Last Epoch Review – IGN
20 mins read

Last Epoch Review – IGN


Battle-weary Diablo 4 and Path of Exile fans may finally have some common ground. Last Epoch has hacked and slashed its way out of a five-year Early Access period, and the 1.0 release of this ARPG strikes a fine balance between the approachability and high-speed action of Diablo 4 and the absurdly complex character-build diversity of Path of Exile. That’s thanks to a skill system that’s both easy to understand and offers tons of room to fine-tune your character however you’d like. Last Epoch’s roughly 20-hour campaign, however, only manages to start fresh before devolving into a derivative mess, though that’s somewhat forgivable when it’s basically just there to get you to its engaging endgame anyway. If you can stomach that, as well as some technical clunkiness that is most apparent in Last Epoch’s online multiplayer, the climb to level 100 is lined with mountains of great loot, fun fights, and meaningful power boosts that made it well worth sinking dozens of hours into.

New travelers start by choosing one of five standard characters, all of which are exactly what longtime ARPG fans would expect in any Diablo-inspired campaign. It’s got the usual cast of sword-and-shield-wielding Sentinels, spell-slinging Mages, and — my personal favorite – undead-summoning Acolytes. These characters each have a firm identity and playstyle, which means you can’t make a bad choice. And once you’ve made your pick, you’re off to the visually appetizing high-fantasy world of Eterra, which is chronically ravaged by a captivating menagerie of evil gods, undead armies, and a gnawing void that’s conspiring to eat the planet from within – like purple mold on a giant orange.

With dastardly forces like these threatening to rip Eterra asunder, the situation calls for nothing less than a marathon of isometric hacking, slashing, spellcasting, potion-guzzling, looting, questing, junk selling, and all the compulsive mouse-clicking of a traditional action RPG. Last Epoch sets itself apart from the competition, however, by introducing several new layers to its otherwise conventional systems – like Ward, which acts as a regenerating shield on top of your health pool, or your mana pool being able to dip into the negatives, which acts as a natural cooldown between spells. That makes its action feel deeper and more methodical than Diablo 3 or Diablo 4 without overcomplicating that simple yet satisfying ARPG loop.

There’s plenty of blood and gore to be found while fighting through swarms of zombies, sword-wielding birds, and giant enemy crabs – but this story takes a few steps back from Diablo’s demonic edge. If you saw the name “Last Epoch” and immediately thought of the time-warping Epoch from Chrono Trigger, just wait until you meet Elder Gaspar at the End of Time. No, you’re not experiencing déjà vu, and I’m not talking about Chrono Trigger’s own End of Time zone, which also famously contains an NPC named Gaspar. Last Epoch borrows liberally from Chrono Trigger in both its story and setting, using that inspiration to provide a mostly serviceable explanation for all the action happening on-screen.

The one-note campaign just gets you to the far more enjoyable endgame.

To make it clear just how deep the parallels run, it’s established early on in the campaign that Eterra will inevitably end up destroyed in the future, and the duration of the main quest that follows is spent running back and forth between each of Last Epoch’s five suspiciously familiar eras to secure this game’s time-traveling Epoch and prevent that from happening. But unlike the masterful story this is clearly based on, at no point does Last Epoch establish why anyone involved should care.

Without spoiling its ending, the disappointingly one-note campaign ultimately serves as a Rube Goldberg-style series of disjointed events and zones that eventually just spat me out into Last Epoch’s far more enjoyable endgame at around level 60. The latter is fun enough that I quickly forgot about all the poorly established characters and convoluted story stuff that came before it; instead, I found myself spending the back half of my character’s leveling progression shuffling through a stream of satisfying, procedurally generated vignettes within each major timeline I’d visited during the campaign. At least there are a few fantastic boss fights along the way, like the Kraken-esque Lagon and the towering Temple Guardian – but for a game that puts its story in such direct comparison with an all-time classic, it doesn’t do a lot to try and live up to it.

Radical Schemers

It’s slightly off-putting that the five pre-made characters – the Sentinel, the Mage, the Rogue, the Primalist, and the Acolyte – look and sound exactly the same for everyone who chooses them, much like in older ARPGs like Diablo 2 or Path of Exile. It’s even more frustrating that, once you do eventually get your character into the fray of combat, there’s no dedicated dodge roll button to stay ahead of incoming attacks. These two omissions can feel like a sizable step backward at first, but if you make it past the opening levels – up through about level 15 – the staggering degree of customizable depth in Last Epoch’s skill system begins to blossom in a way I haven’t seen in any other ARPG. The process of building up a character is a treat from start to finish thanks to each class having a rich identity of its own. All five characters starts to play drastically different over time, making it worth trying every class at least once.

