Conan: Tower of the Elephant is based on a short story by Conan-creator Robert E. Howard, and it more or less follows the same storyline. You play as the titular barbarian on a quest to steal a powerful stone called the Heart of the Elephant from the evil sorcerer-priest Yara, who lives in the enormous Tower of the Elephant. But before you go climbing any towers, young barbarian, you’ve got a whole lot of side-quests to complete.
Tower of the Elephant is an action RPG, and as you work your way from one fetch quest to the next, the game’s environments open up to you, giving you new areas to explore. This is a time-honored RPG mechanic, and it generally keeps the game from feeling stale. As you hack and slash your way through enemies, you’ll level up and earn gold that you can spend on better gear. The inventory system in the game is very simple, leaving you to focus your energies on running around and killing things.
You’d best stay away from my barrel.
Movement is controlled with an onscreen analog stick, and you have buttons to attack and block. But instead of multiple attack buttons, the game gives you an attack pad that looks like a large transparent circle. You can tap the pad to swing your sword quickly, or swipe basic patterns inside of it to do combos. This adds up to a fairly deep combat system, but it’s far from perfect. Enemy AI is extremely dumb, and the fighting animations and sounds totally fail to give you a visceral sense of combat. Also, combos take a long time to perform, leaving you defenseless all the while, so you’re better off button mashing your way though most of your fights. As with nearly every aspect of the game, the combat experience has lots of potential, but it left us wanting more.
Other problems abound. We noticed a number of flickering textures, and often had trouble positioning Conan properly to talk to other characters or to read signs. We played it on an iPod Touch and an iPad, and it crashed regularly on on both devices, even after restarting. Crashes happened sporadically when we accepted quests, completed quests, paused the game, and unpaused the game. Suffice it to say that, despite the helpful auto-save system, this is a huge annoyance, and it’s well worth waiting for an update before buying the game.
Is it just me, or are spiders getting bigger nowadays?
The problems run even deeper. You do lots of backtracking in the game, and every time you come to the same pre-set locations, you’ll encounter the same enemies again and again. This gets old quickly. Also, the environments in the game are large and complex, so it’s easy to get lost on your way to a goal, particularly if you haven’t played the game in a couple of days. It would be great if there was always an arrow onscreen that pointed toward your goal.
Our impression of Conan: Tower of the Elephant is that it’s a well conceived project that was probably rushed to market to release alongside the Conan movie. If the developers had spent more time polishing the combat and squashing the game-crashing bugs, Conan might be a winner. As it is now, however, we recommend you hold off for an update before opening your wallet.