Tower of Time, from the team at Event Horizon, is a port of a Steam game from way back in 2018. Now, I’m a sucker for an RPG, and a sucker for a strategy game, so to have a game that combines both, with a twist of storytelling thrown in, as is promised here sounds like my idea of gaming heaven. Described as “A story-rich dungeon crawler with innovative real time combat”, does Tower of Time deliver, or has time been unkind to this tower?
So, first things first, and we need to address the “story rich” part of Tower of Time’s description. I can honestly say that this is an accurate depiction of what you will find when you start this game up, and it only gets more interesting from there. There are many different but concurrent narrative threads to discover, and as you explore and find out more about the past, it all weaves together to tie back to the present, and to foreshadow the future – if being at risk of sounding a teensy bit overblown.
The story follows our character; an anonymous character who has no name and seemingly little history. As a child, we discovered a tower, buried deep in the earth, brought to the surface after an earthquake. The tutorial has us explore this tower, and when we find a crystal throne something compels us to take a seat. We are then spoken to by a voice, a personality, who tells us that we are too young and to return when we are grown up. Fast forward a few years, and we return as a man, with followers of our own. We are led to believe that in the depths of the Tower, a power exists that can save the whole world of Artaria, which is currently thrashing in its death throes. Sitting upon the crystal throne again, this time we can use the power of the throne to allow us to see through our hero’s eyes, and to hear through their ears. This way, we stay safe on the throne while Kane and Maeve, the first two members of our party, head downwards in an attempt to reach the bottom of the Tower. Of course, since the Tower is upside down, we have to climb to what should be the top, but downwards. With me so far? Good!
Now, as you explore the Tower, starting on level 1 and moving down, there is a lot to see. The game plays out in a kind of isometric viewpoint, with your heroes running around and exploring passageways, finding chests and so on. Think Diablo III and you wouldn’t be far wrong, at least as far as regular exploring goes.
When you encounter enemies, Tower of Time switches to a different style and tempo of gameplay altogether. This is a more considered style of fighting, where planning and the correct positioning of units, and the right use of their skills at the correct time, will pay dividends. It is here where you discover that there are two basic types of team members at your disposal: tanks and ranged fighters. Kane is the former, a hard hitting warrior who can wear heavy armour, take a kicking and keep right on ticking. He is quite comfortable standing toe to toe with enemies, trading blows and protecting Maeve, who is the other type of warrior. Armed with a bow, she can pepper her enemies with arrows from range, and with the correct training in certain of her skills, it is not unusual to see her come out on top in the DPS (damage per second) stakes in the honours after combat.
Now, as you go through the Tower, various new team members show every now and again, and you can find certain helpers tucked away in the Tower as well. In the lore of the game, there were five races that inhabited Ataria: Humans, represented by Kane and Maeve, Elves, Dwarves, Frost Giants, and finally Shadows, led by Whisper, their queen. As you progress through you are joined by Kaela, an ancient Engineer who has been in stasis for 1000 years.
Every time you enter the Tower, you can choose up to four of these heroes to make up your party, and they are such a varied bunch that the sheer amount of variety in tactics to choose from is remarkable. Do you want mainly ranged fighters, mainly melee fighters or a mixture? Whose skills will be suited to the enemies on the particular level you are on? Each floor has wildly different baddies with numerous tactics, so mixing and matching the party can be a good way to deal with the onslaught. With certain heroes also able to summon familiars to help your fight, it’s a good idea to experiment and learn which heroes suit you in terms of skills and playstyle.
So, the actual combat then, how does that work? Well, fantastically is the short answer.
When you encounter an enemy, the types of foes you are about to fight are displayed, along with a brief description of what they can do. If you don’t fancy your odds, and it isn’t a boss fight, you can choose to withdraw and make any tactical changes you wish to, otherwise combat begins.
Your four heroes generally start close together, and then there are four different scenarios that can be played out. The first is simple – basically kill enough enemies so that you manage to deplete their forces, in which case you win. There is a bar at the top of the screen showing the percentage of enemies you have defeated so far. The second type of battle features portals, which every now and again summon new enemies onto the field. These rounds are won by destroying all the portals, and defeating all the enemies currently on the field.
