Artificer’s Tower, the debut project of developer and publisher RodentGames, struck me as a mobile game at first. In its art, music, and overall atmosphere, it seems like a light-hearted management game that would see you taking care of mages and cultivating the life of a whole community from one generation to the next. To be quite clear, none of that is meant as an insult; the game has a delightful cuteness and vibrancy to it, one that I would expect from a game with little else to offer. And while that narrative through-line is present, the gameplay style is not intended as an idle, peaceful experience—that is, unless you’re in peaceful mode. Instead, the difficulty options allow for your playtime to get as brutal as you want, including a range of custom options. In more ways than just this, Artificer’s Tower encourages player expression and crafting a unique experience.
Still before getting to the game itself, you’re tasked with choosing names for randomly generated mages. You can continually reroll their appearances, stats, and personal attributes, but no matter what the name is your choice, as is the name of the tower. When loading into a world, too, all that’s pre-built for you is a simple foyer. There are lots of important rooms to place wherever you like—dining hall, storage, portals, a place to sell materials, and loads of rooms dedicated to upgrading, researching, defending, you name it. And while the customizability of the tower can be liberating, it can be overwhelming, too. All of the rooms and their mechanics feel necessary from the very start, pulling you in every direction with an unfounded urgency. It’s the anxiety of sitting before a blank canvas, hungry to paint a masterpiece.
This feeling of having too much going on seems to be typical of real-time management games. However, in the best of this genre there is always a delicate balance of communication. As players, we need to know enough to figure out what to do, but not so much that the solution feels beaten into our skulls, or otherwise unengaging. In this case, the information comes in chunks and instructions. Poorly designed tutorials are a hallmark of sorts for massive, complex strategy games, but unfortunately as someone not well versed in that genre this posed a significant barrier for me. The wizard in charge of teaching you how to play gave lengthy directions for every step, long enough to warrant pausing the flow of time at every appearance. He never tells you why to do things, only how and that you must. Across his many visits, his message was clear: upgrade, expand, and profit, in as many directions and as fast as you can. In some ways, the tower is not a community, but an industry, and if the difficulty necessitates it, the act of building it can become a means toward optimization rather than creativity. The fact that a game can afford such different experiences through the same systems is quite interesting, and I believe it’s worth waiting to see if they stick the landing.
Artificer’s Tower will be the first product to come out of RodentGames, and it has undeniable potential. While I took issue with some elements of its framing and presentation, that’s not to say this game won’t be worth checking out. Plenty of features were unavailable for the demo, and as it’s posited as a long-term strategy game, I can’t yet say how it feels to get invested in the story of not only your mages, but your tower. Three months is a long time, and I can’t wait to see what this game will become at its release.
Artificer’s Tower will launch for PC via Steam in April 2024. You can dive into the game right now by checking out the free Steam demo. Players excited for the full release can also wishlist the game on Steam. Stay up to date by following RodentGames on Twitter and by joining the official Discord.
Related: Reviews by John D’Auria
Video games are my personal favorite art medium by far. I love how many ways an interactive story can be told, and I can't stop myself from getting hooked on a good puzzle. I'm a student majoring in game design and music, so I hope to make creative work a part of my life going forward.