- Title: Tower of Fantasy
- Platform: Microsoft Windows (Official Launcher) & Android
- Also available on iOS
- Developer: Hotta Studio
- Publisher: Level Infinite
- Played: Version 1.0 | Wanderer Lv. 61 | Main Story completed | All Simulacra Quests completed | At least 89% Exploration in all five main areas | All Ruins cleared on Easy Difficulty or higher
Like with others in Genshin Impact‘s playerbase, Tower of Fantasy caught my attention as a potential alternative. It’s a carbon copy but as a Free-to-Play open world action RPG, the game is undoubtedly aiming to have a slice of the pie that Genshin has been enjoying since its launch in 2020. Given Genshin‘s own issues, I figured I should check out the potential competition. Truth be told, I don’t think it is necessarily the “Genshin Killer” some people purported it to be up until its worldwide release but I do find it to be a decent enough experience in its own right.
As a disclaimer, this review is based on the worldwide release, which came around 8 months after the original launch in China and is currently behind that version in terms of content.
I. Finding Shirli
Tower of Fantasy takes place in the distant future on the planet of Aida, which has been contaminated with a radioactive energy called Omnium following a disaster 50 years prior that nearly wiped out human civilization. The player assumes the role of a customizable character known simply as the “Wanderer” (Brandon Winckler/Kira Buckland), a high ranking agent of Aida’s leading organization, Hykros. After losing consciousness during a mission, the Wanderer wakes up with no recollection of their past in Astra Shelter and meets its leader Zeke (Johnny Young) and his sister Shirli (Suzie Yeung). Following an attack on the shelter, Shirli succumbs to Omnium radiation and Zeke reluctantly seeks aid from a shadowy faction known as the Heirs of Aida for a cure. The Wanderer then embarks on a journey in search of Zeke and Shirli while also thwarting a grander plot run by the Heirs of Aida.
The main story of Tower of Fantasy is frankly not that good. By far, the biggest problem to it is that the relationship between the Wanderer, Zeke, and Shirli feels more like a crutch than an actual core. Just the bare minimum is shown in the first chapter of Zeke and Shirli’s siblinghood and the Wanderer isn’t given a lot of time to bond with the two, let alone grow to care about them. The chemistry between these three characters boils down to Shirli simply being really nice to the Wanderer and Zeke being Shirli’s older brother. By the time Zeke leaves wit Shirli, I wasn’t terribly invested in their whereabouts.
Things don’t really improve as the story goes on. Zeke going as far as to let the Heirs of Aida treat Shirli, regardless of what they have truly have in mind for her, is understandable and sympathetic enough and what ultimately happens to Shirli is interesting enough. But the two’s appearances in the plot are a lot more scattered and brief than they should be, making it difficult to fully connect with what happens to them. I will admit that I did start to become invested in Shirli’s character at the very end of the first story arc but that’s only because of the potential it provides for future content and the fact that Shirli finally had ample screentime again.
There are some other issues I have with the main story. The Wanderer having their memories wiped at the beginning of the story is an extremely contrived excuse for the game to deliver its worldbuilding without the player questioning why their in-game avatar doesn’t already know any of this. Characterization and worldbuilding is largely presented to you in exposition. Some terminology is either poorly explained or explained way later than they should be. The Heirs of Aida’s motivation isn’t thoroughly explored, boiling down to empty statements such as “Hykros is bad” and “the ends justify the means”. Far less playable characters appear in the main story than you would think. Some make an appearance and others star in their own quests but for the most part, the Wanderer largely runs into NPCs. This would be fine but save for a couple of exceptions, a lot of the NPCs you run into are either really forgettable or really annoying.
Most jarring about Tower of Fantasy‘s story is the English localization. Text can be frequently found with spelling and grammatical errors. Spoken lines of dialogue are often different from what’s actually written in the boxes and have their own share of mistakes. Some of the voice actors, who have done great work in other stuff, try to make them sound as naturally as they can but there’s only so much they can do before they sound stiff and it becomes clear that the script needs another proofread. While I understand that the dev team might be small in number and there’s a lot of stuff to translate from Chinese, the fact of the matter is that the localization is shoddy and it does give the game a bad look.
II. Jumping and Dashing to All Those Dots on the Mini-Map
Tower of Fantasy‘s open world is currently comprised of one continent, Aesperia, which is divided into five major regions — Astra, Banges, Navia, Crown, and Warren — with a sixth and final area located at the center of the map. The player also has access to Hykros’s headquarters as a sort of hub area. Version 1.5 will add a new region called the Artificial Island and a future update will add an entire new continent called Vera.
