Stoic Studio is a small development team founded in 2011 by three former BioWare employees who left the studio after the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic. While on paper they are based in Texas, in reality they are a 100% “remote” studio made up of talent working in all parts of the world. The Stoic boys are known for their four titles in The Banner Saga series, but for their new Xbox exclusive, Towerbornehave decided to move away a bit from the setting and gameplay that we have come to know in their previous epic. Towerborne a scrolling RPG brawler whose game world focuses around the Belfry, a magical tower that rises in the center of the map as the last bulwark of a world that is now in decline. In the demo shown to us by the developers, before being able to try it first hand, the tower was the nerve center of the action: there were several characters who assigned quests, a special bulletin board and some vendors of mostly cosmetic items.
Our character is an Ace (ace), a champion chosen from the spirit realm, who plays the role of keeper of the Belfry. The game world is organized as a sort of bridge, if we can call it that, made up of a multitude of hexagons all hidden by a “fog of war”. This is visually reminiscent of Carcassonne, but obviously completely different in terms of gameplay. A square’s fog of war can be removed by selecting and placing your character on the tile you wish to visit. At that point, once the box is revealed, several things can happen: we will be able to find a solitary NPC, an entire level, a boss or get away with a bonus such as a magic item. Some other areas however will be completely independent from the Belfry, with their own quests and NPCs. The developers are trying to give the game a different imprint from the classic RPGs, in which you always have to go back and forth from the main area, in this case the tower in the center of the map, to get new quests or redeem the rewards of already completed quests. In Towerborne however this will not happen, providing each of these areas/map boxes with their own quests and related rewards.
Once you leave the map and enter a mission area, the gameplay becomes that of the classic side-scrolling brawler, with waves of enemies to defeat and a final boss. The developers have decided not to let the player choose which class to start from, but to give importance to the equipment above all things, with particular attention to the weapon and the specialization in the use of the latter. Let me explain: at the beginning all the characters will be equal in characteristics, and it will then be up to the player to choose the three main perks to differentiate them according to his style of play. The weapon, the armor and the spirit, in fact, will be the three choices to follow to develop the character: the more a certain set of weapons is used, the more powerful it will become. In any case, this approach makes the possibilities in terms of gameplay very flexible, also considering the fact that in co-op the group should be well balanced and encompass different possibilities (the weapons in the final version should be four, in the demo we have seen only two). The armor is then an important element as it allows you to increase the level of defense, but which also constitutes the cosmetic part. There will be a wide range of aesthetic customizations that will allow us to customize our characters a lot and will be on sale at Belfry. Last but not least the spirit, which in this presentation was depicted as a flying animal and which allows us to add spells and other special powers to our character.
After the demonstration carried out by the developers, I was able to try the game in co-op with three other players, two (including me) equipped with a sword and shield and two with a sort of two-handed mace/spear. The key combinations are the usual for brawlers: heavy attack, normal attack, jump, special attack (via the Spirit) and parry. Enemies follow each other relentlessly as you progress through the level, in a fairly small number, so much so that on some occasions I found the action a bit confusing, so much so that I couldn’t clearly identify who my character was in the midst of the general chaos. At the end of the level there was the classic boss fight, against a giant mushroom. All in all, I found the boss fight quite challenging.
Stylistically and artistically Towerborne without a doubt spectacular: the game completely realized with this cartoony graphic that is very reminiscent of the Studio Ghibli films. Even the dialogues with the non-player characters are well done, comic. In addition, an Insider program is already available that you can register for from this link and which will allow you to participate in a series of playtests in the coming months to preview the game and help developers with feedback and bug fixing.
Ultimately I have found Towerborne a decent game, which has the potential to become a nice title to play in co-op. I have some doubts about the single player mode, which will still be available but which could be boring and repetitive in the long run. In any case, time will tell me whether I’m wrong or not, after maybe even trying it in the Insider program.