Even if you pick the same class multiple times, it’s great that you can specialize into one of three subclasses, which vastly alter the way they operate. For instance, I specialized my Acolyte into a Necromancer – a predictably minion-focused subclass that has tons of extra options and permutations to fundamentally change how the Acolyte’s undead minions work. My favorite Necromancer-specific spell let me summon swarms of Wraiths, which do tons of damage on their own but instantly become even more dangerous thanks to a damage buff provided by the Acolyte’s universal Transplant skill, which could teleport me to my cursor’s location while empowering my entire army. Likewise, my friend played a Rogue – eventually specializing her into a Marksman, which focuses exclusively on twitchy mobility and tactfully placed bow-and-arrow attacks. When I finally got the chance to take that class for a spin, it felt like we’d been playing two different games the whole time.

Last Epoch provides near-endless opportunities to meaningfully customize and fine tune each class’s unique mechanics through a mind-bogglingly long list of branching Passives, which are then buffered by an equally open-ended itemization system. These Passives are gradually unlocked by completing side-quests and leveling up, occupying an easy-to-navigate window that lets you conveniently plot out your choices ahead of time. I’m grateful that Passives don’t compete with the separate points used to customize your Skills, either; you’ll level those up individually as you use them.

Gear is also way more exciting in Last Epoch than in, say, Diablo 4, thanks to its excellent crafting system, which lets you use glyphs and scrolls to fundamentally rebuild entire pieces of equipment. I love the fact I might randomly find items that introduce entirely new mechanics, too – for instance, a belt that makes my Necromancer unleash a wave of frost every time I use a healing potion, freezing every monster nearby and leaving them as easy pickings for my minions. Instead of hunting for gear to support a specific build, it often works the other way around – I’ll be inspired to retool my character’s Skill specializations and Passives if I find a particularly interesting armament.

Its huge list of build options encourages creativity at all times.

Making these systems gel even more, you can consecutively mix and match up to five Skills to specialize in, unlocking entirely new Skill trees to direct your build with surgical precision, and in turn, create entirely new playstyles on the fly. For example, if I found an idol (a slottable accessory that stands in for gems in other ARPGs) that buffs my minions’ fire damage by 200%, I could equip my skeleton archers with fire arrows and evolve my Bone Golems into Pyre Golems to convert their base damage into fire damage, assuming that my Summon Skeleton and Summon Bone Golem skills are specialized. This is where Last Epoch gets the biggest chance to flex its weighty character customization system, and respeccing or swapping out those skills when necessary is just as effortless, making its exhaustive list of possibilities encourage creativity at all times.

Thanks to a built-in guide system, it’s also impressively easy to figure out how Last Epoch’s collection of stats, modifiers, and other interlinking mechanics work together. Pressing a single key immediately brings up an index containing everything you could possibly need to know in thorough detail, and it’s neat that you can conveniently look up any specifics you might miss. And even if you do make a bad decision, the flexibility to change your mind means it’s impossible to accidentally get stuck with a terrible character.

Epochalypse

Last Epoch’s main endgame activities are called Monoliths of Fate, and they are basically time rifts that feel at least a little inspired by roguelikes such as Hades. Each Monolith has a different theme and different possible rewards, and there are 10 in total to replay on your way to level 100. The real prize here comes from Blessings, which are global buffs affecting things like loot drop rates, experience gains, or even character stats like health and mana that are rewarded at the end of a Monolith. You can equip up to 10 of these – one per Monolith – and it’s nice to get a little leeway since you can choose one of up to five Blessings each time you beat a given Monolith. They’re also hidden until you unlock them, so there’s a level of surprise that makes it feel worth trying to get them all.

When activating a Monolith, you’re sent to a procedurally generated series of islands, called Echoes, surrounding a central Timeline. A single Echo occupies a single turn on the Timeline’s game board, and the objective is to eventually survive enough turns and amass enough Stability to complete the Timeline and unlock the Monolith’s Blessing, thereby granting access to the next Monolith of Fate. That may sound overly complicated at first glance, but this system works well because each Echo contains different modifiers that can up the difficulty or provide better rewards of a certain type for several turns, shaking things up. It’s also neat that you get chances to face off against a broad mix of upgraded bosses from the main campaign, like the challenging Abomination, which can easily knock you out of the fight with a single AoE attack. The further out you go, the greater both the risk and the reward, keeping things interesting even when you’ve invented what normally feels like an overpowered character build. It wasn’t until I reached these endgame areas that I started carefully considering how each of my stats and modifiers interact with one another, altering my gear, Passives, and Skill combinations to match the circumstances.

