First Thoughts: Last Epoch (Beta Release)

Introduction and Story

The further I get into my life, the more apparent it is that I can’t pass by any Action-RPG in hopes of recreating my experience with Diablo II. After my somewhat disappointing experience with Wolcen, both pre-release and post-release, the next attempt at a new game is Last Epoch.

As a general heads up, Last Epoch is also currently in Beta Release and is incomplete. You can check out the details at their website or on Steam for purchase.

The story of Last Epoch is unfortunately not that important in its current incomplete state. The one thing that should be known (and happens in the first ten minutes of playing) is the realization that you are basically playing through the same maps/areas in different time periods  ala Chrono Trigger. This brings up interesting ideas when it comes to time travel and seeing the same characters across multiple ages, but it also means that unless repeat locations are drastically different, it can get a bit boring. I felt that some of the repeat sections were just not varied enough to really feel like I was playing a new map area.

There’s also a reliance on highly coincidental decisions on the part of the NPC’s you are interacting with. At one point in the story, which I’ll show a screenshot for below, you are traveling with a companion to acquire an item. Before stepping into an obvious boss room, the NPC stops and, well, you’ll see below.

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My opinion of story telling going into an unlikable direction.

Some instances are a bit funny and I wonder if there’s just limitations on the back end that we aren’t seeing. There is one story beat where you save a NPC on a boat with the goal of jumping off the boat to escape. Instead of just freeing the NPC and having him follow you, he says he will wait until we are ready to jump off the boat before following. You have to go to the side of the boat, click jump off, then you both appear at an island after a loading screen. The game allows NPC’s to follow you at other points, but situations like this do happen often enough to stick out as being strange.

Skills and Specializations

Last Epoch looks to have five characters available, eventually. Right now, there are four; Acolyte, Primalist, Sentinel and Mage. Each of these character types will eventually have three different master class specializations to choose from. The Mage for example has Spellblade, Sorceror and Runemaster as master classes however, only Spellblade and Sorceror are currently available. That being said, there is a lot to check out in its current state.

Here’s where things get a bit more interesting. Each character has a default passive skill tree which you’re able to put points into either from leveling up or from set quest rewards. To go along with that, each of your characters skills are planned to have a skill tree. And finally, on top of that, opening up the master class of your choosing opens up those passive skill trees for you to put your points into.

last-epoch-review-beta-sentinel-hammer-throw
Example of what the skill tree for Hammer Throw looks like. Each skill gets 20 skills points to distribute within their trees.

The end result for setups like this should involve a lot of customization towards how the player wants to play, and in some ways I see that succeeding. Early on, I attempted a Sentinel with Hammer Throw as the main attack. Initially, hammer throw shoots in a straight line outward, then comes back to the player. Within the skill tree, you can have the hammers spiral around the player, or shoot out in a nova around the player. You can also opt to skip these skill nodes entirely and head for a more stun orientated hammer. The point is that there are options to change the way you are playing.

Items and Crafting

Items are set up in a similar way to what you may already be used to. You have your white base items without any affixes, blue magic items with 1-2 affixes, rare yellow items with 3-4 affixes, unique gold items and green set items.

Throughout your game time, you’ll inevitably pick up tons of shards. These shards are the affixes that appear on item drops. The idea with the crafting setup is to use these shards to put specific prefix or suffixes onto items (two of each for a total of four mods on an item).

Each of these item affixes are ranked between Tiers 1-5. So tier one of ‘Elemental Protection’ may be a ranged value between 25 – 50, while tier two may have a range of 50-75. You can’t just find shards and rank every affix up to tier 5 though. Each item has stability attached to it. The more unstable a weapon is from crafting, the more likely it is to fracture (can’t upgrade any more mods). This becomes a risk/reward system where you’re more than welcome to attempt a low % upgrade, but the risk is not being able to upgrade it any further.

last-epoch-review-craft-screen
The crafting screen in Last Epoch. This example shows Increased Health % at Tier 4, Increased Mana % at Tier 2 and Chance to Chill Attacks at Tier 1. You can add one more prefix to this item as well as upgrade the Tiers of current affixes.

Along with finding shards as item drops, you also have the ability to shatter items with desirable affixes on them to potentially receive shards of those affixes. Towards end game, this turns into a sort of mini game of knowing what rare affixes are on items so that you can pick those up, shatter them, get shards of desired affixes and put them onto your item of choice later.

You also have the ability to gamble rare items. It wasn’t uncommon for me to decide I needed new gloves for example, then gamble gloves and hope for at least 2-3 good affixes that I can work with.

