Tower of Fantasy Review – Sad Time-Gated Noises

Tower of Fantasy on PC

It’s easy to take one look at Tower of Fantasy and immediately dismiss it as a Genshin Impact clone. The graphical style looks extremely similar, it’s a free-to-play gacha game with a large open-world to explore, the list goes on. While it’s clear that Hotta Studio has taken a lot of inspiration from miHoYo’s open-world hit, however, Tower of Fantasy certainly does enough to set itself apart from the competition.

Tower of Fantasy takes place in the distant future. On the planet Aida, humanity discovered a comet and a powerful energy known as Omnium, and proceeded to attempt to harness it for science. But in a classic case of Icarus flying too close to the sun, the Omnium radiation proved to be too much to handle and it ends up unleashing a catastrophic disaster onto the world. Now, anyone infected with Omnium has the potential to turn into a mindless beast. Good job, humanity.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Players take control of an amnesiac Wanderer who teams up with a small group of do-gooders to try to save the world, and that’s where the adventure begins.

For a planet that’s constantly under threat of falling into complete madness and chaos, Aida looks beautiful and idyllic. The sunsets hit the water at just the right angle, giving the world a welcoming, warm glow that you can’t help but bask in. Buildings and structures feel a little dilapidated, sprinkled with just the right amount of human care and technology to prop them up and keep them running. Everywhere you look, there’s fish to be caught, chests to be opened, and resources to be collected.

Tower of Fantasy doesn’t waste much time in giving you all the tools you need to explore the open-world, either; you’re quickly equipped with a glider and your first mount, which makes getting around the world pretty easy. There’s virtually no wall you can’t climb. The world is your oyster. Which would be fantastic, if traversing the world actually felt good, or if there were no time gates.

tower of fantasy
Image Source: Hotta Studio

For all the freedom that Tower of Fantasy seems to want to give you, it also comes with a lot of weird little restrictions. The glider, for instance, is on a one-minute cooldown after activating it twice. This totally sucks, because gliding takes up stamina, and if you’re trying to travel long distances, you’ll inevitably need to stop and rest to recharge your stamina. You won’t be able to resume your travel immediately after, as you’ll then need to wait for the cooldown timer to tick down before activating the glider again.

The mounts in Tower of Fantasy don’t fare all that well, either. Throughout my time with the game, I found myself spending more time running around on foot instead of summoning the mount just because of how bad it felt. The game quickly rewards you with an awesome-looking motorbike, but that excitement soon dissipates when you realize that trying to off-road with this thing just feels awful. The bike gets caught on the tiniest obstacles blocking your path, the handling is weirdly rigid, and trying to drive around on this thing feels considerably less enjoyable than just running around or, you know, flying around on the glider. If only it wasn’t time-gated.

The time gates don’t stop there as Tower of Fantasy does this weird thing where it puts little time restrictions on certain chests you discover in the open-world and on your story progression. Exploration initially feels nice; you get plenty of rewards from clearing out small enemy outposts and opening chests. But as you keep playing, you’ll eventually run into time-gated chests that force you to come back hours later before you can open them.

tower of fantasy open-world
Image Source: Hotta Studio

Again, this feels bad. Especially if you’re the kind of player who likes putting time and effort into exploring an open-world thoroughly, running into these time-gated chests feels like you’re being punished for trying to explore. Story missions are time-gated as well; you’ll eventually hit a wall where you’re forced to wait a few hours before the next mission becomes available, allowing you to travel to a new region to continue the story.

So what do you do when you’re time-gated? Well, just like any other gacha game, Tower of Fantasy comes with various daily and weekly activities for you to do. Upon hitting level 20, you’ll unlock your first bit of multiplayer content: Joint Operation Battles. These function very similarly to MMO-style dungeons where you’ll match up with three other players and tackle a dungeon together.

There are three bosses to beat, with trash mobs to take care of along the way. Beat all three bosses, and you’ll be rewarded with loot in the form of new Matrices you can equip to make your character stronger. Other multiplayer activities include a wave-based horde mode where you have to defeat waves of enemies to get your loot, as well as a PvP mode that plays like a battle royale game mode. Players all start at the same level, and will be forced into close quarters combat as the arena starts shrinking.

There are also daily bounties to take on, which usually just task you with delivering resources or defeating key bosses. Then, there are also side quests you can accept by talking to NPCs, and these are usually just more fetch quests.

The world of Tower of Fantasy is honestly stunning, so it’s just a shame that the quests are all so dreadfully boring with so many arbitrary time gates to stall your progress. The story quests themselves don’t fare that much better either, with the occasional obtuse puzzle thrown in to frustrate you, and mandatory stealth sections that have no place being in a fast-paced action game.

The action, thankfully, is quite good. As noted in my beta preview, the combat of Tower of Fantasy continues to be the highlight here, even if it can still feel a little floaty at times. Players will be able to equip three weapons, and then swap between them in the middle of combat for elemental synergies and combos.

nemesis banner in tower of fantasy
Image Source: Hotta Studio via Twinfinite

The weapon types and elements allow for some really diverse builds, and things get even more complex and nuanced as you start to get into more specialized roles. Equipping two DPS-style weapons, for instance, will give you an attack bonus, while equipping support-style weapons will turn you into more of a healer or support character in your party. You’re actively encouraged to participate in more Joint Operation Battles with other players, too, as that’s your main way of getting Matrices, which function similarly to Artifacts in Genshin Impact, and can also give you helpful set bonuses.

Tower of Fantasy’s combat is extremely fluid and fast-paced, and while I do wish that there was a bit more crunch and weight to your attacks, being able to zip around quickly in battle is always fun, and was the highlight of my experience.

Of course, in order to really start enjoying the combat, you’ll need to get some weapons, and they’re obtained via the game’s gacha system. As an F2P player, I found Tower of Fantasy to be pretty damn generous with its basic summoning currencies. The open-world is absolutely littered with Black and Gold Nucleus –assuming they’re not in time-gated chests– and you can use these to pull on the game’s regular banners to get some potential SSR weapons.

The regular banner also comes with an 80-pull pity bar, and it doesn’t reset even if you get an SSR on your way to pity, which is really nice. However, if you find yourself enticed by the game’s limited banner offerings, that’s a different story altogether.

Limited banners require you to use Red Nucleus, which cannot be found in the open-world at all. Instead, you’ll need to exchange them for Dark Crystals, which you get through story progression, dailies and weeklies, or by spending real money. For F2P players, the Dark Crystal income is pretty abysmal, and if you’re hoping to save for pity on a limited banner, it’ll take you around four months to do so.

I found myself wishing that Tower of Fantasy would have launched with just one summoning currency, similar to what Genshin Impact does. Splitting up the currencies means that F2P players have no shot of getting a limited weapon for a good few months, which can be concerning, especially if the limited weapons released down the line prove to be meta-defining.

At the end of the day, I found myself feeling pretty ambivalent towards Tower of Fantasy. I appreciated its focus on multiplayer activities, but ultimately, Tower of Fantasy wants to be a story-driven MMORPG with an immersive open-world for players to get lost in, and it just isn’t that. After finally getting past the honeymoon period of being wowed by its sun-soaked environments, it became clear that Tower of Fantasy is pretty much all style, with little substance. It’s a fun romp, and certainly one of the better mobile MMOs out right now, but in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t quite enough polish or engaging quest content to keep me coming back for more.

Reviewer: Zhiqing Wan | Copy provided by Publisher.

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