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Last Epoch - Review In Progress

A Mediocre Start But With Potential

Mitch Gassner Updated: Posted:
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After almost five years in Steam Early Access, Eleventh Hour Games is finally releasing Last Epoch to the masses on Wednesday, February 21st. As the newest action role-playing game (ARPG) on the block, Last Epoch has already been compared to genre giants like Diablo and Path of Exile. Does Last Epoch deserve to be mentioned in such a distinguished crowd? I’ve only spent a handful of hours with Last Epoch, but I can already definitively say, eh, maybe.

Last Epoch: The Story

There is a South Park episode where the boys head to Fox Studios to talk to the writers of Family Guy. It turns out that the writing staff is actually a group of manatees that create the plot of each episode by randomly picking ‘idea balls’ that have a word written on them. I mention this because I believe that a modern APRG's plot is created similarly.

The setting for Last Epoch is Eterra. That’s almost the same as the very popular game setting of Terra, sometimes spelled Tera, but in this case, it’s also the name of a Goddess that has gone missing. We can’t call the player’s character ‘The Adventurer’ - that’s too generic - so let’s go with Traveler. It adds some mystique to the main character, doesn’t it?

Other than a short opening cinematic, we don’t know much about Eterra or the Traveler, but we do know that Eterra the Goddess is missing, and we can guess that makes things bad for Eterra the setting. Now, we need a group of NPCs that will give us quests, so let’s call them The Keepers. What are they keeping? Well, it turns out that the Keepers are sworn to serve Eterra, and there is one old guy, let’s call him Balthas, that is the Keeper of the Macguffin, er, Shard of the Epoch.

Last Epoch

What is the Epoch? That’s a great question. The Epoch is an artifact that was created by Eterra to aid humanity when things are going bad. The Epoch allows you to control time, but if it gets into the wrong hands, then that could be a bad thing. So the Keepers split the thing into three pieces. We all know that never keeps something safe, but it is a great way to triple the number of quests the Traveler must undergo.

Since the Epoch controls time, that means that we can introduce time travel into Last Epoch. So we will. That will allow us to travel to different eras in the history and future of Eterra. And it just so happens that the world of Eterra is destroyed far into the future. So it is up to you, the Traveler, to move between different time periods to create a new past in which the demise of Eterra never happens. Good luck.

Ok, so the story in Last Epoch is better written than what I just did, but most people will find the story just window dressing for your character's leveling anyway. The story was unimaginative for me, and I found that character progression was much more interesting than the events happening around my character, so let’s move on to that.

Last Epoch: Building A Character

The first thing you must do in Last Epoch is choose a character. Last Epoch offers five base classes with which to begin your story: the Sentinel, Rogue, Mage, Acolyte, and Primalist. 

The Sentinel class in Last Epoch epitomizes resilience and brute force. Sentinels are in-your-face combatants, wielding heavy weapons and donning durable armor. Their primary stat is Strength, which boosts their damage output and enhances their defensive capabilities. Sentinels have a diverse arsenal of attacks, ranging from powerful cleaves to a devastating whirlwind attack. Sentinels can use shields to not only bolster their defenses, but many Sentinels turn the shield into an offensive weapon through throws and charge attacks.

At the other end of the spectrum from the Sentinel, the Rogue class in Last Epoch specializes in swift precision strikes. With Dexterity as their primary stat, Rogues rely on speed and finesse to outmaneuver their opponents and deliver lethal blows. They excel in both melee and ranged combat, utilizing a variety of weapons such as daggers, bows, and thrown projectiles. Rogues are masters of stealth and evasion, capable of ambushing enemies with surprise attacks and quickly darting out of harm's way. Their strengths lie in their high mobility and burst damage potential, but their low health pool makes them vulnerable to sustained enemy assaults.

For those who prefer using their mind over brute force, Mages harness the arcane energies of Eterra to devastating effect in Last Epoch. As masters of elemental magic, they wield the power of fire, ice, and lightning both offensively and defensively. Mages also help control the battlefield's action through crowd control spells. Their primary stat is Intelligence, which enhances the potency of their spells and increases their mana pool.

Acolytes in Last Epoch are masters of necromancy and dark magic, wielding the powers of death itself to command undead minions and unleash devastating curses upon their enemies. Their primary stat is Wisdom, which amplifies their dark magic abilities and increases their mana regeneration. Acolytes have diverse skills focused on summoning undead minions, draining the life force of their foes, and spreading debilitating curses.

The fifth class in Last Epoch, the Primalist, was the last to be added in Early Access. Attuned to the natural world and the primal forces that govern it, Primalists wield the power of beasts and elements to crush their foes in Last Epoch. Primalists are a hybrid class that relies on a diverse skillset, including animal summons, totems, elemental and healing spells, and even melee attacks. Their primary stat is Attunement, which enhances their connection to the primal energies and increases their mana efficiency.

Although each of these classes conforms tightly to archetypes used throughout the ARPG genre, Last Epoch makes each class versatile while still filling a distinct playstyle. The Mage, for example, is often broken down into multiple classes in other ARPGs to give the illusion of diversity, only to find out that all of them use the same spells, with the only differentiation being the color of the visual effects. The Mage in Last Epoch is a master of the elements and can pick and choose skills across multiple disciplines, allowing players to create a unique character with each playthrough.

Last Epoch

Character creation in Last Epoch is literally just picking a class and choosing a name. There aren't any face or body sliders to mold your avatar into a unique physique, and gender is class-specific. Last Epoch isn't a full-blown RPG, so these omissions are understandable, especially when you consider there is a single isometric camera view.

