If you’ve just spent the past weekend playing Diablo IV’s open beta and now want an ARPG to hold you over until June (when Diablo IV releases), I have a recommendation for you. Before Diablo IV’s betas, I was spending time playing Last Epoch. The game added multiplayer in Convergence Patch 0.9, and it was an interesting experience to compare the two games over the last two weeks. I personally found Diablo IV somewhat disappointing, and I do believe Last Epoch is a major reason why.
Last Epoch entered Early Access in 2019, so it has spent quite a bit of time gathering feedback and improving its systems. The game’s latest major patch introduced multiplayer, which is what I was waiting for before diving into the game. Coincidentally (or perhaps intentionally), that patch was released on March 9, just before Diablo IV’s early access open beta. Unfortunately, multiplayer had its fair share of bugs during its initial launch, which led me to completing the entire campaign solo. The game had some weird issues if someone in your party was further along in the main campaign than you, which made for a frustrating experience. But hey, that’s why Last Epoch is in early access.
If I had to describe Last Epoch in a couple sentences, I would say it’s a game that lies somewhere in between Diablo III and Path of Exile. It doesn’t have the complexity found in Path of Exile, but it also has way better itemization and build diversity than Diablo III — and potentially Diablo IV, based on what I’ve seen so far. And for many ARPG enthusiasts, this might be enough for you to check it out. I have tried to get into Path of Exile numerous times since its initial release, but never stayed engaged long enough to genuinely enjoy it. Something about its gameplay just feels off to me and as a result, I primarily played Diablo III over the years. But Last Epoch is a breath of fresh air and if the developers are able to address some of my personal issues, it might be my go-to ARPG for many years, even after Diablo IV comes out in June.
Combat in Last Epoch feels really good — not as good as Diablo, but better than Path of Exile.
Let’s start with combat. Overall, combat and general gameplay in Last Epoch feels pretty good. It’s not as responsive as Diablo games, but it’s really close. It might actually be the best gameplay experience I’ve had from an ARPG that isn’t named Diablo. In Last Epoch, I played the same archetype I prefer to play in all ARPGs, which is a bow-wielding, ranged attacker that ideally moves very quickly around the map. The game was able to deliver that playstyle I enjoy, something Path of Exile never managed to do for me. Last Epoch does have some rubberbanding issues that have plagued the ARPG genre for decades, and it’s noticeably worse if you’re in a multiplayer game and are not the host. Many of us experienced issues with our movement skills in multiplayer, which is something I hope the developers are able to fix.
The one thing I really despise about Last Epoch’s combat is the complete lack of feedback when taking damage. In Diablo games, your character gives you audio notifications through voice lines and visually, with red accents that flash on your screen. All of these elements are missing from Last Epoch, which means if you’re not paying very close attention to your health, you won’t even realize you’re dying. It’s one thing that I found very frustrating, and it’s such a basic UX feature. Hell, The Legend of Zelda came out in 1986 and had the most annoying noise when you were low on health.
Now here’s a real skill tree with real decisions for your character.
Skill Trees and Build Diversity
Diablo IV’s skill tree was a massive disappointment to me. It lacked diversity and I personally found it to be not very different than the system found in Diablo III — they just sort of created the illusion of choice with twigs and branches. Realistically, it’s not that different from the choices you had in Diablo III. The system in Last Epoch however, I really love. It’s not overly complex like what’s in Path of Exile, and it’s not so basic that it offends you. There are some meaningful choices you can make, as opposed to choosing the only skills available that apply to your playstyle.
In fact, describing the system may make it seem more complex than it really is. You basically choose skills that you want to specialize in, and those slots unlock as you level your character. All five slots are available by level 50 and you can swap out the skills at any time. Once you slot in a skill, you’ll gain experience for that skill, allowing you to spend points into its skill tree. This is separate from your passives skill tree. Think of it this way: you have one skill tree for your character, and individual skill trees for each of the skills you intend to use.
What makes Last Epoch particularly interesting is the ability to specialize and spend points in a skill that you aren’t actively using on your hotbar. That’s because certain skills will proc other skills — for example, throwing shurikens each time I shift. It’s a genuinely good system with several layers of complexity, but not to the point that it’s overwhelming and you have to read guides and create spreadsheets.
