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Last Epoch (patch 0.8.2)

Yes, you get to avenge the mystical snow deer

Rating: A-

Playing Time: About 200 hours to date

I’ve been sitting on posting a review of Last Epoch for quite a while. When I first started playing it, the rogue class wasn’t even out yet, and resistances were called protections because they worked as a form of stacking diminishing returns (similar to armor in Path of Exile) instead of straight percentage damage reduction. Since then, defensive mechanics have been overhauled considerably (switching to a resistance system, removal of affixes for glancing blows and set resistances, adjustments to armor/dodge/ward to somewhat even the playing field between them), the rogue was released, the primalist was reworked considerably, several UIs were overhauled, some old maps were remade, and the entire endgame was revamped, among other changes.

Suffice it to say that the developers (Eleventh Hour Games) haven’t been shy about using their beta status to tweak the game.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Last Epoch? It’s a loot-grinding ARPG in the same vein as Diablo/Diablo 2 or Path of Exile. In terms of story, your character finds a shard that lets them travel through time, which they use to defend humanity’s final bastion in a distant future, set up the fall of an undead empire (laying the seeds for said distant future), and resolve a conflict between the gods and their followers in the character’s original time before ending up in a pocket beyond time where they’re able to explore infinite different timelines that might’ve been. It’s a neat framing device, one that I find more interesting than either of its ancestor games, though it is mostly just an excuse for the player to grind through endless enemies in search of the perfect items. There are some cool moments (like an NPC who was surprised that you weren’t prepared finish their plan because you met them in the future before you met them in the past), but it’s not really anything special, in all honesty.

What is special is the item crafting system. Not including set items, unique items, or idols, any item can have up to two prefixes and two suffixes, granting various modifiers from the typical (attack speed, health, armor, etc.) to the curious (chance to inflict frailty on hit or critical strike avoidance) to the powerful but niche (chance to pierce with fireball or increased damage per arrow of multishot). Each affix ranges (currently) from tier 1 up to tier 7, with improved effects at each higher tier.

Of course, since the items are generated randomly, you’ll often find good affixes on terrible base items or items with one affix you want alongside one or two that you couldn’t care less about. That’s when the crafting system comes into play. For the cost a consumable rune, an item can be shattered for a chance of getting shards of each affix (any given shattering will return at least one shard, but items with multiple affixes aren’t guaranteed to yield shards for each affix, and the number of shards gained for any given affix varies randomly from one up to the affix’s tier). Those shards can then be used on other items to either add affixes or increase the tier of an existing affix. However, the more a given item is crafted on, the more there’s a chance for the next craft to fail, locking the item as it is (and possibly even reducing the tiers of some of its affixes as further insult to injury). Furthermore, affixes can only be crafted up to tier 5, with tiers 6 and 7 only available as random drops.

The crafting UI has come a long way from where it started

Thus, it’s fairly easy to get a good base item with the affixes that you want, but there’s a lot of randomness in being able to actually get all of the affixes up to tier 5 (the odds of taking a normal base item and crafting it all the way up to four affixes of tier 5 are less than 1%). For the most part, getting an item with two good tier 5 affixes and at least one other decent affix isn’t difficult, which is good enough for a solid character to approach the endgame grinds, but actually pushing gearing to its limit is a long and time-consuming endeavor.

To me, this ends up being a lot of fun to engage with. Unlike Path of Exile, crafting is a reliable way to improve your character instead of a pure slot machine (excepting certain advanced manipulations with fossils and Harvest, but I digress), and item drops remain interesting because having an item drop with even just a single tier 3 affix that you want can make it orders of magnitude more likely to survive crafting up to four tier 5 affixes (often called a tier 20 item), let alone finding something with a good tier 6 or 7 affix. Granted, I’ve seen criticisms that the system is just hiding the slot machine behind an illusion of control because the way that probabilities work means each crafting check is a significant reduction to your chances of ending up with a tier 20+ item, but I have no problem with the gambling element here. While failing any given crafting check can stop your progress on that particular item, at least each success is guaranteed to improve the item (and sometimes more than once, because there is a hidden chance of a critical crafting success which adds a tier to one of the item’s affixes for free, up to tier 5).

Set and unique items tend to follow along the lines of the ancestor games, mostly doing things that can’t be done with standard affixes rather than just being another pile of modifiers. Idols are basically an improvement on Diablo 2’s charms; items of various sizes which grant passive benefits, except they have to be in their own “idol inventory” area (which is expanded gradually from certain quest rewards) to take effect rather than working while in the character’s general inventory. Additionally, idols cannot be crafted (as far as I know), so finding what you want is purely RNG here, but they’re common enough that you shouldn’t struggle to find decent idols (though, similar to making top-line items, getting idols with decent-to-good rolls in two affixes you want can be a long grind).

At present, there are five classes with three subclasses each:

  • Acolyte: A spellcaster focused on physical and poison/necrotic spells.

    • Necromancer: Mostly built for minion-based play.

    • Lich: A glass-canon type of character who can transform into a reaper form.

    • Warlock: Yet to be implemented.

  • Rogue: A high-mobility striker.

    • Bladedancer: A melee-oriented subclass, emphasizing manifesting shadows to empower her attacks.

    • Marksman: A bow-oriented subclass, in line with Diablo 2’s amazon.

    • Falconer: Yet to be implemented.

  • Primalist: A well-rounded generalist with splashes of melee, spells, summons, and totems.

    • Beastmaster: Leans further into summons and accruing passive buffs in melee.

    • Shaman: Leans further into large area spells.

