It’s easy to be tempted by Tower of Fantasy when you see its fast-paced action streak across your screen in a kaleidoscope of colors. As a free-to-play shared-world action RPG that has been made accessible on both mobile devices and PC, there are no bars for entry, nor expectations for advancement. On the surface, Tower of Fantasy epitomizes the best of what players should expect from an anime-inspired MMO-lite. It also feels strikingly derivative to miHoYo's powerhouse title Genshin Impact. After several weeks within the game, it’s time to lay all the cards on the table. It’s time to anchor this fantasy back to reality.
Over the past several weeks I’ve introduced Tower of Fantasy as more than just a Genshin Impact clone. I’ve whetted my appetite with a quick look at the monetization and time-gates in my initial review in progress. I’ve even catalogued some of my early gameplay via an in-depth video preview earlier this month. Now, as we’re embarking on the end of the first month of gameplay, which will coincide with the next big update, Vera 2.0, it’s time to reflect on Tower of Fantasy, including some of the major pitfalls and problems.
For those that have yet to play, I don’t want to spoil the story – but I’m going to. Not because I’m being a jerk, but because the game itself pretty much spoiled the story from the get go. In Tower of Fantasy, you play as a Wanderer that has the ability to perform techno-magical feats by utilizing a powerful yet sorely misunderstood energy known as Omnium. In the first act, you’ll be able to dip your toe into character creation, building a beautiful anime-inspire avatar. While the character creator makes it easy to build a nice-looking character, there are some obvious missteps in character creation. For example, facial hair has been completely left out, despite a few NPC's that obviously sport some. Very short hair is also not an option for some reason. These limitations aren’t game breaking, but you certainly notice the lack of these mainstays of character creation.
Those that live on Aida, which houses the energy source Omnium, must wear suppressors to protect themselves from the Omnium present throughout the world. In the event you overload your suppressor, you run the risk of turning into an Aberrant – which is a mindless monster that apparently loves killing things, and not much else. The main story follows your character as they aim to shut down the Omnium extractors that feed massive levels of Omnium into the Tower of Fantasy, endangering the world in the event that an overload would explode, killing everyone. As you work towards shutting down each Omnium Tower, you meet new friends such as Zeke, Shirli, Franz, and two warring factions, Hykros and the Heirs of Aida. Eventually Shirli becomes poisoned by Omnium and as she sits on the brink of madness, is taken in by the Heirs of Aida, so that they can cure her.
To nobodies surprise they do, as anyone who has perused the Rebirth of Clemency banner in the shop could attest. The story weaves through the history of Aida, flirts with time-travel, attempts to pull a few heart strings, and rounds out the world-building with numerous side quests that most players will probably bypass until they’ve exhausted the main story. Apart from some of the main story characters, like Franz, Frigg and Zeke, you’ll also meet a supporting cast that you will eventually be able to embody as Simulacra. You will earn these characters by rolling for them in gacha shop. While some of the side-story will be told in character-specific story missions, your primary focus for obtaining these Simulacra is for their weapon skills. Most of the main characters and Simulacra are completely voice acted, and the story itself is entertaining at times.
The main gripes within the story revolve around the strange pacing the game forces upon its players. As I mentioned in my preview, time-gates are more than just an annoying aspect of the game. Level-gating is also in full effect. In the early leveling game, you may be forced to wait 8 to 16 hours, and the level-gate corresponds with the unlocking of your story. Later on, down the road, you’ll be forced to wait over 100-hours to progress your story. However, once you hit the temporary max level, you’re stuck throwing the rest of your experience gain down the drain. Exploration, boss battles and bounty experience might as well be set aflame and cast down the river. Leveling up still moves quickly at the early levels, but once you’ve elevated to the post-level-40 world, you can’t simply keep your same experience pace without putting in some work. Hotta studios has attempted to aid this by letting players auto-play some of the repeatable dungeons, for very few rewards apart from experience, but it is still a long monotonous grind, and wholly unnecessary if they would forego ruining progression through arbitrary temporary level caps.
