Torchlight Frontiers: Alpha Report

The weekend before last I was invited to an early Alpha test for Torchlight Frontiers. This Alpha invitation came along with an NDA, but it was only mentioned that you couldn’t post pictures or video of the game, but they didn’t say I couldn’t write about it, so here we are.

I jumped in on that Saturday and got down to business. As of now, there were only two character classes to choose from, a mage type and a melee class that is a steam punk robot of sorts. There was the first “frontier” to explore, this one dealing mostly with Goblins. Apparently each of these frontiers will feature different mobs but also different sorts of resistances you’ll need to success, and this is where their “horizontal progression” stems from. You’ll have to gear up differently for each frontier, which means you’ll have to have different gear sets for each area of the game. Or so that’s how it’s been presented thus far.

Graphically you can tell this is still a Torchlight game, though it does seem to be more of a hand drawn art style rather than a low poly one like the original two games. I liked the look of the game, the areas were interesting and there was a decent variety of mobs. There were plenty of other people running around killing things too, and this feels like the closest thing to Marvel Heroes that we’ll have now that Marvel Heroes is gone. I wasn’t a huge fan of that particular title, but I did play it a bit and it has that same feeling of playing alone but having a bunch of other people running around the same area do similar things. I imagine there will be grouping and public events too, but we’ll see.

Server stability was the only real issue I had. When I would run into others there was some lag, but it wasn’t anything too terrible. I honestly don’t know if it was the server or my Internet, so I’m not going to knock them for it.

My overall opinion of the game is that it looks solid, but I didn’t really put that much time into it. I’m sure in further Alpha tests there will be more to check out. I didn’t really care for the classes on offer and hope that there are some more interesting ones next time. I did like the idea of your own fort where you can get new vendors and things so you have a home base of sorts. This would be optimal for storing all of that gear you’ll need for different areas of the game. It would be nice to have guild functionality as well so that you could meet up with friends and do things together with your base as a starting point. I’m sure we’ll see more developments as time goes on, but for now it looks like a promising title.

Invited to the Torchlight Frontiers Alpha

Along with Isey and others, I was invited to the Torchlight Frontiers Alpha test this weekend. I must have missed the official announcement that they were going to be doing some alpha stress testing, but you can see that here. I took notice when I received the email that gave me a code to install the game:

It hasn’t been that long since I first mentioned the game, having heard about it a few months back. Since then there has been chatter about what the devs intended to do via horizontal progression and whatnot. I have been intrigued for a while, and with Blizzard blowing off Diablo IV in favor of the mobile Diablo Immortal, I have to find my ARPG fix elsewhere. I’ve been pinning my hopes on this title since then, and I’m hoping to get some time in over the weekend to check it out!

Installation requires a download of Perfect World’s “Arc” launcher, which hosts other games like Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, but was something that I didn’t have installed. It seems to have improved a bit since I last used it, but otherwise looks similar to Battle.net or Steam. I hate having a launcher installed for a single game, but it is what it is.

I’ll be sharing my impressions of the game after the weekend. There is an NDA, but it only says that you can’t post photos or video of the game, which means you’ll get a wall of text impression post, but I will share my thoughts nonetheless. Apparently my account name is built4sin82 (same as on PSN), so I assume you can add that as a friend if you want to try and play together this weekend. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll play but drop me a line if you want to try and meet up.

On Horizontal Progression

A little over a month ago, I first jotted down some thoughts about the upcoming MMO Torchlight Frontiers, a game many of us thought would never see the light of day. I signed up for the beta, which we have no idea when will happen, but this also means being subscribed to their newsletter, and the first new tidbits of information have started to trickle through. The email I received linked to a post on the Arc Games website, which makes sense due to this being a game produced by Perfect World, and Arc being their launcher.

The article in question is about how Torchlight Frontiers will have “horizontal progression.” You can read the full story there, but I have cherry picked some interesting points because this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In most MMOs, or RPGs for that matter, there is always a sort of vertical progression, in that you’ll gain levels of experience opening up new gear and new areas of the game, but this all comes to a screeching halt once you’ve hit the level cap. Then we’ll be subject to the developers’ ideas of what “end game content” should be. Sometimes these activities can be amazing, and other times things are too systematic and boring. In games like the original Everquest, the level cap stayed the same for a very long time, and things like Alternate Advancement points could be earned to still give a sense of progression, but without negating parts of the end game once a new expansion came out. In other titles like World of Warcraft, you’ll see things like Garrisons or Artifact Weapons being introduced just to be thrown in the garbage bin during the next expansion. Echtra Games is attempting to get away from this model.