There are various points of interest in the open world. Chief among them are the are Gold and Black Nuclei, which counts towards your exploration progress and are some of the items you’ll use for pulling in Tower of Fantasy‘s gacha. Some of these orbs are out on their own while others are contained in treasure chests called “Supply Pods” that provided other goodies such as EXP. Provided that you’re in proximity of them, all the stray Nuclei and Supply Pods conveniently appear as icons on your mini-map. Unless you’re down to the last few points of interest, you really only need to move around a bit to quickly find points of interest. On one hand, this mechanic is very helpful for accumulating pulls for the gacha. On the other, it also makes the majority of exploration an extremely transparent experience, so much that you’re really playing the mini-map as opposed to the actual world on display. It robs exploration a sense of curiosity and wonder.
This amount of transparency could be balanced out if obtaining these Nuclei still posed a challenge. However, the collect-a-thon boils down to just a handful of simple puzzles such as using the right Relic, throwing a poor critter into a carnivorous plant, slamming your weapon on a pressure plate, or burning down some vegetation. The most difficult puzzle that you may face is figuring out how high or low the loot is positioned. Very few puzzle types are added into the mix as you explore so once you’ve seen all the puzzle types in the first region, you’ve more or less seen them all in the whole world. By the time you reach the final areas, exploration feels repetitive and it’d be stale if it wasn’t for the fact that these free pulls can benefit your account.
The act of exploring can still be fun however thanks to Tower of Fantasy‘s mobility system. Right from the get go, the Wanderer can sprint, double jump, and dash up to the three times. While a stamina bar does exist, it is only reserved for certain actions such as climbing and swimming. Dashing has its own separate cooldown and while initiating a sprint does consume one dash, the Wanderer is then free to run indefinitely. All of these abilities synergize pretty well to make traversal fast and with a good deal of agency. You can jump in the middle of your sprint to cover more distance and your character will continue to run from there. Jumps can be corrected by dashes. Climbing can be less Stamina inducing if you briefly double jump out of it. About the only nitpick I have with traveling on foot is that platforming can be a bit finnicky. You can easily overshoot your jump and you surprisingly lack the ability to clamber onto ledges, resulting in you hilariously missing your jump even when your character should’ve stuck the landing.
In addition to the Wanderer’s own movement, the player can unlock a variety of mounts for faster travel as well some gadgets called “Relics” to aid them in both exploration and combat. While there are some really cool mounts in the game, I seldom find myself using them. The controls feel a bit stiff and while most terrains allow for easy traversal on a mount, you can still get stuck on the tiniest of obstacles. Mounts are also not implemented into the game’s combat so if you want to fight, you have to get off your vehicle. Ultimately, I prefer to stick with traveling on foot.
Relics are considerably more helpful, particularly with dealing with some of the verticality you run in the open world. That some of them can aid you in combat is also a neat bonus. A nice quality of life feature is the fact that you can equip up to six Relics at a time, with only the press of a button needed to cycle through your loadouts. That said, many of the Relics have very lengthy cooldowns and a set number of charges. This makes sense as it prevents you from abusing certain Relics in a fight but it is really obnoxious when you make a mistake with your Relic and you have to wait for up to a minute to try again. At the very least, some Relics do give free usage depending on the situation. For example, your jetpack relic can be used in the air even if its charges are on cooldown.
III. Please Come Back in 48 Hours to Open This Supply Pod
Both Tower of Fantasy‘s story and open world are hindered by the game’s aggressive gating. As you progress through the main story, you can get to a point where you have to wait hours or days for the next part to unlock. Some puzzles and Supply Pods are also on a timer, forcing you to come back to them later. Later areas in the game require for your stats to be high enough, with the game draining your health if that is not the case.
One particular gate is your character’s Level. To raise the cap, you have to log into the game every day, with some of the later caps requiring multiple days to log in. Where it becomes a nuisance is the fact that EXP does not overflow so once you reach a cap, any EXP you gain afterwards will simply vanish into thin air. Once you reach a cap, you ideally want to put stuff such as quests and Supply Pods on hold to min-max your EXP gains. Doing so will then slow down your story and exploration progress.
I sort of understand the gating in this game. It’s to prevent players from hitting burnout with the content and progressing their account far too quickly. Even so, I find the gating to be rather frustrating. It forces the player to experience the story and the open world at the game’s own pace as well as a perform a juggling act to prevent any EXP from going to complete waste. This does peter out as you log in each day and the EXP needed to level up eventually becomes high but the gating is nevertheless annoying for the first few weeks of playing, which is a crucial span of time for an online game.