    • Druid: Gains shapeshifting, along with a versatile supportive spell and powerful summon.

  • Sentinel: The requisite knight-in-armor, who can also throw hammers and shields.

    • Void Knight: An offensive variant with some interesting time-manipulation skills and void spells.

    • Forge Guard: A defensive variant who can make use of minions.

    • Paladin: Another defensive variant, though focused more on buffs and protections.

  • Mage: A spellcaster focused on traditional fire/ice/lightning spells.

    • Sorcerer: Doubles down on spellcasting.

    • Spellblade: Hybridizes with melee-based attacks and spells.

    • Runemaster: Yet to be implemented.

In terms of build diversity, Last Epoch is mostly in between Diablo 2 and Path of Exile. Each class has its own skills and passive development tree. A short way into the game, you get to pick which subclass that character will master, granting full access to another passive development tree (along with partial access to the trees of the unmastered subclasses) and further skills. On top of that, each skill has its own unique customization tree, which can do anything from increasing damage to granting temporary buffs, converting the damage type, altering the skill’s behavior (e.g. changing the sentinel’s hammer throw from a single returning projectile [like Path of Exile’s spectral throw] to a spiral pathing [like Diablo 2’s blessed hammer]), or causing that skill to trigger another skill, to name a few possibilities. Although the full system is limited to the primalist and sentinel classes at present, even that is enough to offer numerous build options for each subclass.

That said, it’s not all sunshine on that front. The player is limited to five hotkeys (further constricted in practice since every class has about 1-3 utility skills that are almost always good to have), and many of the passive tree nodes are either clearly good for any character or only good for certain niches, so there is less diversity than what the developers might claim in their advertising.

All in all, though, it feels nice to me. While I certainly prefer having the option of twelve-hotkey madness like certain Diablo 2 characters, five is usually enough to grant enjoyable texture to combat without being overwhelming, and it fits well with the actual pace of gameplay (unlike Path of Exile, where even using two skills in rotation can feel clunky because the game plays so swiftly). I’m looking forward to seeing more growth on this front over time, but for the current state of the game, I’m not left wanting.

The maps that got updated in patch 0.8 look pretty swanky

Where I am left wanting is the difficulty curve. The main campaign is fairly easy overall, and even the tougher bits of it aren’t even as threatening as the dangerous parts in Path of Exile’s campaign, let alone being comparable to Diablo 2’s Hell difficulty. The monolith of fate (the main endgame system, where players can go through areas with anywhere from one to seven global difficulty modifiers in return for increased experience and targeted item rewards) is a smooth extension from there, which is to say that it’s also on the easy side. There is a substantial jump when a character first completes it and gains access to the empowered monolith (which scales areas up to level 100 monster stats), which I like, but even the hardest content there still tends to fall short of the hardest stuff in those other two games.

Additionally, there is the arena, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a place where the character is faced with endless waves of enemies that scale continuously higher and higher until either the player chooses to leave or the character dies. The scaling here is aggressive enough to eventually reach a point of impossibility for any character build (so far). Personally, I don’t find it very fun (kind of like how I don’t enjoy pushing Delve to absurd depths in Path of Exile), but for what it is worth, arena progress is what the global online ladder ranks are based on.

For the most part, the music in Last Epoch isn’t anything special. There are a handful of good tracks (Lagon’s theme being my favorite by far), but most of it is just kind of there. In fairness, Eleventh Hour Games isn’t exactly a big developer (I think a number of them were only working part-time on Last Epoch for most of the project’s development, if not still to this day), and this is something that can be improved over time, but I’d definitely like some major progress on this front going forward.

One area where I had complained about Path of Exile was its mechanical complexity and reliance on third-party support, and Last Epoch is miles better there. While players looking to simulate a character will have to rely on outside sources (this planner by Dammitt being the most popular), most of the damage/defense formulae and detailed mechanics are described succinctly in the in-game guide, and the trees for both passive development and skill customization are limited enough in scope to be comprehensible on their own. The in-game tooltip DPS can be wonky (in fairness, this wasn’t even available when I’d first started playing, so I’m sure the worst kinks will get straightened out over time), but all in all, the game does a good job of giving the player the necessary information to make informed decisions about their character’s development. Even the full list of base items (with required levels) and affixes is available in the game via the built-in loot filters.

Speaking of which, while I’m not a huge fan of games generating so many item drops that loot filters are necessary, Last Epoch’s filter interface is very friendly and straightforward. It even lets you do some advanced things like only showing items with at least three affixes you want with at least 17 total tiers between them and which are each at least tier 4. I tend to only use five to ten rules per filter, but they can each support up to 75, so there’s plenty of space for customization for players who want that.

Other nice quality-of-life features include being able to expand your stash space with in-game currency, being able to gamble items (you pay to select a base type, which gets assigned a random quality, potentially including set/unique) for more control over gearing, some degree of automatic looting (gold is picked up automatically, and crafting shards/runes/glyphs are all picked up in a certain radius if you click on one), and having breakdowns of your various sources of increased damage, critical chance, and chance to inflict ailments on your character details panel.

Altogether, Last Epoch is in a great place, especially for still being in beta. Obviously, the sheer volume of content doesn’t compare to Path of Exile, but I do find myself enjoying what is there more than I do Path of Exile. It still falls short of hitting the peaks that Diablo 2 gives me, but it’s already the next best game in that genre that I’ve played, and I look forward to seeing its further growth. If this sort of game is fun for you, I’d give it a very strong recommendation.

Rating: A-

Playing Time: About 200 hours to date


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