The third type revolves around miniature towers that can attack your party directly; again, destroying these towers and any remaining enemies will see you through to victory. The last type of fight though is the boss fight, where there is one main enemy and usually a swarm of smaller ones. The smaller enemies can be ignored, if you wish; in order to win only the boss needs to fall. However, if you are mobbed by smaller foes, they can be quite damaging, so an approach where one ranged fighter is left to pick off the mobs and the rest of the team concentrates their attack on the boss seems to be the best approach.
To control the fighters in combat, a clever system is used: pressing the LT button and using the right stick will select a hero, then using the RT and the right stick you will choose a skill for that hero to use. Skills require mana points, which regenerate slowly on their own, or this can be boosted by abilities or by enchanting certain bits of armour or weapons. The exception is Boron from the Frost Giants, who generates mana by fighting: at the start of the fight, he cannot use any skills, but usually by halfway through he is overflowing with mana.
There are skills that boost healing and armour, skills that cause AoE damage, skills that slow and blind your enemies. All these and more can be experimented with and trialled, to see which is effective. After all, a blinded enemy can’t hit you, while one that is slowed allows Maeve more time to fill it full of arrows. Experiment and have fun, is the short way of putting it. And Tower of Time lets you do that brilliantly.
The rest of the RPG tropes are all present and correct here as well. As your heroes become stronger, they gain points that can be used to improve their skill. There is no levelling up, as such: your heroes are already as strong as they can be, according to the game. However, exploring the Tower yields blueprints, which can be used to upgrade the various buildings in the city, hence letting your heroes increase in level. Training costs gold, and each character can only be trained up to the level of the building they inhabit: Aeric and Whisper live in the Mage’s Tower, and if the max level for the Mage’s Tower is 10, they can only make it that far. This encourages full exploration of the Tower, as while it is possible to sprint through each stage, doing the bare minimum to open the way to the next level, where’s the fun in that? Exploring every nook and cranny, finding every note, every chest, every battle – this is where Tower of Time comes alive.
Seeing a platform in the distance, then figuring out how to access it, finding and fulfilling all the side quests on a level, and even taking part in morality debates – the full spectrum of an RPG is here. With new equipment to not only find laying around the place, but also able to be crafted and even have special enchantments added, and with new skills to be learned every time a training building levels up, there really is no shortage of content to go at.
And the story, oh the story! Revealed through tomes that are found, and a suitably doom-laden voice-over that explains what has happened in the world, the narrative grows ever more bonkers and convoluted with every turn. Who are the Organthe? Who is the Tower Avatar? Are they friend or foe? What is at the bottom/top of the Tower? There are a whole load of questions that you’ll be faced with as you work through Tower of Time.
So, we’ve seen that the game plays well, in both exploring and combat modes. It looks good as well, with some cool lighting effects as Kane runs around, bearing a torch overhead. The design, both of the heroes and their equipment is equally decent, and equipping different gear changes the way the hero appears in the exploring phase, which is pretty cool. The music is very minimalist, being quiet and subdued, even at the successful culmination of a battle, and to be honest it hasn’t really made much of an impression on me. But are there any missteps? Well yes, there are a couple, as you’d expect.
The first is more annoying than game breaking, but for some reason, every now and then Tower of Time just hitches for a second, before carrying on. Whether the game is trying to load the next area in the background or something, I don’t know, but seeing our heroes suddenly pause mid-step then move again is a bit jarring. The other issue though is something I feel the game is missing; more of a helpful shortcut, if it could be done. There is no way to select all the heroes at one time in the fight phase. Every game I’ve played in the past with a real-time element has allowed you to select all your units and move them as one. Not Tower of Time. To get everyone to go to a location, you have to select each hero, click where you want them to go, then repeat that three times to get the band back together. It’s a small inconvenience, but the number of times I’ve wished it was possible is starting to reach ridiculous numbers. Other than these things though, Tower of Time is very good indeed.
It’s so good in fact that I have really enjoyed fighting my way through the Tower, uncovering each twist and turn of the story along the way. The two distinct phases work very well, and exploring is its own reward, granting new items to the team. Combat, bar one little grumble, is superb and all in all I can easily recommend Tower of Time to anyone looking for an RPG with a little twist. The combination of a great story, great setting, and well-realised universe make Tower of Time on Xbox One a pleasure to play. At least until you try it again on Epic difficulty!