The Dark Tower from Fantasy Escape Games is a Charming Quest to Save the Day
Something has gone horribly wrong.
A powerful earthquake has caught you and your friends — the legendary masters of magic — by surprise, and as clouds of darkness billow on the horizon an owl bursts from the gloom, approaching your party with urgency.
“My Master wizard, Valan, has gone crazy!” cries the Owl, stumbling over his words. “He suddenly became obsessed with power, and is at this very moment conducting a dark ritual that will plunge the land of Seradel into darkness.”
You and your party exchange alarmed glances, and can feel in your bones that you’ve stumbled upon your next adventure.
The Dark Tower is a one-hour private virtual escape room experience from Fantasy Escape Games. The experience can accommodate up to seven people, and occurs via a Zoom video call. In The Dark Tower, you and your group of fellow wizards must gather new spells, overcome magical creatures, and battle a dark wizard in order to save the land of Seradel. This experience is enjoyable for both adults and children; while the content is most appropriate for children ages ten and older, younger children may still be able to enjoy the experience with parental help.
Fantasy Escape Games allows participants to choose between Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert difficulty levels, which affects the complexity of the ensuing puzzles. Allowing groups to tailor the game’s difficulty to their level of experience is a smart move, as it meets players where they’re at in the escape room learning curve and sets them up to both have a good time and be challenged. My group had good chemistry with one another and had completed plenty of escape rooms before, and we found the Expert difficulty to be intuitive with a few fun twists and challenges to keep us on our toes. If you or your teammates are new to escape rooms or don’t know each other well, you might consider choosing an easier difficulty.
The gameplay of this room is one of the more unique ones I’ve encountered in an online escape room experience. From the outset, this experience feels as much like a fun roleplaying game as it does an escape room. I was delighted when our group was prompted at the beginning of the game to choose one of three unique magical abilities that we could call upon indefinitely throughout the experience. As our group came across obstacles or characters, our game master would respond in character to our suggestions for how we wanted to handle the situation. While each puzzle’s solutions are generally set in stone, the gameplay allows for an abundance of creativity and exploration in which path you take to arrive at those solutions. The order in which challenges must be tackled isn’t always rigid, and allows for some non-linear exploration of the story world throughout the experience. Because The Dark Tower relies so heavily on player interaction, it’s worth noting that this room lends itself to more outgoing players — or, at the very least, players that are willing to step out of their comfort zone.
The puzzles themselves were thematically appropriate for the magical story world in which The Dark Tower takes place. There was one particular puzzle that I thought seemed a little far-fetched even for a magician’s castle — if I were the wizard Valan, even with my magical abilities, this particular security measure would be such a hassle to realistically complete every time I wanted to access the next room that I can’t imagine I’d have had it installed in the first place. On whole, though, Fantasy Escape Games did an excellent job of taking advantage of the digital format to create puzzles that operate outside the confines of reality without completely jumping the shark. Unlimited hints are at players’ disposal, with the game master providing in-character guidance when prompted. Players would do well to bring a notepad and pencil with them to write down important discoveries. One particularly critical moment in the experience relies heavily (and without warning) on players’ memory, which has the frustrating potential to set players up to fail before they’ve even realized they’ve made a mistake in not taking notes.
The Dark Tower’s brightly-colored, whimsical artwork is a hallmark of the experience and instantly adds to its charm. Players feel as though they’ve been dropped into a fantasy world a la Rankin & Bass’s 1982 animated classic The Last Unicorn. Custom-made by a global team (Wahyu Adinata, Finn Firrior, Ralison Marçal, Aubrey Postier, Khải S., and Svetlana Santarovich), the scenery and characters present in this experience inspire childlike glee and allow players to encounter scenes they would never be able to find in an in-person escape room.
Deserving of much recognition was our game master, Jack McCarthy. Though the artwork, story, and puzzles were delightful in and of themselves, McCarthy — who is also the company’s founder and director — completely stole the show in the best possible way. One of the unique challenges of online escape rooms is rallying each group and keeping the energy high, and McCarthy rose to that challenge with contagious enthusiasm. His characters were lively and expressive, and he maintained the same energy with admirable persistence. McCarthy’s improvisational skills were also impressive; when our group presented silly questions or suggestions for courses of action, he rolled with the punches and seamlessly integrated our chosen actions into the story while also keeping us on track. It would be a treat if every escape room I played had a game master as genuinely fun, talented, and bought-in as McCarthy.
All in all, The Dark Tower is a cute and enjoyable online escape room that’s fantastic for both families and adults who are willing to embrace their outgoing, creative side. It bucks the traditional escape room style with its character interaction-heavy approach and emphasis on storytelling over puzzles. They take advantage of the digital format to successfully do what in-person experiences cannot — bring magic to life.