IV. Beating People Up As Well As Their Shields
Tower of Fantasy allows the Wanderer to wield three weapons. Each weapon is attributed to one of three roles (DPS, Defense, and Support) and one of four elements (Flame, Ice, Physical, and Volt). Aside from basic attack combos, weapons have two major abilities. The first is a Skill that can be used once it is off cooldown. The second is a Discharge which is an ult that can be used when you switch to a weapon after it gains enough energy. Two weapon stats that you particularly want to pay attention to are “Charge” and “Shatter”. Charge affects how much Energy your equipped weapon accumulates for the other two in your loadout. Shatter affects how well a weapon can chip away an enemy’s shield.
The general combat rotation goes like this. Use a weapon with high Charge (and preferably with high DPS) to get your Discharges ready. Switch to a weapon with high Shatter to deal with shields. In between all that, use your Skills, apply status effects, and/or heal. While fundamentally straightforward, there is some strategy to be had thanks to the Discharge mechanic. Since an ult can’t be used while the weapon is on field and Discharges are used soon as you switch, some careful juggling is needed to get the ults you want and to use them at the right time. Evasion also plays key as dodging at the right moment will trigger a phenomenon called Phantasia which will slow enemies down and, more importantly, give you a free Discharge. Even if your character is tanky, you’ll want to get good at dodging to speed up your Rotation.
Strategy aside, combat is also just fun thanks to the variety you can have with your arsenal. While some of their more common weapons are clones of others, all the premium weapons are unique from each other with distinct kits and animations. Elements have their own status effect that can be applied onto an enemy. Equipping two of the same weapon role will give you a buff called a “Resonance”, which can allow the player to better perform in their desired playstyle. As mentioned earlier, some Relics can be used to give you an advantage in a fight. Overall, there’s some solid room for experimentation with the game’s combat.
One major issue I have with the combat is that shieldbreaking can get tiresome. In higher end challenges, you’ll face mobs of enemies who all can activate a shield. Ideally, you want to break all the shields at once so that you can damage all the enemies at the same time but this can be easier said than done. Tower of Fantasy uses an auto-targeting mechanic and while normally not an issue, that can sometimes make it difficult for you to target a specific enemy whose shield you’re trying to break. Alternating between DPS and shieldbreaking becomes complicated when shields are broken asynchronously and enemies can regenerate them at different times.
V. The Real Fantasy is Me Having Money to Burn
Tower of Fantasy is primarily monetized with its gacha system, aptly titled “Special Orders”. Here, you pull for weapons as well as Matrices, augments that you attach to your weapons to improve your stats. While you technically don’t pull for playable characters in this game, weapons of high enough rarity do have a corresponding Simulacra which, in-universe, is a digital replica of a character you can encounter in the story. In other words, it’s a skin that you can assume over your custom character. It’s weird but it does give you agency over how you want to appear in the game. Even better is the fact that you do not need a Simulacra’s weapon equipped in order to take on their appearance. Both weapons and Matrices come in varying rarities, the highest being SSR. Dupes of both item types allow for them to gain increased stats. Weapons also gain new passives called Advancements and the third advancement unlocks an alternate custom of the corresponding Simulacra.
Weapons and Matrices each have standard and limited banners and the weapon standard banner has two variants. The weapon standard banner uses the aforementioned Gold and Black Nuclei. The limited weapon banner uses Red Nuclei. Matrices banners use vouchers, which have the same gold and red types as the Nuclei. Alternatively, all banners can be pulled with a generalized currency called Dark Crystals.
The gacha has a solid pity mechanic. You’re guaranteed a SSR weapon in 80 pulls and a SSR Matrix within 40. Weapon banners have a pity count of 80 pulls that guarantees you a SSR drop. An exception to this is the Black Nuclei variant of the standard banner which has no pity mechanic whatsoever (so don’t expect much from it). The standard weapon banner also has a hidden pity that guarantees you a SSR within the very first 30 pulls you do. Limited banners have a 50/50 chance of giving you the featured drop when it hits pity. Pity does not reset if you get an SSR early and pity for the limited banners carries over to the next version after the current one ends (both of which are extremely nice).
Perhaps the best aspect of the gacha is the token system. With the exception of the Black Nuclei banner, every pull you do in a banner will give you a token, with each banner type having its own type of token. When you accumulate enough tokens, you can outright buy a SSR drop from the in-game store and this even includes the featured SSR in the limited banners. Weapons cost 120 tokens while Matrices cost 80. There’s only two asterisks to this. The first is that standard SSR weapons need to be pulled once in order for dupes to be bought with the tokens. The second is that limited drops can only be bought while they are available in the gacha and any tokens you get in the limited banners will convert to the standard equivalents once the banners ends. Those aside, the tokens make it more feasible for the player to obtain SSR stuff, especially dupes.
