Released all the way back in 2018 on PC, this title had an overwhelmingly positive reception on Steam, but none of the major review sites gave it the time of day that it really deserved. But now that it’s available on all home consoles for a new audience, let’s delve straight into how this game stands out.
Tower of Time is an isometric dungeon-crawler where you advance through the tower’s many levels. You’ll speak to a bunch of NPCs, meet new party members, complete an assortment of quests, enchant and upgrade your equipment, battle the monsters within, beef your characters up and voila! There ya go, that’s the game!
Joking aside, the combat is where the bulk of this title resides, and the game’s biggest strength is it’s accessibility factor. There’s a total of five varying difficulties and catering options like perma-death for members of your party that fall in combat, as well as an interesting feature called RPGlite.
This game mode is well-suited for those that may not have the 50+ hours this game offers, to really invest in, or for those who’ve completed the game and want a more streamlined experience for their second playthrough. It allows you to skip through dialogue and have access to all seven champions, including the first four floors of the tower, from the outset. These alterations, along with a heap of extra gameplay changes that you’ll see at the start screen, direct the focus more towards the combat and party building.
How is the action you ask? Well it essentially involves a party of four characters that need to defeat all the enemies in their path, with some mixed-up battle scenarios for additional variety. When you encounter an enemy on the map, you’ll be transported to an arena with a distinctive stage lay-out. Occasionally, you may have to rescue a teammate that’s been captured behind bars, balancing your focus between liberating them and damaging your opponents that are closing in. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with destroying portals that spawn enemies; should you focus on a portal that spawns elite monsters? Or zero in on the weaker ones for alternative tactics? You’ll also face off against the game’s challenging bosses, all having unique properties and arena foundations that are essentially moving puzzles to be solved.
The real hook of this game though, rests in your character positioning and utilisation of the environment to your advantage. Various obstacles, fences and paths are laid out especially for each map and since a large portion of magic and long-range abilities are dependent on having a direct ‘line of sight’ with the target, moving into the most appropriate and advantageous positions, becomes the crutch of more intense fights.
Your characters have abilities that can affect the ‘aggro’ of enemies, red lines that show whose being attacked. So for instance, Maeve the archer, can teleport away when in danger and remove 100% of her aggro, then reposition herself to continue dealing damage from afar. Whilst the damage-bearer, Kane can dart across the stage dealing AOE damage, drawing a huge amount of attention away from his comrades.
What’s really cool about Kane though, is that one of his abilities allows you to manually draw and construct a temporary wall of boulders to block off paths. This can completely change the tide of battle, when used successfully. You can creatively cordon off paths to separate strong enemies from another, completely immobilise select foes, block lines of sight, buy yourself some extra time to heal or pretty much attempt anything you can think of, to gain the upper hand. This alone makes the game super engaging, just from the wall ability and your characters’ positioning. Awesome stuff!
Baring the blueprint of a traditional Real-Time Strategy game, Tower of Time contains those classic RPG character classes of tank, mage, engineer and so forth, which further highlight that main theme of character positioning and environment. Knowing how each character operates in your party, and having an effective balance of roles, goes a long way. Controls are tight and responsive and feel just as intuitive as any other major RTS on the market. Controlling four characters at once can become a bit overwhelming too, but thankfully there’s the inclusion of the aforementioned slow-down time button. Similar to Final Fantasy VII Remake, this feature slows the action to a crawl, giving you time to thoughtfully select your attacks, but it doesn’t have any restrictions here; you can effectively keep it on for the whole match, allowing you to carefully break down each combat sequence with a chess-like approach.
I found it particularly helpful when the screen was full of stimuli. If enemies are casting target-circle area magic, you can almost plan 3 steps ahead to escape or counter. It’s also easier to fully envelope the opponents in your target circles, something that would be a lot trickier for most players to execute in real-time. Be sure to take advantage of this function, whenever you can. The enemies have several attributes that need proper time and consideration in battle too; monsters may drag your ranged attackers into great physical harm, use totems to power themselves up or drain a character’s health from long range, so being aware of your whole party at all times is paramount.
The developers, Event Horizon intended for this game to be focused on team tactics and strategy, rather than twitch-based RTS mechanics like League of Legends. Leaning the game towards more accessible and strategic elements. As the whole game is set in The Tower of Time, the budget of this game does start to seep through. Forgivable that this game was only made by ten people, but you’ll start to notice a repeating colour palette of earth tones and similar architecture, and an unwelcome sense of deja vu. Since Gold is the main source of levelling up your characters, finding them scattered around the environment with said colour palette can be a little tricky. Since there’s no button to highlight collectables in the area, you’ll have to really concentrate on the environment to discover all that it has to offer.
The story is mainly told through dialogue and some gorgeous looking fx-based stills, when integral scenes occur. It’s not the most interesting plot I must admit; basically the party must explore a strange tower to discover its secrets and prevent the destruction of their people, but the characters do help flesh out the world and each member has very distinct personalities. For example, Kane is very much the noble, ready to lay himself down for his kingdom. Whilst Maeve the archer, has a more pessimistic outlook on their current situation – and quite rightfully so! As the tower is riddled with monsters and ghosts alike. It’s actually pretty amusing to witness their arguments of clashing ideals, most of them ending with some smug remark from Maeve – great stuff!
That old English style of speech does remind me a lot of Final Fantasy XII; the writing team Square-Enix hired for translation received several accolades for their very accurate representation of the linguistic stylings of the medieval era, and the writing’s just as strong here. The music does the job too, it’s a lite orchestral soundtrack mixed with some electronic synth instruments. There’s a lot dark, moody minor chord piano strikes with string arpeggios for battles, whilst the exploration music is more downtempo, seemingly ambient in its approach. The melodies do work with this type of game though, but I honestly can’t remember too much of it. That being said, the track ‘The Last Stand’ stood out for me in it’s use of a hard-hitting EDM snare on every second beat, mixed with an awesome piano ostinato and trance-y atmosphere.
Review by Anthony Culinas
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