I don’t dislike this system, but it also feels a bit cumbersome. There are over 100 affixes in the game and it felt impossible to really understand what is needed for the character I was playing due to tool-tips not currently being included in the game. One way you can tell is by throwing a picked up item into your crafting window. This will automatically bring up the affixes on that item to the top of your screen so that you can upgrade them. Here, they show you how many shards you have of that affix. It’s just not realistic to do that for every item.

Selling items is also awkward because they do not hold much value at all. I could pick up an entire inventory of weapons and armor only to make 1000 gold. For reference, gambling one pair of gloves could run me 1400 gold. The incentive to pick up items is to shatter them for affixes, but the act of knowing what to save outside of memory is too time consuming.

Enemies and Game Balance

Enemy types are typical for ARPGs. You have regular white mobs, blue magic mobs, gold rare mobs and then unique/named mobs or bosses. More often than not, you’ll see yourself facing down a combination of all of the above at the same time.

An interesting aspect that I noticed, was that you can’t really get away from any enemies. In most…if not every other APRG I’ve played, if you want to skip a group of enemies that have an immunity you don’t want to deal with, or a pack of stronger mobs that have an unfortunate set of affixes attached to them, just run by and eventually you don’t have to worry about them anymore. Last Epoch seems to entirely remove that idea.

The reality of this game is that you just won’t be that strong against stronger enemies until much later into the leveling process, and even there, you need to make sure your build is cohesive enough to do any real damage and make progress into the current end game.

To a certain degree, I feel like enemies can be placed into a few different categories; fodder, B-Tier, A-Tier and S-Tier. Fodder are typical filler mobs that will die within one or two hits. B-Tier include more complicated enemies with some sort of more notable mechanic like healing or shielding other enemy types. A-Tier are what you would think are the strongest mob types in the game with high health, high damage output and massive AoE attacks that must be avoided in fear of death. Lastly, S-Tier are everything that A-Tier mobs are, but multiplied.

The affix’s that mobs are given can be both interesting and frustrating. You have your basics like ‘More Health’ and ‘Higher Chance to Critical Hit’ but Last Epoch also has some that I don’t believe I’ve seen before like ‘Revives After Two Seconds’ and ‘Summons a Twin at Half Health.’

Now, I’m all for variation and difficulty in games like this. I think that my greater issue is that enemy placement when looking at these tier lists just doesn’t make sense. There are two different ways I was looking at this; story and end game.

While you’re going through the current story, difficulty seems to progress at a normal pace with spikes once you reach certain areas. Not a problem in itself, but I noticed a pattern. A large portion of the maps were turning into ‘small pathway leading to large opening’ where the large opening had a few fodder mobs, a few B-Tier mobs, and multiple A or S Tier mobs. This typically meant that for every sort of room you go into, you can be there for 20-30 seconds just burning down one of these higher tiered mobs. Once that is complete, you move to the next small path and large room where you repeat the process. It became noticeably formulaic. On my first character going through the last Act of the game, I really just felt burnt out by the time I defeated the boss and got to the end game.

I’ll go into end game a bit more soon, but for these purposes, I felt like it was the bigger offender. End game areas can be quite a mess. I’ve hit brand new monolith maps where the first large room I get to has 8+ A-Tier mobs with massive health pools and massive AoE attacks. At that point, it’s better to just die and get a new monolith map than to struggle for 5+ minutes trying to kill every one of those mobs.

Now imagine all of these things combined. You have multiple A or S tiered mobs in one location, they have affixes such as ‘More Health’ AND ‘Revives After Two Seconds’ which revives that mob at half health, and you can’t get away from them because of how mobs are attached to the player once they see you. Yikes. The experience reward for defeating one of these mobs isn’t worth the time it takes to defeat them.

Endgame

The current end game features two different aspects, arena battles and monoliths.

Monoliths: This is where you will spend the majority of your time in Last Epoch once the story mode is complete. Once you reach end game, you can click on a giant monolith which will send you to a different timeline to defeat monsters. These maps are varied and include most of what you have already seen in the main game and as far as I can tell, contains random combinations of enemies.

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Once clicking the monolith, you have the option to choose from one of two enemy modifications. One example could be ‘For the next two timelines, enemies have +25% critical strike chance’ and ‘For the next two timelines, enemies deal 12% increased damage and have 100% increased critical strike chance.’ The former is obviously better, but the latter actually gives the player higher item drop chances and higher experience earned. There is also the option to re-roll these two mods once every time you choose a timeline. This can become a gamble though as you get further along and you could be giving up a bad enemy modification for a terrible one.

As you complete more timelines, things can get hectic very fast. Early on, enemy mods may stay for two timelines then disappear, but then these modifications stay for four timelines, then seven timelines and so on. The result ends up being a giant mess of increased issues for you to deal with with the idea of more risks involved, more rewards for tackling it.