All things considered, Tower of Fantasy‘s gacha is pretty fair and well designed. Whether or not the game is generous however is a whole other matter. Black and Gold Nuclei are obtained in the open world as well as through daily quests. There’s enough Gold Nuclei to net you a full loadout of standard SSR weapon but you’ll need to be extremely lucky to get something amazing with the Black Nuclei. Obviously, neither of these will help you obtain a limited item. Unlike the aforementioned currencies, the game is a lot stingier when it comes to give you Dark Crystals, vouchers, and Red Nuclei. Depending on your budget, you will need to hoard all of these in order to get whatever limited items you want for your account.
If you’re willing to whale, the cost in USD of guaranteeing yourself a SSR Weapon and a SSSR Matrix via the token system is $300 and $200 respectively. A maxed out SSR Weapon will cost you $1,700. A full set of SSR Matrices, 4 in total, will cost you $700, $2,500 if you want each piece maxed out. All the aforementioned costs can go drastically down depending on your luck with the 50/50 pity but the amount of money you could ultimately spend is still going to be a lot.
VI. Genshin Wishes It Had This Much Stuff To Do
As a MMO, Tower of Fantasy allows players on the same server to co-exist in the same world, even group up in teams and guilds or matchmake to tackle some of the game’s content. The game has a plethora of PvE and PvP modes for players to sink their teeth into and offer rewards that’ll help advance their account, namely their Wanderer’s build. Some of these activities require the use of Vitality, Tower of Fantasy‘s equivalent of stamina, in order to obtain loot. Players have a maximum of 180 Vitality that takes a full 24 hours to completely regenerate (without using any sort of refill, I mean). Claiming anything costs 30 Vitality so you can up to 6 claims per day. Other modes exist that do not require Vitality but are gated in other ways, be it limited availability throughout the week or you simply needing a stronger build to progress further.
All the PvE modes can be played solo but in most cases, these are best enjoyed in co-op. Some modes are manageable enough alone, they’ll just take much more time to clear. Others however have enemies so strong that, unless you’re extremely far with your build, you’re going to want to team up with other people in order to have a chance at beating them. As someone who greatly prefers single player experiences, I will admit that Tower of Fantasy‘s emphasis on co-op turns me off a bit. That is of course just that, a preference, and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t had fun matchmaking with people to tackle some of the game’s content.
To be honest, some of these modes do blur a bit. For example, you have “Dimensional Trials”, which has you tackling on three waves of enemies with up to three other players to obtain upgrade materials for your weapons. Then you have “Interstellar Exploration”…which also has you tackling on three waves of enemies with up to three other players to obtain upgrade materials for your weapons. While there’s some differences here and there, a lot of Tower of Fantasy‘s modes feel fundamentally same — fight wave after wave of enemies, raid a dungeon, and/or tackling a boss. Some of them do get a pass because they are fun to do and they give you something to do throughout the week, not to mention the loot you can obtain from successfully clearing them. Still, I would like for future modes to be a little more unique.
There are few non-PvE/PvP modes but unfortunately, these are among the weakest content in the game. There’s Omnium Beacon which is a hide and seek activity where you hide a beacon on the ground so that it can be claimed later for rewards. While it is a fun activity that makes use of the game’s open world, it also uses your Vitality and the loot varies on the rarity of your beacon and whether or not people find the beacon. Ultimately, you should use your Vitality on other things. Another disappointing feature is Training which is actually a bunch of mini-games for you to do in the open world for points that can be redeemed in the shop. Unfortunately, a lot of these mini-games are clunky to play. The best one is the game’s version of Concentration and that’s largely because you have to try to mess up a virtual version of it. On one hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing more content along these lines. On the other, they of course need to be good.
Tower of Fantasy is a decent but flawed title. There are a number of areas where the execution could stand to be better such as the story and the open world design. If you really want to compare this to Genshin Impact, this game is frankly less polished. That said, I still find myself playing the game and I plan on playing until the final level cap is available. There’s enough good ideas in the game and enough fun to be had in it. At the very least, I’m interested enough to see the game’s upcoming content, be it entirely new developments or the missing stuff that’ll be carried over from the Chinese version.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Tower of Fantasy is Free-to-Play so if the game interests you, you might as well give it a try and decide for yourself. Spending money will of course depend on your financial situation but I do recommend you hold off on whaling until you exhaust your free pulls and have obtained a full loadout of premium weapons from the game’s standard banner.
Thanks for reading!