Preview: Tower of Time -- A Classic RPG with a Twist
While there has always been a handful of classic RPG titles coming from the indie scene, it was only after the success of Legend of Grimrock did we see a surge in old-school style RPGs of all forms. While most of these games on Steam are average at best, Tower of Time is one that that really stands above the rest -- and it's currently in Early Access.
Developed by indie developer Event Horizon, Tower of Time is a CRPG that understands what it means to be a game of the genre. It has a gripping plot full of lore and interesting, likable characters. While gameplay balance was rocky at first, the problem has since been fixed with a patch. Tower of Time is truly turning into a most promising title.
The World's Last Hope
In Tower of Time, the world is slowly crumbling. Each year, the races struggle to survive. Crops fail, devastating weather conditions kill thousands, and disasters can happen at any point because of ground instability. The only hope of returning the world back to what it once was is you.
You follow the adventures of a group of champions and their lord as they explore a mysterious tower. The lord came across this tower at a young age. After approaching the crystal throne inside, he heard a voice and ran away. Now, he returns to the tower with his two loyal champions, Kane and Maeve. Hoping to find whatever it is that lays below to save the planet, you guide the champions through the tower, riddled with dangers and alien technology.
The entire game is based around this tower. While that may sound somewhat boring in comparison to large open worlds, it is anything but that. The world, the tower, and the tower's history all have great depth to them. The story is very well-paced and written, keeping you gripped throughout.
My only issue with the writing is the dialogue. I find Kane's, Maeve's, and Aleric's personalities are too similar. It is hard to distinguish who is talking without looking at the dialogue portrait. It feels like one person speaking the dialogue, as opposed to several unique individuals.
I would have thought that Kane, a battle hardened warrior, would have a more passive aggressive nature to him. Instead, he has the same level-headedness as Maeve and Aleric, who had very different training, and different lives.
While the characters' dialogue isn't a plot breaker, it is quite obvious as you begin to progress and see more and more dialogue. Fortunately, the rest of the writing in Tower of Time is as excellent as is the plot and the lore.
Classic RPG Gameplay
Tower of Time consists of two separate elements. The first is exploration: you venture the depths of the tower, uncover its mysteries, and find secrets and treasures. The second element is combat: you must survive against waves of enemies or bosses to either progress throughout the game or gain objects of power.
While exploring, you will progress through each of tower's floors. There are currently four. During this time, you will also need to interact with all kinds of characters such as deities, a strange voice, and the mysterious figure known as Tower.
In addition, you will find many notes scattered throughout the floors that give you a look into the tower's history and what happened to its original occupants. Each floor also has side quests to complete and secrets to be found. Each gives the player additional and often extremely helpful rewards.
The exploration in Tower of Time gives it that classic feeling you would find in games like Baldur's Gate or the original Fallout games. Every nook and cranny of each floor has something new and interesting to show and tell. You will never be let down.
The combat has quite a twist. When a battle starts, a battle map will load. The map is random, with each one having different layouts and requiring various battle strategies in order to win.
Before the battle begins, you will place your champions where you want them. Combat happens in real time. The player orders the champion's moves -- telling them where to go, what to attack, and what skills to use.
Enemies come in waves. If you don't kill a wave quick enough, another will spawn. Quickly eliminating monsters is essential, otherwise, you'll become overwhelmed. Players can use the environment to their advantage, such as using walls or pillars as cover from ranged enemy attack.
Every champion has their own function in battle. Kane is a Shieldguard who acts as a tank. Maeve is the ranged DPS champion, Aleric is a support character and healer, and Rakhem is the melee DPS character.
Further adding to the depth of combat, the effectiveness of weapon types are all different. For example, swords have higher DPS but are less effective against armored enemies. Axes are slower but have better armor penetration. In addition, characters can wield two-handed weapons, dual-wield one-handed weapons or use a one-handed weapon and shield. Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages.
Mix all these aspects of combat with each champion's unique skill sets, and you have one hell of a complex combat system. But despite its complexity, it is very easy to come to grips with. If you find yourself in a tight spot, you can slow time down to give you a breather and plan what to do next. It can really make the difference between victory and defeat.
As you progress through the game, you'll find portals that allow you to move among others you've discovered on the floor. If you need to backtrack, you can move through massive portions of a floor in an instant. This feature is extremely useful and an example of excellent and modern design.
There is no doubt that Event Horizon understands what makes a game a CRPG. They have added their own twist to the genre with Tower of Time's combat system, and it works really well. The combat is fun to play and extremely tactical. You will never get tired of adjusting your party depending on the situation and enemies at hand. Sure, there are still a few imbalances here and there despite the patch release -- but overall, the combat is extremely playable.
Item crafting and in-depth character development
Unlike most RPGs, the characters do not gain experience. After all, they are champions: the best that the world has to offer. Instead, you'll find ancient scrolls containing powerful and long-lost combat techniques.
These scrolls allow you to upgrade your town that sits above the tower. Different scrolls upgrade specific buildings, with each one catering to specific champions.
Once a building is upgraded, you will be able to further train the champions catered to that building. You can go to the town at any time while exploring. Upon returning to the tower, you end up exactly where you left off.
Leveling up your characters grants them attribute points and skills points that you can use how you see fit. At first, your champions will only have three skills available. More will unlock as they level up. Each skill also has two additional upgrades, but only one can be applied at any one time, so you must choose which of the two would be best suited to your play style.
If you want to change your upgrades, you can reset your skills at no cost. This is extremely useful if you don't like how you applied your skill points. You can also change your tactics and skill sets to prepare for each battle.
Tower of Time's leveling system is a real twist on the standard RPG character development, and it works tremendously well. You are never overpowered at any point, and you rely on tactics over grinding and sheer brawn.
While the crafting system is simple, it can change the course of a battle. Crafting becomes somewhat necessary as you progress since enemies are getting stronger all the time.
As you progress through the game, you'll find crystals in three colors: green, blue, and purple. These represent rarity: magic, rare, and epic. You need three crystals to alter the rarity of an item.
Purple crystals have a dual purpose, and can also be used to enchant epic gear once you have enchantment scrolls. You can also dismantle any unwanted equipment in your inventory to gain extra crystals of equal rarity.
My only criticism is that there's no way to combine unwanted crystals of lesser rarity. I would like the option to merge lesser crystals to make a higher one. For example, merging three magic crystals (green) to make a rare (blue) one. You tend to get an abundance of green crystals and eventually they become useless.
Tower of Time's simple crafting system is very effective and really makes a difference in the game. Overall, the character development and crafting system work very well with a whole lot of depth.
A title that could redefine the CRPG genre
Tower of Time is a game that shows utmost promise. Aside from character dialogue, the writing is very well done and paced. The gameplay is excellent, with difficulty settings to cater for everyone. The character development is in-depth, and the crafting system is simple yet effective.
In addition, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing and the graphics are beautiful, especially for an indie CRPG. Sure, there is still some optimization to be done here and there with occasional frame rate drops and fairly long loading times -- but that is to be expected of an early access game.
A lot of Indie CRPGs don't understand what makes a game a CRPG. They don't attempt to change anything and keep what has worked in the past. Event Horizon, on the other hand, knows what makes a great CRPG. They are also attempting to try something new and evolve the CRPG genre. We could very well be looking at a title that could redefine its genre.
A copy of the game was provided to the writer for the purpose of this preview.