Unfortunately, by the time you're over level 40, and you have a penchant for world completion like I do, many of the side activities you would do to raise your level are in short supply. Exploration is actually one of the most fun parts of Tower of Fantasy. There are 6 different areas to explore, filled with supply caches to unlock, vistas to ogle and world-bosses to demolish. You earn significant rewards from finding and completing each area, and many players are tempted to achieve this early on. Nestled within the world are training devices where you can complete some mini-games, and unlock puzzle boxes that house rewards while you wait out the time gates, and you’ll even encounter some secrets along the way.
At level 50+, however, you’re looking at some high time requirements in order to make it to the temporary level cap and keep on track. That means if you’re like me, and you’ve explored the vast unknown like a gung-ho conquistador, you may be wishing you didn’t throw so much experience away when you were at lower levels. Traversing the world will also require vehicles and relics. Vehicles are generally fast-moving ground-based machines that will get you across large spaces of land quickly. Relics have multiple uses. You have some, such as the jetpack, which are completely necessary, and others, like the colossal arms that can be used to attack enemies, but are wholly unnecessary. The addition of relics adds another layer in both traversal and combat, and are fun to use even in the cases where they are absolutely necessary.
The majority of your time in Tower of Fantasy as you reach end game will be spent in challenge missions, joint operations, and the daily and weekly quest grind. Where the story and leveling game forces you to pace yourself based on arbitrary time and level constraints, the challenges, trials and operations will force you to pace your resource gain. Joint operations, Dimensional Trials and Interstellar Explorations require a resource known as Vitality if you wish to take part in them. You can actually play each mode without Vitality, but in order to obtain any rewards, you’ll need to have about 30 Vitality per chest. Players are capped at 180 Vitality, and the resource will always accrue, so you need to ensure you’re using it daily so that the excess doesn’t go to waste.
Challenges, such as the Bygone Phantasm, Apex League and Wormhole can be played endlessly until you reach the final stages. Bygone Phantasm has more than 200 stages of rotating enemy and boss battles. As the level increases, the enemies get more difficult, requiring you to increase your Combat Power if you want to continue to move forward. Wormhole is somewhat similar, though the main difference is that you’ll need to search each level to earn buffs to power up your character. The rogue-like nature of this mode can be fun, but the difficulty spikes substantially more than in Bygone Phantasm. Both modes have a time limit, but unlike Bygone Phantasm, where the end of your timer decides the match for you, Wormhole allows you to continue playing, as your health slowly saps away throughout the remaining battle. Any buffs and health you finish a map with will stick with you on the next level. Playing smart and obtaining the right buffs are crucial.
Frontier Clash is a team-based mission where you’ll need to coordinate with a strong team if you wish to get the most out of your experience. The enemies are difficult and with each one you’re able to dispatch, your rewards will grow. The Apex League is a single-combat PvP mode where players will be “balanced” and pit against one another. As one would expect, it is rife with players running meta-pvp builds, and will probably only appeal to those that enjoy working their way up the seasonal ladder systems. There are plenty of game modes available to keep you busy throughout the week. The main problem is, if you get stuck on a particular level due to being underpowered, you don’t have too many options. You can try different strategies, but as you increase in level you’re left with few options, as upgrading multiple sets of weapons can be expensive and unsustainable even if you do decide to spend some coin.
Weapons, which are tied to the Simulacra (aka Characters), are initially the most important resource you can obtain. Putting together a cohesive team will actually determine how quickly you’ll progress through the world and the different challenge modes. In fact, getting particular characters early on is so important, that rerolling your character multiple times has become the norm, so that you start off on the right foot. I guess, in comparison to those that spent hours rerolling, I started off on the objectively wrong foot, having rolled the character Zero initially. As you roll for character through the gacha system, you’re essentially a slave to the RNG system, and you kind of just go with what they give you.