We’ve come to call the approach “Horizontal Progression.” Horizontal progression is not a specific feature, it’s a way of looking at power growth that creates a great game for the long term. For each feature we think about how it will grow both vertically and horizontally. When this works, there are some big benefits: ​

  • New content doesn’t invalidate past progress
  • Players can specialize characters in a wider variety of ways, for a wider variety of content
  • Players have fun reasons to play all over the world, not just the “end game”
  • Players at different levels/progression have lots of ways to play together that are rewarding for everyone

These bullet points are key, and I think they have the right ideas when it comes to trying to build a world that has progression, but doesn’t throw other bits out the window just for the sake of a level cap increase. It sounds like specialization will equate to having some sort of alternate advancement system, most likely skill points in various trees. There’s also some scaling tech being used to help these systems to work and allow people new to the game to play with veterans.

We achieve this with the magic of dynamic gear scaling. It’s a trick I first saw in Guild Wars 2 and I loved how it kept the whole world interesting and rewarding to play in for me even at max level. In Torchlight Frontiers your high level gear is dynamically scaled down in power when you enter lower level zones. You keep your skills and affixes, but your stats come down enough to keep the gameplay entertaining.

Scaling is also used to reinforce the “different progression” feeling when playing in different Frontiers. Gear that drops in Goblin Frontier is aligned to that Frontier (you can see it clearly in the tooltip) and it scales favorably when moving around that Frontier. You’re a bit ahead of the monsters’ level.

Take that same gear to the Hyvid Frontier and it scales worse – you’re behind the monsters’ level. You have some useful stats, but it’s clearly better to start collecting gear from the local Frontier if you want to progress at a good pace.

Gear scaling is an interesting idea, but scaling isn’t something new. Clearly they have drawn inspiration from Guild Wars 2, but we’ve seen similar concepts in games like The Elder Scrolls Online. I like the idea of “Frontiers” which sound sort of like Diablo III‘s end game content, but where each is dependent on different stats and thereby different gear so each Frontier will feel like it has its own progression without needing to scale arbitrary levels. The post goes on to tease about other ways these systems will work together to fulfill the horizontal progression goal.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a bunch of big features and details about the game we want to share. At this early stage we want to get the vision for the game across so players can see where we’re going with things like “no levels” and Frontiers and dynamic scaling. The next few features we reveal will build on this foundation I’ve just laid out. We have so much more to tell you! It’s not just gear that we’re designing to support “different power”; we have lots more ways you’ll collect tools to help tackle the challenges of Torchlight Frontiers.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. I’m curious to see just what other features they are looking to implement, but thus far it all sounds very promising. This is also wrapped up in an Action-RPG package, and these games tend to be pretty addictive in and of themselves. My only concern here is if there will be enough to set Torchlight Frontiers apart from other successful ARPGs — Diablo III does feel like its nearing the end of its lifespan, but games like Path of Exile are still going strong and have dedicated playerbases. If they can find the right mixture of new features and exciting gameplay I think we might have a damn fine game on our hands. We’ll have to keep an eye on it.

Thoughts on Torchlight Frontiers

It’s been almost a decade since the first Torchlight released on Steam. It essentially boiled down to being a typical Action RPG in the vein of games like Diablo or Fate, and borrowed ideas from other ARPGS on the market. It was a little more light-hearted and colorful than its brethren, and had some interesting ideas. It’s sequel expanded upon its established formula, and both were well received by gamers and critics alike. I played both, and enjoyed both though I think the sequel was a little bit more polished. Each had some nice ideas like having a pet that not only helped you in combat but could also be sent back to town to sell unwanted loot. There was an endless dungeon mode that gave some replay ability, and the ability to retire characters and pass on goodies to a new one. For the most part it wasn’t so much that Torchlight did things differently than other games in the genre that set it apart, it just did everything well and was nice and polished. It also came during the time frame between Diablo II and III, so there was room for other developers to get their idea of what an ARPG should be out into the marketplace.

It was rumored that the developers were working on an MMO version of the game for some time, but that pipe dream was essentially squashed and if I remember correctly the original development company went under or was swallowed by another company. Whatever the case, the MMO wasn’t going to happen and we also weren’t going to see another game in the series. So it goes. Then at a recent gaming convention, we got the announcement that in fact there is an MMO version of the game in development right now! What?

The video shows off a variety of classes doing typical ARPG things, but it looks just like the Torchlight of old and that isn’t a bad thing in this case. Apparently the publisher is Perfect World (which doesn’t sound great) but the developers Echtra Games seem to be industry vets that are passionate about the project, so there’s that. This does seem to be the only game they are working on according to their website, but at least they’ll be able to focus. Let’s just hope their MMO company overlords don’t rush out a shitty project. Also, you can sign up for the beta here, I’ve already done so. It also appears that the game will be coming to both PC and Console, but these types of games don’t play so well with a controller, so I’d recommend getting it for PC.

I’m curious to see what happens. I enjoyed the class selection of the first two games, but it appears that the classes in the video are completely different. I’m not sure how this will be an MMO though, outside of playing like Marvel Heroes? I can see larger hubs where people break off into groups to grind out dungeons, or maybe it will be just like Diablo III where there’s global chat and only a handful of players playing together. I guess time will tell, but I’m looking forward to getting more information about this one for sure!