Torchlight Frontiers’ Horizontal Progression System is a Potential Game Changer

The first couple of Torchlight games were some of the best examples shaped by the Diablo school of action RPGs. As far as hack-and-slash titles go, you can’t go wrong with this series if you want a game that is easy to pick up, a blast to play, offers hours on end of content and plenty of exciting loot.

When Perfect World Entertainment announced the closure of Runic Games, I died a little inside. The developer of the acclaimed series was no more, and while there was some vague reassurance about future titles in this franchise, who would eventually carry the torch? As it turns out, Torchlight Frontiers was announced as the first game developed by a new studio, Echtra Games, founded by Max Schaefer, former co-founder of Runic Games. It all seems to come full circle.

Torchlight Frontiers represents the next step in the series, learning from the previous games while venturing deeper into online territory. Torchlight 2 had amazing multiplayer co-op, and it’s no secret that, for years, Runic Games sought to take the series into MMO territory. The plan was eventually put on the back burner, but clearly it was never forgotten.

There is a fundamental reason for all the excitement surrounding Torchlight Frontiers. It’s not the accomplished art style, nor the exciting combat that it luckily has inherited from past titles; the real reason lies on the Torchlight Frontiers’ horizontal progression system that aims to change the way that players delve through content in an MMO.

In most MMOs, your challenge consists of going through the game in the customary means, a vertical system, let’s put it that way. You level up your character, become stronger and ultimately reach the endgame, the place where you belong from then on. Past content soon becomes obsolete, irrelevant, leaving you with no reason at all to return to old dungeons or raids and one-shot hordes of poor, defenseless enemies. Echtra Games wants to give you a good motive to go back to previously explored locations and have fun doing it, while still finding it somewhat challenging and, above all, picking up some valuable loot and gold along the way. As the developers said it, it’s not about sitting on top of a powerful mountain, but more about building different kinds of power that will have a purpose through the entire game and not just endgame.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system

But how will they achieve this? Through a system that focuses on each specific area – the Frontiers from the title – and the tools that are best suited to succeed in these areas. Dynamic gear scaling is the name of the ‘magic trick,’ and Guild Wars 2 players may be able to identify its inner workings. To put it simply, your gear is temporarily scaled down accordingly to the lower level zone that you will be tackling. This is made in a way that retains some sort of challenge as to not feel like a boring task, and you won’t be wasting your time as you can still earn some precious rewards such as gold and skill points – don’t expect any rare gear or materials, but there will be enough to keep you coming back for more.

Not only that, but this system is also a great way to team up with a friend that joined the game late and is still going through the earlier areas. This way, you can join your friend in zones where your characters behave in similar ways, despite you being way more powerful when all is said and done. Your friend levels up, you get some nice extra rewards – it’s a win-win situation.

However, it wouldn’t be fair if your superior character was reduced to the level of any other new Torchlight Frontiers player, and this is where the dynamic gear scaling system plays another interesting card. Each zone drops specific equipment and it is up to you to use it in your favor. For example, the gear that you earned playing in the Goblin Frontier is aligned to that frontier, so you will be scaled favorably against the creatures in that area. On the other hand, use that same gear in the Hyvid Frontier and it will scale worse, as the monsters in the area are aligned to a different set of equipment. The scaling differences are slight, but as you surely know by now they can make all the difference when you are facing a powerful boss. Changing gear is extremely simple, with the press of a button taking you through the various sets at your disposal.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system - classes

Torchlight Frontiers is a game with no levels, so your power relies on your equipment sets, your pet’s abilities, your active and passive skills and a couple of other things that Echtra Games is keeping close to its chest.

There are a few other things that the Torchlight Frontiers developers are keeping secret, including the highly anticipated character classes. Apart from some glimpses from the announcement trailer, there is very little to no info on the classes apart from the two that were officially shown: Dusk Mage and Forged. Fingers crossed for a reasonable number of classes at launch, as the meager four from Torchlight 2 simply won’t cut it in a game with MMO ambitions.

The Dusk Mage (apparently classes aren’t gender-locked, thankfully) is a magic-based character with powers split between light and dark. The former is comprised of accurate and sharp shots, while the latter lean towards a disordered area-of-effect style of attacks. As for the Forged, this is an inventive four-legged automaton and the first fully robotic class in the series. It is capable of firing missiles as well as using a sword to swipe enemies up close, and is able to change its parts just like the other classes change their equipment. The interesting bit comes with the heat gauge, which replaces the mana sphere from other classes. Using skills increases heat, and when it is full, you must vent steam with a scorching area-of-effect attack. It’s a curious mix of regular skills and releasing steam that needs to be carefully balanced to obtain the best results.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system - goblin with mount

With its resolute goal of finding a place in the ever tough MMO market, Torchlight Frontiers tries its best to bring something new to the genre. However, you can expect to find some tried-and-tested mechanics as well, including instanced dungeons where you will find the precious loot and deadly enemies. The definitive number of players that will compose a party is yet to be revealed, but four is the figure that is currently thrown around for good measure and to keep the playfield from becoming too cluttered. While in the persistent towns, the number of players radically increases in pure MMO fashion, with all the interactions that you can expect, including shopping around, gathering and crafting.

Perfect World Entertainment has a catalogue where free-to-play games abound, but also operates some buy-to-play games such as Livelock. When asked about the business model for Torchlight Frontiers, the publisher wasn’t ready to reveal any details, postponing such info for a later date. I can see Torchlight Frontiers working with any of the business models, if the inevitable cash shop is faultlessly tailored to each scenario.

Torchlight Frontiers is scheduled for 2019 on PC first and soon followed by PS4 and Xbox One releases.

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