But what really stood out to me with Last Epoch was build diversity. Sure there are guides you can look up online, but unlike Diablo III, there’s a large number of different builds you can do based on the items you have. I’ll talk about itemization next, but Last Epoch is the first game since Diablo II where I picked up some Uniques and actually crafted a build around those items. This build that actually works in late-game content!
This game has a lot of loot, and you can use loot filters just like Path of Exile.
Last Epoch has all the tiers of gear you’d expect from an ARPG. If you’ve played Diablo or Path of Exile, you’ll recognize the majority of the colors. In addition to Uniques, Set Pieces, and Legendaries, Last Epoch also has a tier called Exalted, which is purple, along with a system for the Unique items called “Legendary Potential.” The quick way to summarize Legendary Potential is the ability to essentially combine affixes from an Exalted item with a Unique item to create a Legendary. It is similar to Diablo IV’s system, where you can take a Legendary affix and apply it to a Rare. There is also a crafting system that allows you to improve, modify, and transform most equipment pieces by using affix shards.
Because of how diverse itemization can be in Last Epoch, this following point may either be a pro or a con to you. You’re going to get a lot of items in Last Epoch, to the point that you will be using the in-game loot filter. But depending on the type of gamer you are, you might get stuck in a nightmare situation where your stash is packed with hundreds of items. The good news is, Last Epoch’s stash system is excellent and very similar to what you’d find in Path of Exile. You unlock additional tabs with gold and you can label and customize them accordingly. If you enjoy hoarding, you’re going to love Last Epoch. If you prefer to mouse over items looking for a green number, this is probably not the game for you.
The game also has idols, which are similar to charms in Diablo II, except you have a separate section in your inventory for them. I’ve been using them to fill in gaps in my build — like picking up that last bit of resistance I need for a certain element. But there is a wide variety of idol types and affixes that can roll on them, which further adds to the game’s build versatility through using items.
So if you’re a fan of Diablo III’s current system where you get your set bonuses and Legendary items, then you probably won’t like Last Epoch. While there are some predefined builds out there with specific items, much of the fun is coming up with a build based on the items you’ve got. Unfortunately, I can’t really compare it to Path of Exile since I never invested heavily into end-game content.
The current endgame for Last Epoch involves clearing Echoes to unlock Quest Echoes.
I haven’t reached the ultimate endgame yet, but I have basically experienced what it’s like. Once you complete the campaign that’s currently in Last Epoch, you will deal with the Monolith of Fate. Each monolith contains Echoes, which are basically like Rifts in Diablo III. But instead of filling up a bar by killing enemies, you’ll have to complete various objectives. While these objectives aren’t particularly engaging, they do break up the monotony of just killing enemies while combing through a map. Clearing an Echo rewards you with Stability for that monolith. Once you have enough Stability, you’ll unlock a Quest Echo. After completing the three Quest Echoes for that monolith, you’ll get a Unique item and you get to choose a blessing. The blessing is basically a very powerful passive that affects your character, making it worthwhile to farm monoliths repeatedly to get the best blessings possible.
The goal of clearing these initial monoliths is to unlock empowered monoliths. I haven’t experienced this content yet, so a review on those will come in a future update. However, I have found the current endgame quite enjoyable, especially since each Echo has its own type of rewards. While progressing through each monolith, you get to choose the route you take and the rewards you get.
With the conclusion of Diablo IV’s betas, I will be putting hours back into Last Epoch to explore the remaining endgame content. I plan to experiment with various characters and builds to get a fuller picture of the game’s potential. So far, I have been quite impressed and hopefully Eleventh Hour Games can iron out many of the game’s rough edges. I am confident that the developers are working hard to get the multiplayer experience as smooth as possible, but I sincerely hope they address my complaint about incoming damage feedback. It’s my main annoyance about the game right now.
I will definitely give Last Epoch an official review once it is out of Early Access. I believe it’s unfair to do a “review in progress” for a game that isn’t even 1.0. A lot can change between now and the release, though I do believe Last Epoch has a very good understanding of the game it wants to be.
Last Epoch is currently in Early Access and is available on Steam (PC). These first impressions are based on a purchased copy of the game.