Not So Massively: Lessons Torchlight Frontiers can take from its predecessors

    
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Torchlight Frontiers is a game I’ve gradually been developing some genuine hype for – as has our team here at MOP, in light of the fact that the game’s taken a most anticipated award for the last few years. I’d never played the previous games, but Frontiers looks to be doing some really interesting things with its non-linear world and horizontal progression.

As a result, I recently played through the original Torchlight games, and that experience, coupled with Chris’ recent playthrough of the game for Choose My Adventure, has given me some ideas for how I’d like to see Frontiers go, and mistakes I’d like to see it avoid.

More world-building

I was originally going to say “more story” here, but that’s not quite right. Neither of the previous Torchlight games was particularly story-driven, and I don’t expect that to completely change now. I don’t think Torchlight Frontiers is the right game for an epic, involved plotline, especially given the non-linear nature of its world.

But it does feel like fertile ground for some interesting lore and world-building. The original Torchlight was pretty much just a mindless combat arc, but Torchlight II introduced us to a much bigger world and offered tantalizing glimpses of exotic cultures and rich history.

Let’s expand on that. Let’s learn more about the culture of the Estherians and the history of the Zeraphi. Let’s find out what happened to the Dwarves. These are things that can explored with local quests, lore collectibles, and NPC dialogue. That’s the kind of story-telling that Torchlight is suited for.

The previous Torchlight games were largely combat-focused, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The setting is capable of more. It can deepen its artistry without compromising its identity as a light-hearted action game.

More classes

One recurring issue with the Torchlight games is its small selection of classes. The first had only three, none of them particularly original in concept. The second did better with four classes, and those classes were a lot more fun and inventive, but it’s still a bit limited (unless you’re willing to dip into the modding scene).

Frontiers has three classes right now, with a fourth confirmed on the way. I am very impressed with the creativity on display by the current classes, but I do hope that the game doesn’t stop at four. That’s still too limited a selection for my taste. If it were up to me, I’d like to see the game launch with at least five classes and hopefully add more after launch.

Something the game is missing right now is an archer or ranger style class. The robotic Forged class does have a ranged weapon build, but it just doesn’t hit the same notes aesthetically.

A proper summoner class would also be appreciated. The Railmaster appears to be the main pet class at the moment, but you know me – I don’t want to settle for just one pet. I want a small army.

To be honest, I’d be quite happy if they just imported the Outlander class from Torchlight II wholesale into Frontiers. Bows, summoning, dark magic, support abilities. It was very nearly my perfect RPG class.

New classes could also be a way to deepen the world-building I mentioned above. The Forged proves that the developers are perfectly willing to make non-humans playable, and adding Estherian or Zeraphi classes would be a great way to explore their cultures. I could see a Zeraphi class as an agile melee archetype with desert and magitech themes, whereas the Estherians are a natural fit (hurr hurr) for a druid class.

A better skill tree

Torchlight‘s skill trees are possibly my biggest recurring complaint about the series. I’ve never been a fan of traditional skill trees, and these games demonstrate why.

Torchlight II, in particular, seemed determined to embody the absolute worst in traditional skill trees. Many skills need a large number of points sunk into them for them to even be useful. The entire thing is level-gated six ways from Sunday. And the respec option is extremely limited. I wound up with a whole bunch of skill points invested into abilities I had taken only because I had nothing better to spend my points on at the time thanks to the level-gating, and because of the limited respecs, I couldn’t get those points back.

What I’ve seen of Frontiers‘ skill tree at the moment doesn’t look quite that obnoxious, but it doesn’t look particularly appealing, either. The continued level-gating of skills is particularly worrisome.

In a perfect world, I’d like to see the entire skill tree thrown out and replaced with something more like World of Warcraft‘s current trees, or maybe Diablo III‘s system. I’m not sure how realistic that is at the current stage of development, but at the very least it would be nice to see the gating removed, and hopefully the tuning will be such that skills feel powerful and impactful even with just one point invested in them. Future skill ranks can then feel more like a bonus than something you need to achieve for skills to be useful.

The return of directional play

The Torchlight games are fun and well-made, but they’re also pretty much by the numbers ARPGs. If you ask me to name something about them that’s uniquely appealing, not a lot comes to mind.

But one thing that stands out about the classes I’ve played in both games — Vanquisher and Outlander — is that both played with directional abilities in a way that most games don’t. In particular both classes feature skills with piercing, ricocheting projectiles, and that opened up some really fun ways to interact with enemies and the terrain that most ARPGs don’t offer. With the right positioning, I could get my projectiles to pierce enemies, hit the wall behind them, and then ricochet back to hit the same enemies again. If I got really lucky, I could even box enemies in a corner and get my projectiles bouncing back and forth repeatedly for ruinous damage.

That’s fun, and that’s different, and that’s something Frontiers should definitely bring back, if not expand on.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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Mykal Quinn

I agree that the skill tree in its current iteration needs some work, maybe unlocking higher tiers a wee bit faster so I can try out skills. There definitely needs to be an easier way to respec tho, like how ESO does it with a currency cost per point spent.

Now the main issue I have with the game is the time-to-kill for elite enemies. It takes me like 3-6 seconds to kill trash enemies but takes several minutes to kill elites I come across, more so if they’re gobs that run away. I’ve started to not even bother fighting them now.

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Kevin Smith

I have enjoyed Frontiers. The game has come a long way since the first alpha. They have been listening to the testers an actually making changes based on feedback. That says a lot about the devs an game to me personally. I much prefer the new take on the skills over what we had in the earlier alphas. It was so restrictive in the beginning an I hated having to choose between armor an skills.

I can agree with not gating skills behind levels. With that said I do think there needs to be a factor that makes you feel like you are learning an growing the more you play. A decent way to do that would be have all skills unlocked from the start but only have one slot open to use an open more as you level. Let people pick the skill they want from the get go instead of playing levels just to get the skill they wanted.

Overall I think they are doing a great job, had issues with the open areas, don’t think this game needs that type of multiplayer. Just making it an option to group instead of forcing areas with others would have been better. Makes completing quest in the earlier areas a lot harder because of competition for mobs. They did address this by increasing mob density an respawn but that can be overwhelming sometimes if you start a new character so kinda a give an take. I don’t play ARPG to play with others those are my get away from others type of games when I need me time, just a personal preference.

Really want to see this game do great as this IP one of my favorite space out an just kill mobs kind of games. To be honest I don’t know if they did reach out or not to the guy that did the Synergies mods for torchlight 2 but they should have if they didn’t. His stuff totally changed that game for me an added so much to most of the community.

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McGuffn

Frontiers did have a system sort of similar to D3, but they took it out and replaced it with the tiresome skill tree.

The biggest lesson Frontiers can take from the previous iterations is to not be boring. And the game is currently boring and unfun to play.