Tower Of Fantasy is a free-to-play MMO gacha game, the kind of game that implores you to spend in-game money on lootboxes in the hopes that you’ll build a particularly powerful collection of anime characters. Genshin Impact wrapped that business model into 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 its MMO mash-up, real-time combat and lootboxing isn’t wrapped up in such a cohesive package.
Tower Of Fantasy is a “shared open-world RPG”, which allows you to select a server from a series of regions and create a character. This is one of the main differences between the game and Genshin Impact, placing it more in the MMORPG space than the relatively single-player RPG experience of Genshin. Although I wouldn’t say the ToF server I’m on is full of players like World Of Warcraft but there seem to be quite a few catboys and girls populating the world chat with requests to party or all sorts of naughtiness that makes the world feel lived in, both in the nicest sense and the absolute worst.
When it comes to ignoring everyone else and delving into the game’s main story, it’s a mixed bag. You bounce between characters called Shirli and Zeke at a breakneck pace, with little time to develop a meaningful relationship. So when someone disappears or is going through a difficult time, it is very difficult to evoke any emotion. Then you have the writing, which isn’t bad at all, but has a biting simplicity that can knock you out of the world at crucial moments. Mainly because your character has a habit of shouting things like “I’ll do whatever it takes to save her!” no matter what the conversation is about.
At its core, however, the game doesn’t hold my attention like Genshin. Where you might forgive – or even learn to love – Genshin’s gacha side because its story, combat, and exploration help you love its greed, Tower Of Fantasy lacks that rock-solid core and, at in turn, makes his gacha-ness harder to accept. It leans too heavily on the MMO for my liking, where missions and overall exploration feel a little too simplistic.
Compensation is a bit of a theme here, isn’t it? MMOs like WoW compensate for dated quests with systems that make the reward meaningful enough to keep you motivated through the mundane. Don’t mind collecting 15 Mackerel Eyes for the Witch on the road, because the resulting Pumpkin Tokens will net you that Hardened Plant Shield you’ve always wanted. And the way combat and exploration are constructed matches its slower pace, with hotbars and cooldowns, long griffin walks, and hours of market trading. But Tower Of Fantasy is this unreliable mix of MMO quests with Genshin-style combat, all soaked in gacha stuff that makes it very hard to pin down.
Certainly one thing the game nails is its real-time combat, which is punchy and responsive. Dash just before an enemy swing connects and you temporarily pause time, allowing you to stick in a few extra hits and swap weapons which in turn trigger a devastating special move. It’s fluid and flashy, allowing you to turn almost any fight into a satisfying spectacle. And it’s backed by one of the few gacha systems that I’ve half-understood. Basically, you can spend these gold orbs on “special orders” (loot boxes) which give you a chance to unlock new “simulacra” (weapons that are also cute anime girls). Sometimes you get a dud (no anime girl), but sometimes you get lucky (an anime girl who happens to be a halberd). I’m lucky enough to own an SSR rank weapon that allows me to embody him as a kind of character skin, but also use his deadly hoops in battle.
And it’s a pretty lovely world. It’s that kind of idyllic land of rolling hills and blue waters, dotted with quirky towns cobbled together from futuristic junk. Long story short, I walked into snowy fields on a story mission and also saw hints of crystal mines on the interwebs. I own this Rubik’s Cube hovercraft that allows me to get around quickly. I have a jetpack that acts as a boost to high points or some sort of glider. I have a jet-board which allows me to fly over the seas. A small stamina bar tells me when I can no longer climb a surface. I’m a treadmill of waifus, able to smash my way through hordes of enemies.
And yet, most quests toss that dynamism to the dirt in favor of abandoned MMO fare. “Could you inspect these lamps?” asks a kid dressed as a cybernetic samurai. I press F next to some lamps and that’s it. Another time I break people out of a prison and, interspersed with fun and frantic fights, I’m disguised as the enemy, moving jerkily between markers and dodging vision cones. He’s less Metal Gear Solid and more Metal Gear Viscous. When I press F to release them, I don’t know who is more relieved, it’s over.
The optional activities seem a bit better. I participated in dungeons, one of which matched me up with random players and saw us take down a big bully and his hounds. 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 included the agenda: a bit of platforming, but especially bashing. They rewarded me with a bunch 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. All of these are buried in my backpack and the dozens of menus around it.
Every time I log in, I check my mailbox. I do this by hitting enter, which then lets me click on the top right menu and bring up what’s probably another excuse for a lot of the game launching issues, like long queues of connection and some weird – albeit hilarious – issues. I click on “Claim”, to collect my orbs, coins and tokens. So I’m lost! I hit Esc, which brings me to another menu full of red marks, letting me know that I can click “Claim” on something, somewhere. There are weekly missions, a battle pass, achievements, wanderer’s journal, daily supply box, limited gift packs, bonuses – more, so much more.
Naturally, the rewards turn into progress. My waifu weapons can be upgraded in a staggering and mind-boggling number of ways, which I’m sure you’re not supposed to understand, just mindlessly accept. I can pour currency to increase my suppressor, which seems to act as a supplement to my base level. I can insert dies into my weapons which increase their stats in some way and there are different types of dies all upgradable with things. You can unlock new story pieces by purchasing gifts for your simulacra. 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. Additionally, the map and many of its activities will give you plenty of things to integrate into other things. So if you like gacha grind, you’ll probably appreciate that it’s not stingy at all, and maybe even more streamlined than most of the competition. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn in by the lure of playing my precious gold orbs and landing this super-duper rated weapon. Without a doubt, the game taps into everyone’s fantasies of hitting the Euromillions hard and declaring to the press that your first purchase will be an orb in the Tower Of Fantasy video game.
There’s definitely fun to be had in Tower Of Fantasy, as there are plenty of gacha systems in play to keep you motivated through questionable quests. And you can dig through your menus to access a bunch of optional dungeons, with a bit of cooking or puzzles in between. It has the ability to surprise and delight, but it’s all underlined by a slight jolt that’s hard to ignore, especially when it’s got Genshin Impact or other popular MMOs hanging around its neck.