Stoic deserves every bit of success that has come its way. Formed by three BioWare alumni, the studio built its reputation off the back of The Banner Saga – a trilogy of phenomenal tactical-RPGs which were funded by fans and beloved by many. Now, Stoic is collaborating with Xbox Game Studios for Towerborne, a new cooperative action-adventure that’s designed to gradually evolve, offering an awesome blend of Castle Crashers carnage with a freedom fluent to Monster Hunter.
The quality so inherent to Stoic games is evident from the moment I begin to play Towerborne. The vibrant color palette and distinctive character designs are quick to draw the eye, as four impeccably-dressed avatars battle against sprawling watercolor backdrops. It looks stunning, and is sure to be one of the most attractive upcoming Xbox Series X games released in 2024. I’m speaking to the strength of the visual aesthetic, but also its core play – it’s hard not to be attracted to Towerborne’s raucous action, as exaggerated slices and slashes grind against waves of marauding enemies.
Fight with friends
Here’s something that I really love about Towerborne: no matter the combination of buttons I input into the Xbox Series X controller, something cool seems to happen. There’s this awesome little move where my avatar connects two light attacks against an enemy and then shifts their weight as they hoist the Warclub into the air for the heavy attack – a concussive blast which sends monsters hurtling across the screen. It’s a hell of a way to conclude a combo, recalling the sort of intricate movesets more inherent to fighting games than what is ostensibly a modern arcade beat ’em up.
Thankfully, Towerborne isn’t the sort of experience which requires a master’s degree in reading i-frames to find the fun in combat. There’s a buoyancy and simplicity to encounters, where you’re able to fluidly build strategies around your character and whatever they have equipped. Characters can wield either a two-handed Warclub or strap on a sword-and-shield, with each collected or crafted weapon offering some form of differential quality to your attack patterns or maneuverability. Experimentation is easily encouraged by the quality of the expressive animations.
Weapons combine smartly with your Umbra, a companion of sorts which can amplify your combat proficiencies and add new abilities to your arsenal. I was able to summon a spirit energy which deals damage to enemies within close proximity, while the three other players fighting alongside me in this co-op demo had other opportunities – one could unleash a punishing long-range attack, and another could hold creatures in place to allow the group to converge for a flurry of hits. All of this combines to create an experience with a great amount of expression, an expansive combat system which feels rewarding no matter your experience with the game itself or the wider genre that Towerborne sits in.
“When I think about the social aspect of Towerborne, there’s what exists in the game itself – our co-op systems, and approach to storytelling. But we also think about the opportunity we are hoping to afford families to play together,” says Boka Agboje, social and community lead at Stoic. “We believe that you can put the controller in the hand of a four-year old or an 88-year old and both would be able to play. There’s a great opportunity in that for Towerborne to have real social longevity.”
I think this is where the Castle Crashers comparison is really borne out. It’s not just that Towerborne shares a similar 2D side-scrolling structure and colorful visual palette, but this broader sense of approachability too. Where Stoic’s new adventure sets itself apart from The Behemoth’s legendary Xbox Live Arcade release is in the depth concealed behind the chaos. The fighting game inspired approach to combo design, the expressive Monster Hunter-esque weaponry, and this massive focus on social storytelling – there are characters to befriend back at the Belfry, and an expanding hexagonal world map around it to explore with your friends which will grow over time. I spent 30 minutes with Towerborne, and I could have quite easily sat there for another 30 hours.
Towerborne is set to launch in 2024 where it will be released on Xbox Series X, PC, and Xbox Game Pass.