Let me begin by noting that I, probably like most other people, do not play ARPGs for their riveting stories. There may be a small group of zealous Blizzard fans out there who genuinly believe that Diablo is a groundbreaking work of literary art. But I think most people approach the genre’s storytelling contributions in a somewhat more sober manner.
Having said that, even though I don’t consider storytelling to be the main point of an ARPG, I would still say that it’s important to provide a palpatable background setting for the player’s actions, if only to mask the underlying treadmill. In general, I would also say that Last Epoch does this without any major hiccups. In fact, in the relatively small universe of modern ARPGs, Last Epoch probably features the background setting that I dislike the least. The time travel schtick works for me and is nicely integrated into the gameplay and so forth. Overall, I think the game provides just the right amount of narrative context to keep pushing you forward and without ever becoming too intrusive or otherwise taking away from the game’s core mechanics.
But there was one particular story scene that just made me feel embarassed for even having the game installed on my computer.
The scene in question comes early in the divine era story arc. I had just spent a good chunk of game time trawling through some grim dark necropolis, culminating in a failed attempt to kill the Immortal Emperor, since Yulia apparently can’t plan a coup d’etat for shit. Yulia kindly asks me to enter a portal to the past and meet up with her younger self in order to clean up the mess. So far nothing too offensive. I enter the portal.
And next thing I know, there were talking elks and eagles all over the place and I was being sent to fetch some sort of mystical moose lance in order to save the world from assured destruction. All presented through some truly obnoxious sunday morning cartoon styled voice acting. Did Yulia perhaps accidentally send me to Eterra’s annual furry convention? I had seen some vague references to gods taking on animal forms during the loading screens, but this whole animal party really came out of left field to me and felt out of place with everything else that had occurred in the game up until that point.
I think you could smooth over the transition to the divine era in a variety of ways. For example, since we also start in the divine era, you could have the evil bird dude blaze by at the edge of the screen during one of the first few maps, with the player character briefly remarking “that must be the evil bird dude on his way to do evil bird stuff.” This would signal to the player that these sorts of characters are a natural part of the game world from the outset. I’m not asking for a massive exposition dump. But before returning to the divine era, you spend quite a lot of time in a fairly consistent grim dark setting, and the sudden switch to a more fantastical setting with talking animals really didn’t work for me.
The rest of the divine era wasn’t too bad. Lagon’s temple was a good finale and felt more in-theme than the aforementioned story setup. Whoever thought to add the “ho ho ho” as you enter the temple should probably get a raise; it set a much better tone for the encounter than the not-so-dramatic demise of the elk god, whose name I can’t even remember at this point (elks are for eating, not for worshipping).
Cautiously looking forward to the introduction of the desert god, who I’ve now noted is apparently a snake.