There are a couple of difficulty options to click through before you land at the starting point on Eterra. Normal Mode is the forgiving option that allows you to continue after dying, while Hardcore Mode is a special single-death option. Should you die in Hardcore Mode, your character will be removed from the Hardcore Leaderboards and converted to Normal Mode should you wish to continue playing it. 

There are also two challenge modes to choose from. While you can group and trade with other players normally, there is a solo account found (SAF) option that limits you to solo play in which you share loot and gold across all of your SAF characters. For an extreme challenge, there is also a solo character found option that not only limits you to solo play, but you also don’t have access to any shared storage.

Last Epoch: Character Progression

As you begin to make your way through Last Epoch, you will almost immediately start unlocking both passive and active skills specific to your chosen class. As your character kills monsters and completes quests, you will gain experience points. A passive skill point is earned at each character level, with bonus passive points awarded for completing specific quests. 

Passive skill points are applied to your Passive Skill Tree. Each passive tree is specifically tailored to its class, so at least in theory, every node will be useful depending on which direction you take your build. For example, the Sentinel passive tree has multiple nodes that buff your shield attacks and defenses, which is great if you are using a shield, but aren’t so good if you have focused your build around using a two-handed weapon.

Along with your base passive skill tree, each class has three Masteries that are unlocked fairly early in the campaign. Each of these Masteries further defines a character with its own unique passive tree, and you must choose only one Mastery as your primary specialization. Although choosing a Mastery is important - and it also happens to be the one choice that can’t be reversed by respeccing - your choice doesn’t completely lock you out of the other Mastery trees.

You can fully utilize your chosen Mastery while you are limited to putting points into the first half of the other two trees. And given that you can earn a total of 113 passive points  - 97 for leveling up to 100, plus 15 more that can be earned through mission rewards - there are plenty of points to go around.

But what about active skills, you ask? Each character has access to 10-12 skills learned as you progress its base class to level 20, plus an additional 4-5 skills earned through adding points to its chosen Mastery tree. A greedy player could also earn an active skill or two from the other Mastery trees, leaving a character with up to about 20 active skills to choose from.

Given that the hotbar is limited to five slots and there are only twenty skills to choose from, picking the right combination of skills should be pretty straightforward, right? Just grab one or two offensive skills, toss in a couple of defensive skills, and tack on some sort of mobility skill and you’re done. But it really isn’t that simple in Last Epoch.

Instead of your active skills automatically being upgraded, you get to manually upgrade your skills in Last Epoch. As your character gains XP, so do your skills. Starting at level 4, then again at 8,20,35, and 50, you can mark a skill for specialization. Doing so unlocks that skill’s progression tree, and each time your skill levels up, you can add an additional point to that tree.

These skill trees look very similar to the passive skill tree found in Path of Exile. Heading down a branch on the skill tree will increase its power at first, but fully investing in a branch can drastically change the skill’s form and function. Elemental damages may change, single enemy attacks can be converted to AOE skills, and other powerful skill-changing abilities are on the table.

Just like the rest of character progression (other than your Mastery class) in Last Epoch, skill specialization can be reversed. And the best part is you can do so without any material cost. Want to remove a single point out of one node, then you can do so. Want to remove five? Go ahead. The only price you pay is the skill’s level is reduced by the same number of points you want to unassign. And after a little time, you’ll be able to level the skill back up and start putting points into another node that you find more useful.

You can also swap out the skills you are specialized in with other skills that you want to use. Again, this won’t cost you any gold, but you will lose all the experience points you’ve gained in that skill. Even if you decide to respec back into that skill at a later time, you’ll be starting back at level one again.

Last Epoch: First Impressions

So far, my time with Last Epoch has been good. Not great, just good. That isn't really unexpected, though. Modern ARPGs use the campaign as a tutorial, a means to an end. And Last Epoch is no different. I'm not sure if that is a statement about how lazy developers have become or just their assessment that fans of the genre don't care about the story and just want the end-game progression. Probably the latter.

Unlike the hordes of players that will be hitting max level on day one, I didn't try to rush through the campaign myself. I've restarted Last Epoch with every class and played them to various points to get a feel for their playstyle. And although the campaign has left me feeling unimpressed, I have enjoyed testing different build ideas and am delighted about the potential that the endgame holds. Each of the five base classes and their three masteries offers a lot of replayability; I spent a lot of my playtime with Last Epoch just fiddling with different skills, testing them out and seeing what I liked and didn't like. And unlike many ARPGs, I like more of the classes and masteries than I don't like.

I am also very pleased with the other aspects of character progression. I have been very happy with how Last Epoch’s tooltips are extremely thorough and do a great job of articulating exactly what a skill does. The skills themselves are also tagged so you know exactly what attributes are needed to increase their power; there is very little ambiguity that has required me to rush to third party websites to learn how a skill functions. And although I’ve just started working with them, Idols and Blessing look like they'll add even more depth to my  builds, and crafting seems to be approachable for even casual players.

I completely avoided Last Epoch during its Early Access, and I only gained access to the release build a few days ago. That has purposely put me behind the learning curve; I’ve learned to wait for the full release of games that I am very interested in. Whether all of the positives I have identified in my limited playtime will continue, and the assumptions I have made about Last Epoch’s endgame hold true remains to be seen. I'll be sure to let you know how everything goes when I come back with my final review. Until then, happy gaming!



Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.