Tower of Fantasy Review (PC)
When Tower of Fantasy was first brought to my attention, it wasn’t long before I heard the term “Genshin-Killer”. That term was already concerning, as the trend of “X-Killer” tended to lean towards an unfounded cockiness that rarely ever panned out. While Tower of Fantasy appeared rather pretty and fluid, I remained skeptical that it would be little more than a cash grab disguised as an attempt to dethrone Genshin Impact. So now that I’ve sunk about thirty hours in, does that opinion stay the same? Well, it’s a bit complicated.
Tower of Fantasy is an open-world, action RPG set on the planet Aida, colonized after a 200+ year space travel from Earth after humans rendered it uninhabitable. Once there, humans took to harvesting a new element called Omnium from a comet called Mara and making a reactor called the Tower of Fantasy designed to harvest this new element. Until it blew up and rendered most of Aida irradiated. The big good of this whole world is Hykros, using science to make the best of an irradiated world, while the Heirs of Aida are seeking to shut down their attempt to play with Omnium, seeing it as evil. When you start the game, the two potential players are on an unnamed mission when they both get chased by a two-headed purple demon dog called an Aberrant, humans and creatures mutated by the radiation and some of the primary enemies you’ll be facing. A running jump later and you are at your character select. You’ll be choosing between male and female, then setting your in-game name before going through the tutorial. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “That’s just like Genshin!” Welcome to most of this review.
Starting right off the bat, I’ll be referencing both Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact 3rd. This is just inevitable, the formula and gameplay used for Tower of Fantasy riffs on them both quite a bit, so expect some similarities. Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, we can move on and get to the combat. For those uninitiated with Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact 3rd, combat boils down to a basic attack, charge attack, special move, dashing, and weapon swapping. Using your charge attack with certain weapons lets you do things like launch enemies, pummel them, or do a quick arrow barrage. There is a level of fluidity to this, and I found it easy to come to grips with, though I do wish there was just a bit more meat and “thunk” when you when striking an enemy. Something I did enjoy with mixing up the combat is something called “Phantasia”, which, like Honkai Impact 3rd’s Time Fracture ability, slows time in a bubble around you and immediately lets you activate the switch ability for any weapon of your choosing, so getting perfect dodges in helps with single strong enemies and hordes of smaller enemies.
There is also definitely some variety in weapons here, from scythes to war hammers to heavy machine guns, all having their own move set. Each weapon comes with a special ability too, and admittedly they can get pretty wicked. The heavy machine gun can be plopped down to turn into a monstrous turret, and the sword allows for rapid teleporting slashes, it’s all pretty unique and stands out. I feel more rewarded to mix and match, or make my own combo setup, especially when adding in the gadgets and gizmos the Relics offer, like shields, cloaking, or even a full mech suit. Combat as a whole, with the occasional clunkiness here and there, ultimately came out surprisingly flexible and coherent.
The kinda screwy part here is how you get characters. To avoid complicating this too much, when you pull SR weapons and SSR weapons, they come with a character you can play as. The way the game describes this is that the weapons contain simulations of the original owner’s personality and appearance. You can still wield any weapon you want and you don’t have to wield the weapon the character came with. Think of it as like having a skin on. While I don’t mind the idea of this all being mostly cosmetic, it does feel a bit more hollow than pulling for Genshin or Honkai characters, like I only earned half the experience when I roll something rare. The thing is, I only ever found one character that I really had any interest in playing as over the others. It’s not that any of their designs are bad, but they have a tendency to blend together. It’s a lot of straps, black cloth, simple clothing and pockets. If you’re going to give me the option to switch characters from the main character that I spent time customizing for myself, give me a good reason to switch to them. Something I’d even appreciate is the option to tether the weapons to their respective owners, so if I switch to a weapon, it automatically switches my current character to the weapon’s owner.
I’m sure you’re wondering by now, but how’s the gacha for getting these new weapons? There are five different banners, some focused on weapons, others on exclusive characters. Thing is, all of the banners have different currencies. I know this game is free to play, and it has to make its money somehow, but this is just a mess and makes me more inclined not to pull for anything I don’t get for free. One of my least favorite banners you can roll for is exclusively for Matrices, which act very similarly to Honkai Impact’s Stigmata system, where you can add passive buffs. Getting multiple pieces to a set will give an extra bonus, making these vital to giving you little bumps to stats that can start making or breaking builds depending on if you’re keeping up with them. While you can find these out in the wild and buy them from stores, the really good ones are locked behind banner rolls. I did find that I was able to work without really needing these, it’s still just another example of veering toward pay-to-win, and worries me that more modes will become less accessible in the future to those not willing to pony up for stat boosts.
Getting Around in this World of Fantasy
Here’s where we see a bit more similarities to Genshin Impact, since Genshin’s got the open-world thing covered. In Tower of Fantasy, you’ll have your overall map visible, but not unlockable. You have to be a certain level in order to access other areas, so you are locked to an area before you can level up, which was a bit annoying, but expected. Later on, you’ll get a Jetpack, used somewhat like Genshin’s Glider, but now pressing the jump button while gliding with the Jetpack will give you a lift upwards if you undershot your glide a bit. On the ground, you can press and hold the button assigned to the Jetpack to get a damn good launch off the ground. I consider these some great additions to the system, helping me greatly with getting around.
