If you can’t wait for Path Of Exile 2, and you’ve long since lost interest in Diablo 4, then you might want to cast your loot-hungry eyes toward Last Epoch, an upcoming time-travel fantasy ARPG that’s been enjoying a successful stint in early access since 2019 and, as tonight’s Gamescom Opening Night Live show revealed, is on track for a full release later this year. The Geoffcom mega show also revealed there’s a new mage class called the Runemaster heading to the game next month that’s capable of casting 40 different spells on a single attack key, but given this is the first time we’ve written about Last Epoch, I realise that probably won’t mean much to a lot of you. So let’s back up a bit and introduce Last Epoch properly, because hoo boy, if you love customisable skill trees, this is the ARPG for you, my friend.
“Every single skill in the game has its own transformative skill tree, and that’s as crazy as it sounds,” Eleventh Hour’s founder, CEO and game director Judd Cobler told me ahead of tonight’s show, and to demonstrate, he pulls up the skill menu for the newly announced Runemaster, a mastery class of the basic starting Mage.
The Mage itself had eight spells to its name, plus a further four that can be unlocked by spending points in its passive tree, but the Runemaster adds another five to the mix (as do the Mage’s other two available mastery classes, the Sorceror and the Spellblade). But this is merely the tip of the iceberg, as Cobler than clicks through to one of the spells in his six-strong loadout, bringing up another multi-pronged skill tree with, by my count, 30 more unlockable nodes on it just for that specific spell (see an example below). It’s a similar scene when he clicks through to the second spell in his loadout, and the third, and the fourth and the fifth, revealing a frankly dizzying number of options. You can only invest 20 skill points per ability, mind, so you will have to pick certain routes over others, but the good news is you can respec each skill tree for free at the touch of a button, giving you plenty of flexibility to experiment and try different combos depending on the quest or enemy at hand.
Cobler is quick to show it off in action, taking the Runemaster’s Frost Wall as an example. As the name implies, this creates a wall of ice that helps slow down the hordes of enemies coming at you and allows the Runemaster to do a bit of crowd-control. But there’s an ability in Frost Guard’s skill tree that converts that base frost damage into fire called Pyroglass, which naturally removes that crowd-control aspect, but lets you scale the amount of damage you can do per second quite considerably.
Alternatively, you can also unlock the Wall Of Glyphic Art ability in Frost Wall, which lets it cast the Runemaster’s Runebolt spell instead. There’s also the Prepared Wards skill, which lets fellow party members get an extra buff if they pass through it. Or you can just double down on it being a really good Frost Wall instead, Cobler tells me, highlighting yet another branch that adds Frostbite damage, a higher freeze rate multiplier, additional spell damage and increased duration of that aforementioned freeze damage.
“There’s a lot of customisation that you get through these skill trees, and it’s all of them,” he says. “And this means that in Last Epoch if you and a friend both play Mage, and you both choose to be a Runemaster, and if you both choose the exact same set of skills, it’s still very likely that you’ll play completely differently from one another, because there’s so much customisation inside these skill trees.”
There are also equally in-depth passive skills to dig into, as well as a crafting system that lets you squeeze some extra use out of items that might not necessarily be fit for your particular class. Rather than have them clog up your inventory, for example, you can drag them over to your Forge menu and essentially shatter them into different modifiers that you can then apply to other items and weapons that are relevant to your class. It reminds me of Xenoblade’s gem system a bit, as you can also stuff other items into them that you pick up to increase the potency of the mods they have on them as well. It’s a neat-looking system, and certainly a lot simpler and more satisfying than Diablo 4’s crafting system.
Indeed, Cobler adds the team have “put a lot of effort” into making the game approachable, with a specific focus on making players feel they can “play the game confidently without having to go outside [the game] and look at guides and stuff like that”.
I’m also intrigued by its more general premise of having a time-travelling campaign plot. Cobler mentions he has a great fondness for Chrono Trigger during our chat, and it shows when he pulls up the game’s extensive-looking map screen. He didn’t go into much detail about exactly how or when players travel through time during the course of the campaign admittedly, but it’s split into five distinct eras (including its own End Of Time location that’s extremely Chrono Trigger-esque in size and appearance), and I was impressed by how materially different each one looks and feels compared to the one before it.
“Time travel allows a lot of really cool things in Last Epoch,” he explains. “It gives us this full visual spectrum that we don’t see in the genre right now. We have both high and dark fantasy, so for example if you get to the Ancient Era, it’s really colourful and there’s a lot of saturation and gigantic flora and ancient beasts, and that contrasts heavily as you go through time. As you go to the Divine Era, there are warring gods, or you get to the Imperial Era where the undead have taken over, there are lots of teals and necrotic energy and it’s a little bit gloomier, or if you get to the Ruined Era toward the End Of Time, where the void’s literally trying to consume the world and take it back, that gets into the really dark fantasy. You see a lot of darker palettes there, things that you might see in Path Of Exile or Diablo. It’s just really cool with time travel to be able to bounce back and forth and see that contrast in real time.”
There’s a lot more to Last Epoch than I could hope to cover here – its three different end-game modes being the biggies – but for now, here are some final details about the 0.9.2 update which will introduce the Runemaster on September 7th: it will also be adding eight more languages to the game, dozens of new monsters and items and such like, as well as a new sidequest event for both the campaign and the end-game that will reward you with special “experimental” item buffs if you manage to free its imprisoned mages from randomly appearing prisons.
It’s an impressive showing, to say the least, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on it over the coming months as it prepares to leave early access. To find out more, you can head on over to its Steam page.
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