I didn’t quite know exactly what to expect when I started playing ambitious isometric RPG Tower of Time. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that it would give me the most wonderful Ultima Underworld flashbacks – despite being different in almost every respect.
Just like in that venerable old dungeon delver, Tower of Time has you exploring a giant dungeon – in this case a magical tower which is buried upside-down into the land and just beckons to be explored by some adventurous types. Every floor feels fairly unique and poses new challenges; either a new set of enemy types, or some puzzles in need of solving.
Exploring these floors feels rather nice, with loot and lore spread around generously. I think this is what reminds me so much of Ultima Underworld: focused exploration in a confined space and the overall sense of discovery. Each floor is pretty large and should take you a few hours to traverse, which is very satisfying. The dungeon layout feels like it serves an actual purpose and isn’t just hacked together by-the-numbers for the benefit or random exploring adventurers.
You can beam back to your town hub at any time, and it’s here that your heroes can level up, craft some new items, or improve their existing gear. There is no experience in the game. Instead, you’re finding and unlocking blueprints, which let you improve your training facilities. These allow you to raise your heroes’ levels for a fee. This eliminates the need for grinding levels. In fact, you cannot do this at all, as every encounter is specifically designed and there aren’t any random surprises.
(Speaking of randomness: there is a way to cheese your way to better equipment, as the contents of treasure chests are always random. Don’t like your loot? Reload a savegame and try again. But you didn’t hear that from me, okay?)
As soon as weapons are drawn, the game changes to a separate combat arena and allows you to order your band of heroes around in pausable (or optionally slow-down-able) real time battles. These feel way too easy on, well, easy difficulty, and sometimes a tad too challenging on normal difficulty. But you’ll somehow muddle through, I’m sure.
In any case, its combat encounters might be the game’s weakest element. Despite changing objectives, they constantly rely on the same strategies (i.e. keeping your long-range fighters and spellcasters out of reach while drawing aggro with your tank, repeat, repeat, repeat).
Sometimes you need to go on the offensive, but most of the time, you’ll just let the enemy hordes come rushing towards you while trying to pick them off from a distance. But then, combat does serve a purpose, rewarding you with some nice loot or more exploration options. It is certainly not bad, it just feels… a tad unremarkable at times?
In terms of story, Tower of Time feels somewhat light or, to be more precise, focused. If you’re looking for an epic, sprawling adventure, this might not be what you’re looking for. However, if you want to really dig into a specific place and unearth its secrets, you’ve certainly come to the right game.