Tower of Fortune 3, unlike its predecessors, feels like a Vegas slot machine.
Tower of Fortune 3Publisher: Game Stew
Developer: Game Stew
Previously, I praised the Tower of Fortune games for achieving the kind of balance "that's easy to take for granted because when it works it's not noticeable. We simply play the game and enjoy it, not questioning or realizing why it's so enjoyable".
The quickest way to notice that unnoticeable balance is to play a game that lacks that balance. In a sadly ironic twist, it was Tower of Fortune 3 that made me notice the quality of Tower of Fortune 2. This threequel once again expands the scope of the mechanics and the world, but this time all the changes feel driven by cynicism. Each new system feels designed to funnel you towards the real-money microtransactions, which are now more prevalent and prominent than ever before. Tower of Fortune 3 falls into the trap that the previous games deftly avoided: It feels like a Vegas slot machine.
There are three new and altered systems that feel like they work together to funnel you towards spending money: the speed at which your stats improve, the new economy of items, and what I'll call the Action Bar for enemies. There are more new features, such as the dungeon map and the quest system, but those feel like natural expansions of the ideas from the second game. They're new, but they're (thankfully) not newly abusive.
In previous games, when we leveled up, we could choose to increase our stats (like Attack, Defense, and Hit Points) or choose to upgrade an ability. This meant that our stats wouldn't increase with every level, but when they did increase, it was usually a significant boost. In Tower of Fortune 3, our stats increase every level, but only slightly. The end result is a more consistent rate of progression, but also a slower and more developer-controlled rate of progression. Before, I would prioritize stat advancements over any ability, insuring my character's strength outpaced the enemies' strength, but that's not an option in this third game. I'm forced to bear a slower rate of advancement that instead insures my character stays weak or at least on par with the enemies on each dungeon floor. This results in a game that is, overall, more difficult because we cannot easily grind our stats above those of our enemies'.
Newly balanced traps factor into this as well. I wrote previously that things like dungeon traps and bar fights were more about denying you assistance than they were about hurting you. Not so here. Traps have been radically rebalanced to be very dangerous. The first floor has one trap in particular that can kill you in one hit if you're not at full health. Bar fights take off a percentage of your health, so instead of a drunkard hurting you for just 1HP, he hurts you for an ever-increasing number of HP. The percentage is small, but not so small that you can ignore it.
The most significant addition to combat is the new enemy: the Action Bar. This meter is split into sections; weak enemies have only one section, while bosses have three. Each time that you spin the slots, a section fills up, and once the meter is filled, the enemy gets a free hit on you. In practice, this means that every turn that you're not attacking and actively damaging an enemy, you're giving them an advantage. Every time that you don't spin a sword, you're helping your opponent.
Previous games remained fun despite the randomness of the slot machine because the randomness hurt the enemy as much as it hurt us. We could spin the wheel 10 times and never attack, but we could also spin the wheel 10 times and never let the enemy attack. And at least, even if we didn't get to attack, we'd be spinning other beneficial actions.
Now, with our opponent getting a free hit every couple of turns, that damage offsets any benefits that we'd get from the other symbols. We have a ring that heals us, but the enemy hurts us for more damage. Our rage meter might increase, but we won't get to use it for several turns, during which time we're simply sucking up more damage. The Action Bar makes the alternate symbols seem less important, which means that when we spin the slots we're really just hoping for one symbol: the sword. But this being a slot machine, hoping for one symbol out of four is hoping against the odds. Previously, only one symbol out of four was bad, now only one symbol out of four is helpful. The odds have shifted. What was once friendly has become antagonistic. What was once fun now feels abusive.
Thanks to our slower rate of progress, stronger traps, and cheating enemies, it's inevitable that we'll take more damage on average in Tower of Fortune 3 than we did in the previous two games. We're weaker, and there are more chances for things to hurt us. To offset this, the game has added an inventory and an entire economy of items, most of which are health and support items: potions to increase Attack for eight hours (in-game time), food to recover HP, and equipment to bolster our meager stats. There's a lot to buy.
Yet, despite all these new consumable items, the rate at which we earn gold hasn't changed. It's still a fairly slow process, especially in the early areas of the game. This makes it easy to fall into an endless cycle of grinding: Fight to earn gold, get hurt from those fights, spend gold to heal our wounds, then fight to earn more gold to make up for what we spent, and so on. We actually need gold to unlock the next floor of the Tower, so the game forces us into this grind. No amount of frugality can save you. It's a vicious cycle.
And this brings us to the kicker.
The new progression is designed to keep you weak, which lets the new Action Bar hurt you more often, which forces you to fill your new inventory with new healing items, which stretches your gold supply thin thanks to the new economy. All of these design changes push us towards one thing: the real money microtransactions.
Every shop and every trader promotes some form of dollar-for-gold microtransaction. This existed in previous games as well, but it was always hidden behind several menus. Tower of Fortune 3 makes sure we see these options, and the rest of the game feels designed to make them as attractive as possible.
Games like this have always existed on mobile, but it's disheartening to see a series that had once avoided such obvious avarice suddenly change course to embrace it.
Tower of Fortune 3 isn't a slot machine that's been changed into an RPG, it's an RPG that's been changed into a slot machine. It feels abusive, manipulative, and unbalanced in all the ways that a Vegas slot machine is abusive, manipulative, and unbalanced. Not only has the game lost the simplicity of its predecessors because of a complex map, quests, inventory, and economy, but it's also lost their simple joy of spinning slots.