Now, nearing level 54, I’ve obtained Zero more than any other character. Each character grows in power with each successive pull of that character, up to 6 total stars. I have Zero at 5 stars, making him probably my most powerful character. The problem is, he’s primarily a second-tier support character. He’s the support character for support characters. Sure, I’ve obtained other characters along the way, almost all of them, but the problem with Tower of Fantasy is that your Combat Power means a lot when you’re trying to progress and unlock new things, and wasting a 5-star character that inherently has a high combat power (though very low combat proficiency) puts you at a severe disadvantage.
Combat power is a mixture of several aspects of your character. Not only do you have to worry about your star-level of the three character-weapons you employ in your team, but you also have gear, matrices, and suppressor level to worry about. Each item can be upgraded to a certain extent. Matrices will grant you set bonuses, and you can earn them by rolling for them in the gacha shop, or earning them through rare drops in boss battles and other events. Matrices grow in power similar to Simulacra. You will need multiples of the same kind in order to increase their power and set bonuses. Gear varies in rarity as well. The higher the rarity and the more you upgrade the gear, the stronger you get through the inherent stat bonuses like attack power, and health. Suppressor level will also give you an increase in power, but new suppressor levels are also power-gated. You have to reach a specific Combat Power in order to obtain stronger suppressors.
Combat is a mix of simplistic control design, with only one main attack button and a single secondary skill, and some unique inherent systems. You won’t find complex status reactions between characters as you would in ToF’s closest rival. Elemental reactions are extremely straight forward. Pairing ice with ice and volt (electricity) with volt where applicable to make the most of the one-note status effects are about as complex as it will get in terms of elemental statuses. Where the game shines is mixing and matching discharge skills and proccing the Phantasia state. Phantasia is the ability to slow time, allowing you a few free attacks, and it also allows you to fire off your discharge skill for free. Discharge skills are abilities that every weapon has. You build energy through various attacks, and when you have enough built up, you can swap to a different weapon, releasing a powerful discharge skill.
In coordination with Phantasia and the discharge abilities, you also have to keep an eye out for enemy shields. Breaking these shields are also critical in burning down enemies and especially bosses. Each character in your roster is rated based on their ability to build charge for your discharge skill and the ability to shatter shields. Some characters excel at breaking shields, like King, while others excel at building charge, like Zero. You do have some characters that are proficient at both, such as Huma, but it’s important to build your team with characters that can do both if you want to be successful. From the start, players will be introduced to SR characters that can fill several of these roles, but most players will want to upgrade to SSR characters as quickly as possible. It isn’t necessarily because they are better. In fact, out of the gate, you’ll probably end up with 6-star SR characters before you ever manage to get an SSR character to 2 stars, but eventually there will be a limit to the worth of the SR characters, and you’ll need to upgrade to move forward. Unfortunately, you don’t want to waste materials on an SR character.
Therein lies the crux of the issue with Tower of Fantasy and gacha games in general. A large part of the game is built on happenstance. While every player at launch had the opportunity to earn a free SSR character box to pull what they want, the chances that you pull the exact character you want once is small, much less pulling them 6 more times. Of course, these systems are put in place to allow players to gamble their money for a chance to earn their desired character. Tower of Fantasy doesn’t really mitigate this issue outright. Instead, they provide a pity system similar to Genshin Impact where you are guaranteed an SSR character after a certain number of rolls, and a token currency that you earn every time you roll for a new character. Unlike Genshin Impact the special banners that give you a 50% rate-up to earn a character will not actually guarantee you earn that character. That means that you can get the 80-roll pity twice, at a 50% rate-up and you still could miss out on earning the special banner character after hitting the pity twice. Eventually, you can buy a weapon you already own outright, or the special banner character with the limited banner tokens you earn. This means, instead of hoping you’ll roll the same character another 6 times, you may eventually earn enough currency to buy the remaining duplicate characters.
