Not So Massively: Meet the new Torchlight, same as the old Torchlight

Torchlight III is disappointingly not an MMO. Was Frontiers all for nothing?

    
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Last week brought the bombshell announcement that the MMOARPG Torchlight: Frontiers has been rebooted as simply Torchlight III, a more traditional ARPG with single-player and co-op modes. The dream of a Torchlight MMO is dead.

Some people are understandably shocked at this, but now that there’s been some time for the dust to settle, let’s take a more measured look at this news. Why did this happen, and what does it mean for fans?

Firstly, if you’re the sort of person who is interested only in MMOs, this is only bad news. I, however, am not that kind of person. I play a lot of MMOs, but I wouldn’t call myself an MMO-only gaming fan per se. I’m a fan of good games period. Some are MMOs; some are not. How many players a game can support in one space is not an objective measure of quality; how multiplayer a game should be is subjective to each title.

The developers claim this change was made in response to feedback from alpha testers, and while I don’t find that an entirely implausible claim, I suspect it has more to do with publisher Perfect World Entertainment not wanting Frontiers to compete too heavily with its other MMOARPG, Magic: Legends (which looks really cool, guys).

Regardless of the reasoning, for me the question here is does this make Torchlight III a better or worse game. Obviously we can’t know for certain until it launches, but we can make some educated guesses.

The first and most obvious change is the reduction in the multiplayer elements in the game. Most zones are now private by default, so it seems you’ll only encounter other random players in hub zones. If you’re adventuring alongside other people, it will be people you chose to group with.

Some may disagree, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. It’s possibly even a positive. From the sound of things, you can still group with your friends as much as you want. That kind of socializing is intact.

All you’re missing out on is encountering random strangers out in the world. The value of that in a PvE themepark is dubious at the best of times, and in ARPGs in particular throwing too many random people into an open world zone just turns an already chaotic genre into a baffling mess of flashing spell effects and spraying loot.

What I’m less pleased with is the removal of the non-linear progression promised by Frontiers in favor of vertical progression and a standard act structure. Frontiers‘ horizontal progression sounded unusual, and I’m not sure how well it would have panned out in practice, but we badly need new ideas in this genre, and we won’t get it if developers keep playing it safe. Shifting from horizontal to vertical progression is definitely a disappointment.

Furthermore, story-telling has never been Torchlight‘s strong suit, and I question PWE’s ability to deliver a compelling linear narrative, especially one that’s been shoe-horned in so late in the development cycle. This setting would have been much better for small-scale, stand-alone stories to flesh out the world and its characters. That’s something a non-linear MMO could have done better than a more traditional RPG like Torchlight III has become.

Let’s shift back to the positive: Offering a purely offline mode does have its advantages, the most obvious being players will now have the option to play Torchlight III even without an internet connection. Useful for those days when your modem decides it’s had it with life.

An offline mode also means the potential for mods. I’m not much of a mod guy, so it doesn’t matter much to me, but I know many people are very passionate about modding and that previous Torchlight games did have a thriving mod scene. This will undoubtedly be good news to someone.

The patch that introduced these changes to Torchlight III‘s alpha also added the fourth class, the Sharpshooter. As a class-focused on bows and magical artifacts, it sounds a lot like my beloved Outlander from Torchlight II, which is pretty much exactly what I wanted from the next class.

However, this is confirmed to be the last class to be added before launch, and that’s disappointing. Four classes is not exactly a robust selection, no matter how original they may be. Worse still, if this is not to be an MMO, then the odds of many new classes being added post-launch are low.

That brings me to my next point: post-launch support. For me, perhaps the single greatest appeal of an MMO is its persistence and growth. It’s wonderful to be able to keep coming back to a game you love as it expands and evolves, rather than just moving on once you’ve finished it.

Now that we know Torchlight III is going to be more like its predecessors, it seems unlikely we’ll get much support after the game launches. If we’re lucky, we might get one or two DLCs or expansions, but that’s nothing compared to the years of ongoing content updates and improvements a true MMORPG would see.

In my opinion, taking all factors into account, I think the conversion from MMO to Torchlight III is more bad than good, and I do find myself a bit disappointed. I won’t necessarily miss the multiplayer aspects, but it’s always sad to see a developer back off from innovative designs.

