A Torchlight MMO is something that has been rumored for a long time. The idea harkens back to the days before the first Torchlight game was released by Runic Games, serving as an introduction to this fantasy world before development on an MMO was started.
Fast-forward a decade or so and here we are: Runic Games is no more. However, it lives in spirit within Echtra Games, a new studio that is finally developing the long-desired Torchlight MMO, or Torchlight Frontiers, as it was blissfully introduced to the gaming world. It has all the makings of an MMO and feels like a natural evolution for the series: from the single-player thrills of the first game to the co-op riot of the sequel, and now the next step is the MMO enterprise of the third game. Sounds like the perfect plan… that is, if we choose to ignore the substantial setbacks that reared their ugly faces along the way.
Looting Is My Business… and Business Is Good!
I’ll start off by mentioning one of the latest features to be introduced during the Torchlight Frontiers alpha: the Contracts system. This is a system akin to the battle-passes that you usually see in Battle Royale games. You have two reward tracks, with one of them unlocked and the other one being a premium reward track. Completing contracts will increase your Fame experience level and unlock all kinds of rewards. This is the place where you should go for unpredictable missions that deviate from the straightforward story-based campaign – although there is nothing linear about Torchlight Frontiers’ bold approach to progression.
Instead of pushing you through a linear progression system such as the ones seen in countless other MMORPGs, Torchlight Frontiers offers you a choice right at the start: the Goblin Frontier or the Hyvid Frontier. Your hero, chosen from the two classes currently on offer (Dusk Mage and Forged), will see his experience level increasing independently, according to the path that you take. As an example, this way you can be a level 15 character in the Goblin Frontier and level 5 in the Hyvid Frontier. This dichotomy opens a range of possibilities and freedom that is severely lacking in other games of the genre.
The twist is that the gear you collect is aligned with the frontier where you earned it. So, your frontier level determines the level of the gear that you may use, with the caveat that the Goblin Frontier gear won’t be suited to other biomes, and the same works for the opposite as well. If you insist in doing so, this results in severely underperforming gear, ensuring that the early levels of other frontiers remain somewhat challenging and worthwhile. As you progress, it’s inevitable to steadily switch to gear from your current frontier, as the challenge intensifies, and you must adapt to survive.
In practice, this frontier system can provide variety and optional routes for you to evolve in case things get particularly tough in one place or another. But it is also a much-coveted escape path in case you want to discover new enemies, new gear or just complete a series of contracts to clear your mind from a given obstacle. So far, I haven’t stumbled across any insurmountable challenges, but there were a couple of occasions when the opposing forces were so numerous that I found myself trapped amidst a barrage of gnarly netherling teeth and goblin clubbing, with no chance of escape. I’m not ashamed to admit that making a run for it when the going gets tough is a valuable strategy. Live to fight another day and all that.
Don’t get too comfy with all the loot coming your way. Your inventory isn’t too skimpy, but the amount of loot left in the battlefield during your average daily journey is probably enough to make a pile as tall as the Empire State Building. Your loyal pet serves as a secondary inventory and you can send him to town to sell unnecessary loot and earn a few coins in the process.
Changing gear sets is made easier with the help the Wardrobe system. A couple of clicks should take you to your Fort, where you have access to a multitude of options such as this one. Serving as the housing system of Torchlight Frontiers, your Fort has a shared stash, the Mapworks device (used to access additional missions and possibly new endgame content) and the structure where you can unlock new skills and upgrade them, among several other functional or cosmetic options.
What Lies Beneath
Were it not for the looming shadow of the frightful progress wipe, Torchlight Frontiers would already be one of my action RPGs of choice. It doesn’t break any new ground in terms of gameplay, but it is designed to addict in a way that only the best loot-driven hack and slash games can do. It’s compelling to the point where you begin wondering if you should give your wrist some much-deserved rest or suck it up as you stride on, eager to complete a couple more missions.
WASD control would be a godsend for Torchlight Frontiers, providing a vital alternate control scheme for many players. I, for one, would undoubtedly favor it over the current click-to-move option where it’s not unusual to find yourself attacking an enemy close-by when you only wanted to take a step back. This control method is allegedly being worked on and it is in my opinion crucially important to the ambitions of Torchlight Frontiers. Another upcoming action RPG, Wargaming’s Pagan Online, is straight up going for WASD as its main control scheme.
The randomized dungeons will always provide a different set of challenges, although I have a couple of quibbles about it. The first one concerns the length of the dungeons, something that could turn out to be a slight problem when you don’t want to give up halfway through. It’s not easy to determine whether you should venture forth or hold on for the next day, and a previous patch already reduced the length of a handful of dungeons, which means that I am not alone in this regard.
The other annoying aspect is based on the randomization system itself. It’s not unusual to find yourself threading familiar ground and wondering if you’re not going in circles. Sometimes the layout feels too coldly engineered and could use an additional human touch to avoid severe repetition. After several hours exploring the same seemingly bottomless caves and infested toxic forests, it can get exhausting.
But those are pretty much all the complaints that I have for now. There is a disconcerting lack of good free-to-play hack and slash games and we’re yet to see if Diablo Immortal will ever find its spot as a proper Diablo-like game for longtime fans of the series. Quite a paradox, to say the least, but it couldn’t be more accurate.
As for Torchlight Frontiers, it’s shaping up to be the logical evolution for the series and the perfect embodiment of everything that makes a good hack and slash game. It has tons of loot, boss battles, crafting, an innovative progression system and an irrefutable potential to cause carpal tunnel syndrome. If that’s not a sign of a promising action RPG, then I don’t know what is.