What I definitely do not like is that using that launch consumes one of two charges that take 90 damn seconds to replenish one charge. You can upgrade your Jetpack to reduce the wait… by getting lucky and finding parts for the Jetpack. I’d be willing to work out a one-time upgrade for that, but there are several levels per Relic and a few methods to getting these upgrade materials. It’s unnecessary and restrictive for no reason than to pad out grinding again. This is weird, because later you get a mount and there’s no extra crap involved with this, you just get a cool-lookin’ motorcycle and a faster way to travel. Looks good, does what it needs to, is accessible almost anywhere and, while there are unlockables you can grind for, they’re entirely cosmetic.
I think the biggest issue I’m finding in the world constructed here is that there’s very little wow factor here, nothing to see, and no reason to care. I know the game’s fresh, but sometimes the world to me just comes across as hollow. To better bring about my point, when I first started chewing into Genshin Impact, there were a lot of landmarks that I took a look at and thought “Woah, I wanna go see what that is!” Maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but the only place in Tower of Fantasy that caught my eye was Cetus Island. I saw the floating amusement park and I finally had the thought “Oh, that’s neat! I wanna see what’s up there!”
And I was very amused! The fact that I could even ride the rides made me legitimately happy, as I felt rewarded for being naturally curious about it. Even better, while I was with a friend and taking care of side quests, he pointed out that the music changed. I moved away from the carousel I was nearby and by god, he was right.
Then the fireworks started, literally! This beautiful song (probably one of only two songs in the game I actually liked and remembered) with a plethora of fireworks going off in the center of the amusement park had me shocked. It was a really neat experience that I had no idea was even programmed into the game in the first place. I can honestly say that even if I never step foot in Tower of Fantasy again, something like that will definitely stay in my memory. Nobody had to put that in the game, they could’ve left the whole amusement park as just a neat setpiece, but chose instead to add these little flourishes that gave me that spark of curiosity and wonder that I love seeing in games. That spark was there, but as I looked over the edge to the rest of the world, I couldn’t help but wonder why the rest of the world couldn’t have that same kind of wow factor. No other town has anything like this. They’re all dull as dishwater with nothing to see or do. I do hope that this gets addressed more later, and the game is in its infancy leaving me wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt, especially with how they’ve proven that they definitely can make something memorable here.
The Stories and People of Aida
So how are the characters and the storyline so far? Again, we have a mixed bag. I’ll start this one with a big plus, and that’s the addition of a character creator. Once you progress a little bit further in the story, you’re brought to Celine, who gives you the ability to customize your character (mine’s in the image above), which is a very welcome addition, as it’s pretty fleshed out. On the girls’ side, that is. I’m disappointed there isn’t as much to play with on the male’s side of the editor, but the fact that it was here at all pleased me quite a bit.
As for other NPCs and characters? There’s just no time spent on anyone to make me interested in them. The only two I remember specifically are Shirli and Zeke. I only remember one or two plot beats and that’s about it and even that was fairly ridden with cliches, and not even the fun kind either, the “throw darts at the TVTropes dartboard and see what sticks” kind of laziness. I’ve heard tales from the internet that some of the upcoming content is better in quality, but as of writing this review, it’s very shallow and trite.
So how about the interactions with other actual humans? Unlike Genshin Impact, you can actually see random people wandering around in the overworld. You can group up into parties, take on world bosses, and, adding to this, you can do a list of challenges together, like a wave-after-wave fight, or dungeon running. There are also overworld bosses that are more or less set to be taken on by a group of people, and I do like that idea as it helps mingle with the other players on the server, pulling back into the more MMO roots. It can be a bit hard to corral people to help you though since either the server is dead or people aren’t interested, but I don’t fault the game for this; it’s just a quirk of online games in general. Assuming you aren’t accidentally getting paired up with hackers, the MMO aspects here are a plus for the game.
I’m very ambivalent about Tower of Fantasy, but despite seeing quite a few flaws, I also see a lot of potential here. The attempts to riff on Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact 3rd wind up leaving some of the things it attempts to emulate feeling inferior to where it’s drawing inspiration from. That said, what it tries to do differently is help make a functional, stable platform from which Tower of Fantasy could truly start to grow from, and make something entirely fresh and unique from its competition. The exploration features, the Relic system, and even the weapon types are willing to come together and make something fun and unique, but it’s held back by a mostly lackluster world, bad story writing, annoying upgrade systems, and currency overload. I’d say go in strictly on Free-to-Play ideals, temper your expectations and focus on the things it does differently, and you’ll probably find something to like.
Final Verdict 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Level Infinite; Developer: Hotta Studio; Number of players: 1, Online Multiplayer; Released: August 11th, 2022; MSRP: Free to Play