However, there are silver linings. Many of the changes are bad, but not all of them, and the core of the game still looks really fun. I don’t think it’s fair to say the sky is falling. It’s become a less promising game, but it’s still a promising game, and I’m still interested in playing it, though it may not be a day one purchase for me.

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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NecroFox4

The literally took ALL of the things that would have made this title interesting and fresh and new in some ways, and tossed them. They are now simply re-hashing the same exact game that they have already made not once, but twice.

No thanks. I’m not rewarding their bait-and-switch for a second time.

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flying_dutchman

Lilkely for the best….. Honestly i was pretty excited for this game but I honestly expected it to flop.

It’ll be moderately underwhelming as TLIII, but at least it wont be terrible and sun-set six-months after launch.

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Sarah Cushaway

Yeah what little interest I had is now gone. TL2 wasn’t a great ARPG compared to something like POE or Grim Dawn anyway, so why would I want to repeat the experience? It doesn’t sound like anything that new or innovative is being added, so meh?

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kjempff

I can’t decide if Torchlight or Titan quest have been the most boring arpgs that I have played. Even Devillian was better.
Anyways, continuing that kind of same same simplistic style of game is not something I can get excited for..not that Torchlight could not get turned into an interesting game in theory, I mean nothing to hinder that…except continuing the same doesn’t exactly suggest that. Also, removing arguably the most interesting part of any arpg, servers, isn’t exactly helping either.

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Kevin Smith

The game is 1000 times better than it was before the change. Only a couple things were actually removed from the game.

First was running into others in zones, most of the time you didn’t want there to begin with because you had to ether play with someone who you didn’t want to really play with or compete with them for quest mob kills. Both bad choices in an ARPG.

Secondly the horizontal progression. The first iteration of that was just horrible. They did make a better version of it before ditching it but seemed like most just didn’t like it. People didn’t seem to like having to start from scratch when changing to one of the other frontiers after putting many hours into the game. That part wasn’t a big deal to me, other than having to manage multiple sets of gear depending on where you where playing.

They still have the fort system in place which gives those looking for housing something to do. You still run into others forts when transitioning between zones also.

Overall for me this has been a positive change. The ARPG genre does not need to be an MMO, just having multiplayer is more than enough. Having the offline mode is probably the best thing that could happen for this game if they allow modding. Modding is what made the games what they were. The synergies mods totally changed the game in the second one.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

The only thing I am convinced about with PWE is their ability with micro transactions.

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Zero_1_Zerum

I’m looking forward to it more now that it’s a single player, co-optional , game. But, it remains to be seen if their conversion from a MMO to SP will be good and worth playing.

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Ironwu

It will be interesting to see what T3 brings to the table that is FUNDAMENTALLY different from T2. I somewhat expect the ultimate customer response to be something along the lines of:

“There really is not that much here to justify a whole new game at full price. T3 should have been a combination of free upgrades and an inexpensive DLC!”

We shall see. Seen enough of this franchise in its current form; don’t need another go around.

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angrakhan

I don’t know that “fundamentally different” is a prerequisite for a new game. I mean what is fundamentally different between Borderlands 1,2 and 3? They are all looter shooters. What about all the Battlefield games? What about all the various Sims games, and yet here we are. I think it’s up to the developer as to what makes the difference between DLC and new game, not you. Let’s not forget that the Torchlight games were all very reasonably priced at launch. Not like they are taking anyone to the cleaners by asking for some money for a new game in the franchise.

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NecroFox4

It’s definitely not a pre-req for a new game. What I think the poster meant was that it is a pre-req for a game they believe to be worth purchasing.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

If TL1 and 2 were, by themselves, outstanding and immensely fun games, with great story and killer multiplayer, then a third title in the series would be welcomed with open arms, much like Borderlands.

I can’t speak to the Sims games, because I think they are trash and not worth a penny. But there are many who buy every new Call of Duty that drops, despite them being the same thing over and over again.

For many gamers, myself among them, there is a major difference between a “new game” and an “additional game” – and TL3 feels much more like the latter, and that’s a real shame.

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Castagere Shaikura

I like the idea of going back to their roots with T3 but PWE is still lurking in the background so its wait and see for me.

Alyn
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Alyn

Great column Bree! Who the hell are YOU Torchlight III? Hmmmm-Don’t get fooled again!