same point everyone else is at. Either way, levelling isn’t exciting. A new level will either unlock a new skill or the next stage in each skill tree.
Characters in Tower of Time have a fairly large amount of skills but the skill trees are a bit too simplistic in my opinion. Each skill has two branches on the skill tree but you can’t mix and match. Let’s take Maeve’s arrow barrage skill. Activating it in battle shoots multiple arrows at random enemies. When upgrading the skill tree you can pick the branch that adds knockback or the one that adds a blinding effect. You can not have both, though. You might think this is a good way to offer you choice in how your characters progress except you can freely switch between branches. So if you need blinding arrows you just select those. It just makes it so you never really have to make any choices when levelling up because you can always choose what you need when you need it. On top of that, most of the skills are pretty dull and combat doesn’t require much strategy anyway.
Combat plays out differently than in most RPGs. Rather than putting enemy encounters into the dungeon you’re exploring, combat takes place in instanced arenas. Every time you start a fight your party is warped to a room where enemies will spawn in from portals. This is fine at first but it isn’t long before the rooms start being re-used. The repetition of combat arenas can make all the battles feel the same and the way enemies come at you in waves makes it feel more like a “horde-mode” battles from Gears of War or something.
And I think that’s all I’ve got to say about Tower of Time. It’s not altogether a bad game. If it’s your first CRPG you might find it enjoyable since combat is simple and easy and there are some nice quality of life additions like showing you enemy stats, strengths and weaknesses before each fight. I must also give credit to the graphics, as the environments in the tower are quite pretty to look at for the most part. Having said all that, the over use of random elements and lack of interesting encounter design turned me off from playing it again.