For what it’s worth, Last Epoch also has a handful of more traditional dungeons – plus an arena that lets you take on waves of foes – but I was significantly less interested in any of those excursions, all of which felt like an afterthought compared to the Monoliths. It sucks, for example, that I needed to scour the world for single-use keys to get into any of them, which are needlessly tough to find. At least each of the three or four dungeons I encountered had its own unique mechanic, like the Temporal Sanctum, which had me switching between two parallel timelines at the click of a button a la that one infamous mission from Titanfall 2. But each trick is so short-lived that it ultimately feels like a gimmick in the grand scheme of Last Epoch’s laundry list of expeditions. Making dungeons even less appealing to me, the loot never impressed me enough to bother delving into these areas more than once – especially since dying or even opening a town portal to sell my excess gear locked me out of the dungeon entirely until I found another key.

Last Epoch is rarely, if ever, punishing. Outside of dungeons and Monoliths, where the former locks you out and the latter sets your progress back a little, dying is only a minor inconvenience since you’ll immediately spawn right next to your place of death – with no loss of XP, and no corpse run needed to grab any lost loot. That can make it feel too easy in earlier sections, especially if your character can chew through enemies like tissue paper. But this hardly detracted from my enjoyment of the endgame, since Last Epoch’s later boss fights are satisfyingly balanced, throwing unexpected curveballs that compelled me to adjust my strategy more than once.

Last Epoch can be challenging, but it’s rarely punishing.

I’m a little annoyed then that the town portal system feels half-baked in some equally unexpected and often bewildering ways. For instance, returning to town essentially resets the entire map. Meaning, if you defeat a boss in the overworld and then return to town to sell your loot, using the town portal to return to the spot you left will spawn that boss right back where you just defeated it. This disjointed portal system is handled so clunkily in online multiplayer in particular that it can often take seconds or even minutes to travel between locations – and more than once, portals broke entirely, giving matchmaking errors and forcing me to replay entire sections of the campaign when attempting to return to the field from town. It seems like this is an issue that’s persisted through Last Epoch’s Early Access versions, and though there’s still a chance it’ll be fixed shortly after launch, it was bad enough that I spent most of my 36 hours in Offline mode whenever I wasn’t playing with a friend.

That pretty much fully prevented me from having to deal with any of Last Epoch’s microtransactions or cosmetics systems, which are grayed out in Offline mode. From what I gathered, however, there are some purely cosmetic microtransactions, as well as a digital storefront offering supporter packs and higher-tier digital editions of Last Epoch – and as I incidentally discovered firsthand, these can all be easily ignored without issue.

Regardless of whether you play online or not, Last Epoch’s Factions system provides an excellent extra layer of choice. If you join the Merchant’s Guild, you’ll gain access to the auction house-like Bazaar, which allows you to easily and conveniently trade amongst other players on the same server. If you prefer to play alone, or if you’re playing completely offline, it’s great that there’s instead the option to join the Circle of Fortune. Joining that faction grants Prophecies which increase the drop rate of specific types of loot at the cost of being limited in your ability to trade or share items with other players.

There’s an astounding amount of stuff going on under the hood of these systems, and thanks to Last Epoch’s intuitive user interface, learning how they all work was rarely as overwhelming to me as, for example, the cosmic horror I experienced when opening the skill tree for the first time in Path of Exile. In that sense, Last Epoch is probably the best “first ARPG” choice for anyone looking for a modern game that’ll let them ramp up their action roleplaying skillset before trying other, more complex options in the genre.

It’s even better, then, that Last Epoch runs smoothly and looks great on a wide range of systems. It runs even better on my friend’s decent gaming laptop than Diablo 4 does, with faster loading times and smoother framerates across the board. Likewise, it looks incredible on a gaming desktop with a powerful RTX 4070 Ti video card combined with a Ryzen 3900x processor. Even when the action is ramped up to the nth degree – with hordes of foes swarming in from all sides and loads of pixels flying in every direction during the most intense fights – it never loses a step. This is partially due to Last Epoch’s high-contrast art style which favors color over realism, but even then, many of its zones are breathtakingly grandiose – like the jaw-dropping view from the encampment at the End of Time, which is situated over a massive, spiraling black hole. Or the brightly-lit Mediterranean cityscape of Maj’elka, which is gloriously painted against the background while you stand atop the Circle of Fortune’s home base.



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