You can’t buy new characters with this currency outside of the special banners, but it at least gives you a way to increase the star level of your favorite character once you’ve pulled them. Multiple currencies are used throughout the various shops within Tower of Fantasy. From the gacha shop, where players can buy Gold and Red Nucleus, the items required for gacha rolls, to the Commissary, which has several alternative currencies where you can buy various upgrade materials, the currency game in ToF is no joke. As I mentioned in my review in progress, Tower of Fantasy doesn’t have the worst cash shop in mobile gaming, but it still teeters on the more predatory end of things. The two main currencies, Dark Crystals and Tanium, can be purchased, and both of them can be used to directly purchase matrices and characters.
Players that aren’t against supporting the game will notice a few progression-based items they may find worthwhile. The Monthly Pass supplies are a good place to start if you’re willing to put in the work. Essentially, the Monthly Pass is a battle pass that we’ve seen in hundreds of other games at this point, and it rewards players with a little bit of everything. In order to fill out the battle pass, players need only to complete their weekly quests, which can be fulfilled in just a couple days of play time. The Rookie Supplies pack will also provide the Cybernetic Arm relic, which makes traversal much easier, as it can be used as a grappling hook. These low-cost entry point purchases are probably the best use of your money, if you only have a few bucks to spend on this gacha game per month.
The whales (high-spending players), on the other hand, will have no qualms dropping thousands to fully max out their character. The daily supply bundle boxes that provide a bevy of materials will run players about 50 dollars a week, while there is no limit to the number of gacha rolls you can purchase. There are some limitations to what you can buy. You can’t buy your way out of the story and level-cap time gates. You can’t buy yourself the best gear drops. Sure, you can max out your weapons and matrices and probably do so on a budget compared to the cost of games like Diablo Immortal but you’re still looking at a pretty penny if you wish to keep your characters maxed with the best gear available. Free to play gamers will eventually make their way up the Combat Power ranks, and especially those that have taken Tower of Fantasy seriously, and made all the right moves from day one and just managed to get lucky with a number of their character rolls may find themselves competitive Combat Power-wise but those are exceptions and I don’t see very many of them on my highly populated server, Nightfall.
Over the course of the past several weeks, I’ve encountered several bugs. In one instance, I was completely immune to damage from enemies, while only certain attacks would work to kill mobs. Several times, after running, flying, or grappling over to another part of the world, I would rubber band, not due to a connection problem, but due to some strange server correction that would revert me back to where I started, even if I completed several other actions along the way and those items remained in my inventory. Hotta Studios had also hit quite a few snags, from server queue issues, to the strange occurrence of ending the Nemesis banner early, resulting in the need for the team to fix a token exchange problem when the banner was eventually brought back. Hotta studios has been generous in providing players with Dark Crystals to accommodate for these issues. Many of these problems have also been resolved over time, but Tower of Fantasy is far from perfect.
I played the game on both PC and Mobile over the course of my play sessions and found it to be a great mobile title, but I enjoyed it far less on PC. While the controls were a little more reactive on PC, the menu navigation felt worse, and it was just easier having everything at my fingertips on mobile. True, the mobile game pay and often obtuse touch controls won’t win you any awards for stellar combat proficiency, but Tower of Fantasy is largely a cooperative game, and it’s much easier to enjoy bits and pieces of Aida with the game at my fingertips rather than making the whole experience more than it should be by dedicating the time it takes to sit at a computer and give it my full attention. Tower of Fantasy has found a place in my game rotation primarily because of the premiere mobile experience, but there may come a time further down the line that I prefer the PC if an event calls for it.
Tower of Fantasy is a whirlwind of enjoyable combat, exploration and mini-games, mixed with a nefarious gacha system and the annoying proclivity to time and level gate progression. The ability to create your own character, team up with other players, participate in a huge guild, and battle hordes of monsters with a deep yet simplistic combat system tips the scales just enough to warrant the hype that it has been given. Tower of Fantasy dips its toe into greatness through extensive gameplay systems and an accessible game loop that has broad appeal. No matter what you like doing, whether it’s team play, exploration, PvP, or dungeon running, you can find it here. Just temper this fantasy with the realization that you should never spend more than you can afford. Hotta built Tower of Fantasy as a marathon, so there’s no better time than now to enjoy the journey at your own pace.