It's been a while since I played a good RPG or in this case, Tower of Time is a "CRPG" which basically mimics the old number games of dice based Dungeon and Dragon games.
Dark times rule the land of Atara after a catastrophe took place. A nameless young boy discovers a tower one day while out hunting and curiosity gets the better of him as he decides to go explore. After discovering it was filled with life unlike the ruined lands his people have been barely able to survive in, he decides he would return to unlock its secrets one day. As he grows up serving the militia, he finally makes that return, convinced what lays hidden within will save the lands and sends out two of his most trusted personnel, Kane and Mauve to explore it.
I like the icons they use for the difficulty settings but anyway...
So the world setting looks like your usual Western fantasy with elves, orcs, dwarves and humans - or is it really? There's just enough mystery to keep you playing if you're looking for a compelling story. That and the battle system is quite interesting because in a way it's kind of similar to Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins which was one of my favourite Western RPGs. However, it's also very different from your traditional RPG where you spend time grinding experience points to level up until you're powerful enough to take on the next boss.
In ToT, there aren't any random encounters and trash mobs don't respawn so you can't repeatedly defeat them to gain experience points like most RPGs. Instead battles takes place on different preset maps and there's also a "slow motion" mode so instead of pausing like in DAO, the action slows down so you have an easier time issuing commands. You'll definitely need this since melee units don't automatically move towards hostile units unless you tell them to.
It will also take some time for people who are used to stocking up on potions to get used to the system too because you don't have access to any. In other words, you can't rely on spamming potions to keep your health or mana pool filled while you dish out skills So it's all about tactics.
Maybe the boss casts powerful, high damage spells so you have to watch when they're about to cast so that you can disrupt them with the correct skill. Maybe you'll get bombarded with a hoard of enemies so you have to quickly scour the map for cover so you can pick them off or, find a narrow opening somewhere so you can create a bottle neck, lure them in and bombard them together. Some battles are even a DPS race against time where you have to destroy portals quickly before you're overwhelmed.
It's battles like these that makes ToT satisfying to play.
Well actually, it's not completely true that you can't level up. You can return to the city which acts as your base for crafting new gear or pay gold to train and level up your party members but wait, pay gold and level? That must make it really easy to power level, right? It's actually not because you need blueprints to upgrade facilities first before you can level up. And funnily enough, no one wants to buy any of the extra gear you don't need so you can't get rich fast enough to level up quickly (unless you farm challenges). Instead you have to depend on dismantling the extra gear to create better gear. The great thing is this kind of acts as a way of managing your inventory so you don't have to worry about running out of space and it doesn't feel laborious either. You end up keeping the value of what you dismantled.
At first, gear seem to work similarly to other Western RPGs with your usual common/rare tiers and enchantment slots. However, once you unlock the item forge there's so many customisation options that sometimes even common gear can be better than rare gear because of the number of times you can upgrade them.
There are also dialogue choices to be made as you journey through the tower which doesn't affect the ending you get but grants your party buffs or debuffs such as less health or more health. Even enchantments come in the form of scrolls that can affect you negatively or positively so you have to pay attention to the text.
The system works quite well because the difficulty feels just right rather than be too hard or your party being overpowered.
On the other hand, you also have your usual point and skill tree system but, it's kind of odd how the stats have been simplified so that an attribute like "might" covers both physical and magical attack power. The game also suffers the same problem a lot of RPGs have - inactive party members are underlevelled and since gold is limited, you have little way of making new party members active without doing the optional challenges.
UI's a little on the wonky side as it feels like you're jumping from place to place whenever you're crafting and dismantling items. A better tabbing system might have made it more consistent or, instead of pressing escape you could right click somewhere to quickly leave a menu. There's no mini map or waypoint system either which would have been useful or at least something to show your current active quest. It could have been optional for the more adventurous who'd prefer not to have such a system. It would also be good if there was an actual ring showing how far targets need to be to cast long range spells rather than just a number.
It kind of feels pointless having to click a second time for skills that only affect the characters themselves. Most of time it's obvious what objects can be interacted with but, sometimes you have to hunt for them such as the statues like you would in an old point-and-click adventure game.
Visually, it's kind of mundane working your way through each level of the dungeon. Dungeon crawling a tower has been done countless number of times in RPGs (even though it's supposed to be turned upside-down this time) and it doesn't look any more exciting here as you explore the abandoned ruins. Well, at least at first... After the first three levels the stony ruins can get tiring to look at so it's nice to see some change of scenery afterwards.
That said, I think there's still a lack of originality with a world setting that's used countless times already. It doesn't help when the story seems to drag out a bit too long. It'll take you at least a week to get through the main game's story which spans ten levels and by the time you're half way through it, even the battle system starts to get dull. It got to the point where I just dropped the difficulty so I could try and speed through the main game faster.
On "ultra" settings I don't notice much difference unless you like nice sharp shadows which is the only difference I notice while playing at this setting. Might not be a bad thing because this means even older machines with more dated graphics cards can run this game. 3D character models look different than their portraits and I think I prefer the models more.
Sound is less impressive. There's little to no music, only a single ambient soundtrack playing mostly which isn't too bad because it has that leisurely exploring vibe to it. On the other hand, the only voice you'll hear are the scarce, still illustrated video cutscenes in between chapters.
Baring in mind Tower of Time is an indies title and also Event Horizon's debut title, it's a great satisfying tactical CRPG to play if you can overlook the overly used world setting and the odd bug. I look forward to what they'll come up with next... or the sequel.
- Satisfying tactics based battle system.
- Interesting alternative to the traditional experience based levelling up.
- A variety of gear enhancement options.
- Optional side quests to make fights easier.
- Don't have to start all over from the entrance when switching between levels.
- Good equipment comparison - a lot of RPGs fail at this.
- There's enough mystery in the story to keep the game compelling.
- Replayable cutscenes - all games should have this.
- The main game can feel too long and eventually makes the battles feel repeatively boring.
- You're forced to use under-geared/levelled characters sometimes.
- UI's kind of rough. Some needless extra clicks.
- You hunt for interactive objects like in old adventure games sometimes.
- There could have been an optional mini map, waypoint system.