The real Tower of Fantasy starts here

I was rather taken with Tower of Fantasy after my initial encounter with it — so much so that I was compelled to follow up on it a bit further. I’ve been playing it for a good few hours now — and I’m very impressed. So I thought I’d talk a bit about what the game offers after you’re through the initial introductory section, and things have opened up a bit more.

One thing that has become clear over the course of my time with Tower of Fantasy so far is that the game makes very good use of its open-world setting. There are lots of things to discover, and curiosity is pretty much always rewarded. This is accomplished through a significant “collectathon” element — and it’s this aspect of the game I’ve been finding enormously addictive.

Tower of Fantasy

Tower of Fantasy’s game world is split into several broad areas. Each of these areas tracks your “exploration percentage”, which is a summary of how many hidden “supply pods” you’ve located, how many scenic viewpoints you’ve uncovered, how many fast-travel Spacerifts you’ve unlocked, how many Ruins you’ve explored and various other miscellaneous “World Exploration” elements.

At various milestones in your exploration progress, you’ll receive rewards — but honestly, the enjoyment of the experience was less about unlocking those rewards and more about the actual enjoyable gameplay involved in scoring those exploration points. With your character’s ability to run, double-jump, climb and use their jetpack, you have a highly enjoyable (yet still deliberately slightly constricted) level of mobility in Tower of Fantasy right from the outset, and this makes uncovering the various hidden treasures immensely fun.

For example, the supply pods, which make up a significant component of the “collectathon” gameplay, tend to be either guarded by camps of enemies or hidden in awkward locations. In some instances, you simply need to survey the environment to find the best means of reaching them; in others, you’ll need to make use of the “Relics” you unlock over the course of the game in order to gain access to them. Some, for example, are hidden behind fragile walls, requiring you to use a missile-firing Relic to reveal them.

Tower of Fantasy

This brings us nicely onto a very welcome aspect of Tower of Fantasy’s gameplay, which is that there’s more than a hint of Zelda to it all. This is probably not all that surprising to hear, given that Genshin Impact — which Tower of Fantasy is very obviously drawing heavy inspiration from, let’s not forget — was frequently regarded as a Breath of the Wild ripoff in the run-up to its release. Over time, of course, it revealed itself to be something a bit different — and so too does Tower of Fantasy. But that Zelda feel is still there.

As you explore, you may come across strange animal and plant life. The first time you encounter these, you’ll tend to get a tip about how you might want to deal with them — if at all. For example, there are these large plants with tentacly mouths sitting around, and they’re inevitably near rolling water elemental things. Pick up and toss one of these water elementals into the plant’s mouth and you’ll be rewarded — usually with the black orbs that allow you to draw from one of the game’s gacha systems.

The Zelda feel is most apparent in the Ruins, which are the game’s main single-player dungeons. These tend to have a fairly linear route through them, but will often introduce or require the use of Relics to progress. One of the first you encounter, for example, introduces you to the aforementioned missile blaster; a subsequent one provides you with an anti-gravity cube that is useful for solving puzzles.

Tower of Fantasy

The puzzles in the Ruins aren’t anywhere near as in-depth or creative as those found in Breath of the Wild’s shrines — at least not in the early hours of the game — but they do provide a level of interactivity beyond simply hacking and slashing your way through monsters, which is very welcome in a game like this.

There are also “training” opportunities scattered around the map, which take the form of minigames ranging from simple checkpoint races to pachinko and football-inspired challenges. Different opportunities open up each day, meaning that there are lots of different things for you to try your hand at beyond simply following the main story.

The game’s multiplayer aspect can be enjoyed in a few ways. Firstly, you can simply group up with others in the open world; this is usually done to tackle powerful boss enemies that appear at various intervals, and you’ll often see chat messages inviting others to join them in various “channels” or instances of the game world. As you develop your character in Tower of Fantasy, you’ll be able to better serve a typical tank, healer or DPS role in such situations — though early in the game you’ll largely be focused on dealing damage.

Tower of Fantasy

There’s a matchmade instanced dungeon system called Joint Operations, which matches you with three other players and tasks you with making it through a short but reasonably involved dungeon. This is a lot of fun; mechanically there’s nowhere near the depth of something like Final Fantasy XIV, but the boss enemies in particular do throw up some interesting situations you’ll need to deal with appropriately.

Then there’s a mode called Interstellar Explorations, which casts you into a weird rift thing and challenges you to hold off several waves of enemies. You can play this either solo or in a group. Again, it’s simple and straightforward but enjoyable — and a good means of getting some “instant action” in with friends if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

The nice thing about Tower of Fantasy is that it doesn’t bombard you with all these possibilities right away; they tend to unlock one at a time as you progress through the levels and reach milestones in the story. In this way, you get the opportunity to figure out the basic mechanics and structure of the game before being given complete freedom to go your own way. And that’s good, because once everything opens up, it really does feel like Tower of Fantasy can be enjoyed in a variety of different ways according to your own favoured play style.

Tower of Fantasy

It takes a while for some aspects of the game to truly make sense — having played for a good few hours on top of the introductory sequence, I’m only just starting to get hints of why the character-switching “Simulacra” system might actually offer some benefits over just playing as your custom character all the time, for example — but at no point has it felt unnecessarily overwhelming.

That may not be the case for those who are new to free-to-play games or gacha-style RPGs in general — particularly with the bewilderingly wide range of different ways it’s possible to progress your character, weapons and other equipment — but the fact Tower of Fantasy resembles an actual relatable sort of game rather than an interactive web page, as many mobile-only gacha games still do, helps with its accessibility factor.

Is it better than Genshin? No frickin’ clue; I never played Genshin. But as a first foray into this “shared open-world” subgenre of online RPG, I’m having an absolute blast with Tower of Fantasy — and I suspect I will continue to do so for quite some time, at the rate I’m going.

Tower of Fantasy

They got me. The free-to-play buggers finally got me. And all it took was for them to make something that was fundamentally a good game at its core, rather than a monetisation platform with a half-arsed game slapped on top of it. Who knew?

Tower of Fantasy is available globally now for PC and mobile platforms. Find out more at the official website.

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Pete Davison
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