Arena Battles: Arena battles require you to first find Arena Keys from Monoliths and is exactly what it sounds like. You are in a large room with waves of enemies that come rushing towards you. Every five waves you are given access to your stash, minor item rewards and the ability to choose to end the arena or continue for another five waves.

last-epoch-beta-review-arena-key-example
Joining an arena battle with a found Arena Key.

Overall, this end game setup is decent. Monoliths have enough variety to not get boring too fast. Wolcen had a similar setup but lacked variety to the point to where you really only got a few different maps and a few different bosses/enemy combinations to take on.

I do wish there was another objective here besides simply leveling your character and trying to find decent items with Tier 5 affixes on them. While Wolcen’s end game is boring, the city building aspect was at least an interesting idea. Path of Exile has maps which do get redundant, but having the map Atlas gave an overarching goal to work towards while completing those maps.

Other Thoughts

Pathing: The pathing can be quite strange in Last Epoch. What I mean by that, is how your character moves to certain locations based on where your are pointing with your mouse. There were multiple occasions where I thought I was in a large open hallway and directing my character forward when he would abruptly turn around and head in the opposite direction. This also become a more noticeable issue because my character with the most investment was a Warpath using Forge Guard which seems to increase that behavior.

Bugs: Last Epoch is in Beta, there are bugs and that shouldn’t deter you from giving it a shot if you do enjoy APRGs. If the idea of being locked out of an area and needing to reload does bother you, just skip it for now. There were a few times I had entered a side area just to be locked out from returning. I would have to portal out and use the nearest waypoint to head back to where I originally was.

last-epoch-review-beta-bug-example
Harmless graphic bug that you might see while playing.

Damage Tool-tip: As it stands, besides one obscure DPS number on your character sheet which I believe is only attached to melee attacks, there’s no real damage tool-tips for your characters or skills. This leaves you guessing when trying out new items or points on your skill tree. After experiencing Wolcen and it’s skill tree nodes that were just not working, I wanted some reassurance that I wasn’t wasting piles of skill points into skills that were not benefiting my character. I’m sure this feature will be added into the game at some point.

Global Chat: Right now, Last Epoch is a single player game. However, global chat is attached to the game so that you can converse with your fellow players. My experience was a hard mix between Barrens chat from Vanilla WoW and players that genuinely want to help. Any mention of Diablo 3 meant likely crucifixion. Mention of Path of Exile meant that it was no longer stream lined enough. Wolcen, well, is still Wolcen.

last-epoch-review-beta-global-chat-example
Yea, global chat.

Quest Rewards: One thing that I had noticed is that quest rewards that do not result in extra idol slots or passive skills are largely a waste of time. You will receive gold and experience, but they are so insignificant that they just don’t matter. At the very least, the rewards should be increased.

Shrines: Last Epoch includes shrines that actually last for a decent amount of time and have some unique properties. Included in the shrine pool are ones that cause every attack to be a critical strike and another has a unique item drop once clicked.

last-epoch-review-beta-shrines
One example of a shrine in Last Epoch.

Final Thoughts

I had a lot to say about enemies earlier, but I do feel that small tweaks can fix my overall issues. Some affixes need to be adjusted, some experience rewards need to be increased and damage output/mitigation needs to be looked at. All of these have numbers attached to them and I believe they are fixable and necessary to reach more of a balance.

Outside of that, I enjoy that individual skill trees have customization built in to them. You can spec into Hammer Throw and decide between your hammers coming out in a line, nova or spiral. You can spec into ‘Volcanic Orb’ and choose to instead make it a ‘Frozen Orb’ akin to Diablo II. Choices around the skills matter. One skill with one specialization tree, can seem like two or three different skills.

The trick here is to then have Unique/Set items play off these different specializations and increase the variety of things that you can do while combining all of these aspects. I didn’t see a lot of that from the thirty or so Unique/Set items that I had found. More often than not, rares with higher tiered specific mods were much better than any Unique or Set that I had found. I think that’s good for crafting, but there should also be worthy items on the other side to consider.

At the end of the day, and after playing for around 70 hours, I felt that Last Epoch is fun and worth the time to play. There’s a lot of good here, a lot more than I’ve seen out of Wolcen and a lot more user friendly than the current state of Path of Exile. I will definitely keep checking out updates to this game and see what the final product eventually looks like in comparison to now.

 

Thanks for reading. I’ve written a bunch regarding Action-RPGs on this site, the following are a few of those times;

Path of Diablo: Part I, Part II, Part III

Median XL: Sigma

Wolcen: Beta Release, Full Release

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