Last Epoch is the must-have non-Diablo game for every generation

It’s been written that when Blizzard releases a Diablo game, players will be annoyed by it: it’s too dark, or not dark enough, or too grindy, or not grindy enough, or the loot isn’t good, or it doesn’t work. or the business model is suspect. It’s also written that a challenger will emerge, a game from a scrappy independent developer that looks like Diablo and plays like Diablo, but is pure at heart and will give all those frustrated Diablo players exactly what they wanted but Blizzard turned them away to give.

Right now that’s game Last era from fully remote global indie studio Eleventh Hour Games. Last era was released on February 21 and is doing very well on Steam, where it sits comfortably in the top 10 most played games at the time of writing. As you can see on Reddit and elsewhere, many players have no choice but to compare Last era Unpleasant Diablo 4. Many Diablo fans see it as a refuge from a rough patch for Blizzard’s latest that included a disastrous reception for the first season and a generally disappointing response to what followed.

However, it is important to note that Last era has been in development for quite some time. The first free-to-play demo was released in 2018 alongside a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. In that sense, it can’t exactly be framed as a response to Diablo 4which wasn’t revealed until late 2019 or released until June 2023. For the developers at Eleventh Hour: Last era is presumably a pure expression of what they want this particular brand of action role-playing game to be.

We’ve been here before. Diablo 3 had a very difficult first year, its 2012 launch overshadowed by login issues, a hugely unpopular real money auction house and a flamboyant art style that many fans felt betrayed the stark style of Diablo 2. Some of the game design was also controversial. Character classes had no skill trees and players were given complete freedom to swap their skills and skill-changing additions, allowing them to redesign their builds on the fly without penalty. It was a radical approach that prioritized flexibility over complexity, and alienated players who liked to feel like their decisions had consequences.

It’s hardly cartoonish, but Last era‘s art style is quite vibrant and bright.
Image: Eleventh Hour Games

In 2013, Grinding Gear Games was released Path of exilea game as gruesome and monochromatic as Diablo 3 was colorful and decorated with huge, spiraling skill trees in which you could lose yourself. Many players felt it was a true successor to Diablo 2 and flocked to it, and it remained popular even afterward Diablo 3 had gathered with an excellent expansion and console version.

More than ten years later, it is funny to see that the story has (partially) been reversed. Diablo 3 It is remembered fondly now, while the sequel to the series that Blizzard made in response is receiving harsh criticism. Diablo 4 is a dark game with gloomy images and a grim atmosphere Last era goes for a more traditional high-fantasy vibe, with a bright, vibrant setting. Last era is a much friendlier game then Path of exile and is clearly concerned with approachability, such as Diablo 3 used to be. Last era even clings to some features of Diablo 3‘s design that Diablo 4 rejected, as did the almost groundbreaking healing statistic. It’s as if Blizzard and the indies working in the same genre are doomed to chase each other’s tails as they circle the fickle tastes of the player base.

However, that’s not quite the full story. There’s one way in which Blizzard and the action-RPG indies remain pretty firmly on opposite sides of a philosophical divide when it comes to flexibility.

What players especially love Last era is the skill customization system, the sheer diversity of builds, and the sense of creativity in character customization that this brings. The classes themselves – Sentinel, Mage, Rogue, Acolyte and Primalist – initially look a lot like the Diablo 2 And 4 starting lineups, although each can be further specialized into three subclasses. Additionally, each skill in the game has its own extensive skill tree, allowing you to tinker with your skills at a granular level as you invest points over time. From a very familiar starting point, the theory goes, you can end up almost anywhere.

This was essentially the promise of Path of exile – and to some extent Diablo 4. The fact that Diablo 4 This promise never quite delivered is part of the ongoing frustration of the player base. It’s all too easy to fall into certain popular builds, feel like you’re following a preset path, or shrug when faced with uninspiring skill adjustments.

A complex skill tree for a single skill (Ballista, level 20) shows how deep customization goes in Last Epoch

This is the skill tree for a single skill in Last era; there are over 100 in the game.
Image: Eleventh Hour Games

But part of the reason Blizzard struggles to give the player meaningful control over its skill design is that it’s so strong and so full of personality. This is a legacy of Diablo 3 – and maybe of World of Warcraft too – where the designers’ focus was less on giving the player minute control over their build and more on giving them an interchangeable kit with distinctive abilities in different categories – damage, defense, movement, situational – that play well together work in. Blizzard yes brilliant at this point, so if the players messed around with these designs too much it would defeat the point.

To play Last eraI noticed that while the game plays very smoothly, the early skills of the classes lack the flavor, punch, and distinctive utility that Blizzard provides. You can undoubtedly find these qualities in the skill trees, but the sense of authorship among the developers is missing. The same goes for the game’s art, which is polished but generic and lacks not only the production values ​​but also the strong character and atmosphere of Blizzard’s work.

Last era is fine – I’d recommend it to fans of hack-and-slash RPGs – but it sacrifices some of its own sophistication and personality on the altar of player choice. I do not like Diablo 4 neither, and I think that’s because it tries to deny its own more scripted nature, resulting in a lot of very lackluster adaptations, as opposed to the smaller number of more impactful choices offered by Diablo 3. A problem for both games is of course that Diablo 3 is still there, and it’s still great. (So ​​in that respect yes Diablo 2.)

The bigger question may be why this subgenre remains so enthralled by the Diablo games and stuck in a cycle of litigating over design and aesthetic choices within a very narrow spectrum. There needs to be more available for action RPGs – more of the varied worlds and innovative designs referenced in games like Titans quest And Torchlight.

But that’s not how things are meant to be, it seems. We have our Diablo, and we have his reflection, our Non-Diablo. That’s how it was before and that’s how it will be again.