Tower Of Fantasy is a free-to-play MMO gacha game, the kind that begs you to spend in-game currency on loot boxes in the hopes of building a particularly powerful collection of anime people. Genshin Impact wraps this business model in a surprisingly excellent open-world RPG, which Graham called one of the best games of 2020. Tower Of Fantasy pulls from a neighboring gacha vending machine, except it doesn’t pack the mix of MMO, real-time combat, and lootboxing into a consistent package.
Tower Of Fantasy is a “shared open world RPG” in which you select a server from a series of regions and create a character. This is one of the game’s main differences from Genshin Impact, putting it more into the MMORPG space for Genshin’s relatively solo RPG experience. While I wouldn’t say that the ToF server I’m on is swarming with players like World Of Warcraft but there seems to be quite a few catboys and girls populating the global chat with requests to build a party or all sorts misery that makes the world feel lived, both in the most beautiful and the absolute worst sense.
When it comes to ignoring everyone else and diving into the main story of the game, it’s a mixed bag. You bounce between characters named Shirli and Zeke at a breakneck pace, with little time to develop a significant relationship. So when someone is missing or having a hard time, it’s very hard to evoke any emotion. Then you have the writing, which is certainly not bad, but has a biting simplicity that can pull you out of the world at crucial moments. Especially since your character has a habit of yelling things like, “I’ll do anything to save her!” no matter what the conversation is about.
At its core, though, the game doesn’t hold my attention like Genshin does. Where you might forgive – or even learn to love – Genshin’s gacha side as his story, combat, and exploration endear you to his greed, Tower Of Fantasy lacks that rock solid core and in turn makes its gacha-ness harder to accept. It leans too heavily on MMO-ism for my taste, where missions and overall exploration seem a bit too simplistic.
Compensation is a bit of a theme here, isn’t it? MMOs like WoW make up for dated quests with systems that make the reward meaningful enough to motivate you through mundaneness. You don’t mind collecting 15 mackerel eyes for the witch ahead, as the resulting pumpkin tokens will give you that hardened vegetable shield you’ve always wanted. And the way the battles and explorations are structured matches the slower pace, with hot bars and cooldowns, long griffin rides and hours of market trading. But Tower Of Fantasy is this dodgy mishmash of MMO quests with Genshin-esque combat, all infused with gacha stuff that makes it very hard to pin down.
Admittedly, one thing the game does well is the real-time combat, which is snappy and responsive. Dash just before an enemy swing connects and you’ll temporarily suspend time, allowing you to land a few more hits and switch weapons, which in turn unleashes a devastating special move. It’s quite fluid and flashy, turning almost any fight into a satisfying spectacle. And it’s backed by one of the few gacha systems I’ve half wrapped my head around. Basically, you can spend these golden orbs on “Special Orders” (loot boxes) that give you a chance to unlock new “Simulacrums” (weapons that are also cute anime girls). Sometimes you get a dud (not an anime girl), but sometimes you get lucky (an anime girl who happens to be a halberd). I’m lucky enough to own an SSR weapon person who lets me embody her as some sort of character skin, but also use her deadly hula hoop in combat.
And it is a world that is quite beautiful. It’s a sort of idyllic land of rolling hills and blue waters, dotted with quirky towns cobbled together with futuristic junk. In short, I entered some snowy fields during a story mission and I’ve also seen hints of some crystalline mines on the interwebs. I own this Rubik’s Cube hovercraft that allows me to move around quickly. I have a jetpack that acts as a boost to high spots or some sort of glider. I have a jetboard that I can skim over the seas with. A small stamina bar tells me when I can no longer clamber on a surface. I am a conveyor belt of waifus, who can hack and slash my way through hordes of enemies.
And yet most scavenger hunts toss these dynamics in the dirt in favor of some crazy MMO fare. “Can you inspect those lamps?” asks a child dressed as a cybernetic samurai. I press F next to some lights and that’s that. Another time I take a few people out of a prison, and alternate between fun, frenetic battle pieces, I’m disguised as the enemy, hopping moving between markers and dodging cones of vision. It’s less Metal Gear Solid and more Metal Gear Viscous. When I press F to free them, I don’t know who’s more relieved that it’s over.
Optional activities seem a bit better. I’ve taken part in a number of dungeons, one of which teamed me up with a few random people and saw us take down a big brute and his dogs. Another saw me fending off waves of enemies with elemental resistances, so I had to equip a weapon that bypassed their strengths. All these missions understood the agenda: a touch of platforming, but mostly bashing. They rewarded me with a ton of materials, many of which I just can’t keep up with. In fact, there are parts of this game that I just don’t understand and may never understand. These are all buried in my backpack and the dozens of menus around it.
Every time I log in, I check my mailbox. I do this by pressing Enter, which allows me to click the menu in the top right corner and probably again apologize for many of the game’s boot problems, such as long login queues and weird – albeit hilarious – glitches. I click on “Claim”, to collect my orbs and coins and chips. Then I’m lost! I click Escape, which takes me to another menu full of red marks, letting me know that I can click “Claim” somewhere. There are Weekly Missions, a Battle Pass, Achievements, a Wanderer’s Log, a Daily Supply Box, Limited Gift Packs, Bounties – more, so much more.
Sure, the rewards bleed in progress. My waifu weapons can be upgraded in a dizzying, mind-boggling number of ways, many of which I’m sure you’re not supposed to understand, but just mindlessly accept. I can use currencies to increase my Suppressor which seems to work as a supplement to my base level. I can smash Matrices into my weapons, which increases their stats in some way, and there are a few different types of Matrices, all upgradeable with stuff. You can unlock new pieces of story by purchasing gifts for your Simulacrums. There’s even a currency that lets you open chests in dungeons as if it were a privilege to do so.
True, you can click on any material in the game and it will tell you how to earn it for free. Plus, the map and many of its activities will give you enough pieces to smash into other pieces. So if you like the gacha grind, you’ll probably appreciate that it’s not in the least stingy, and maybe even more streamlined than much of the competition. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t carried away with the temptation to gamble away my precious gold orbs and land that super-duper-rated weapon. Without a doubt, the game plays on everyone’s fantasies of going big in the Euromillions and telling the press that your first purchase will be an orb in the Tower Of Fantasy video game.
There is definitely fun to be had in Tower Of Fantasy as there are many gacha systems in the game to motivate you through some iffy searching. And you can rummage through your menus to access some optional dungeons, with some cooking or puzzling in between. It has the ability to surprise and delight, but it’s all underlined by a small bite that’s hard to miss, especially when Genshin’s Impact or other popular MMOs are breathing down its neck.