WoW Factor: Why World of Warcraft’s Torghast didn’t work

    
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All over again.

Amidst all of the other things that are being changed in World of Warcraft’s next patch that has a dearth of content but a lot of customization and a lot of finally removed references that have aged badly, players will be able to use Torghast as a leveling experience. That’s a good change, and it’s one that has been long overdue since one of the most obvious inspirations for the shifting corridors was always a leveling option first and foremost. But I’m not sure if it’s enough, considering the fact that at this point Torghast’s name is considered vile enough to be used as a biotoxin among some players.

How did we get here? How did one of the central features of Shadowlands become such a reviled element of the game when numerous people, including me, were excited to see it added? Obviously it’s a little bit early to do a full post-mortem of the expansion when it’s probably going to be sticking around like a dead raccoon under the porch for a while now, but I feel like we can at least evaluate why Torghast crashed and burned so badly in the world of player perception.

Point.

Mandatory content causes problems

The first problem that Torghast has is something that I’ve touched upon before: It’s mandatory. If you want to get legendary items, you have to do Torghast. Not “if you want the best item for this particular spec,” either. The content is not optional, and it’s part of a larger problem that WoW has had for a while where nothing gets to be optional.

To a certain extent you can understand the motivation here. If you’re Joshua A. Designerguy at Blizzard, you really do want people to play all of the content that you’ve been working on during the expansion process. There’s also a perception that players don’t have enough to do, so by forcing players to engaged with every form of content, you simultaneously reinforce the idea that there’s plenty to do and ensure that everyone sees the content you were working on. Right?

But the problem shows up almost right away. Not everyone is going to have fun in Torghast, just like not everyone enjoys PvP or raids or dungeons or whatever. By making Torghast the only way to get something specific, you actually force people who aren’t interested in the content to go through it. This also means that you need to balance it around being cleared by everyone and being a universal experience, rather than another option players can take on or ignore as they desire.

One of the fastest ways to get someone to dislike something is to make it mandatory. Even if people were otherwise inclined to give Torghast the benefit of the doubt or were excited about the idea, being forced into running it on a strict schedule cooled a lot of people on it right off the bat. By trying to make this content that had the maximum effect on players, it wound up becoming an unwanted weekly chore on top of existing weekly chores, and that never sits well with players. Especially when some of them were never going to like it in the first place.

When everything looks like this it tends to run together.

Balance matters even in unbalanced content

Here’s what’s going to sound like one of the weirdest lifts in this entire column. In content like Torghast, where balance is explicitly being not strictly adhered to… balance is still actually really important. And part of that is because balance is being discarded in the first place.

Blizzard has proven for a long time that overall it is really bad at balancing things. The specs that do the most damage are not in any way balanced around whether or not they bring the best utility; indeed, it’s frequently the case that the “best” choices in an expansion bring both with no drawbacks. And so at a glance, something like Torghast is a great place where everyone can be awesome regardless of their overall balance position.

The problem is that while Torghast can produce some marvelously fun spikes in power for any spec… at the end of the day, those spikes are built upon the bones of the spec itself. If the spec is already underperforming or fails to have really good tools to use for a variety of situations, it’s still going to feel underpowered even when you make what it does have more powerful.

It also shines a light on all of the fun things you don’t normally have access to while outside of Torghast. I’ve seen so many people who do like the tower argue that one of the best ways to encourage people to run it would be to let people take some of the more fun powers outside of the locale and just tool around with them, even if it’s only in the open world.

And all of this is assuming you get a good draw of powers. A bad one? Well, then your underperforming spec feels like it’s not even getting love when you’re supposed to feel powered up.

Far from being a place where the lack of balance doesn’t matter, Torghast actually highlights the existing balance issues even as it’s moving past them. And since everyone has to do Torghast, players get a close-up look at all of their spec’s failures and weaknesses under a microscope. Often the advice is specifically to do Torghast as a specific spec, which makes things notably worse.

Twists.

Insufficient reward tracks offered for play

The reality is that Torghast being non-optional is a problem both coming and going. On the one hand, it’s a problem that this is mandatory content for everyone to engage in, like it or not. On the other hand, it’s also a problem that for the people who genuinely do like this content – or even the people who might like this more than some other options, but not on its own – there’s a distinct paucity of rewards beyond the mandatory part.

You can’t gear up in Torghast. You can’t level in Torghast (you can in 9.1.5, but that’s not here yet, and at this rate it will have not been possible for an entire year). You can’t get more than a handful of cosmetics from the optional challenge mode. There is precisely one thing you need to get from here, and if you happen to really enjoy it and want to keep playing it? You’re allowed to do so, but it doesn’t offer you anything along the way.

The result is that Torghast feels even more like a weekly chore. Once you’re done with what you need to do, you’re absolutely done. There are no more cosmetics to earn or currency toward getting cool-looking cosmetic gear, no chances to get back into the mode just for a chance of getting a fun draw of powers and getting to wreck shop. This is actually directly antithetical to the way that most roguelike modes work, where you are encouraged to go for just one more run because this run might be awesome and powerful and cool.

Put it another way, if you sorted the balance issues the game has and allowed other ways to get your Legendary currency? Torghast would still be a problem, because it wouldn’t offer you anything for successfully clearing it. It treats the addictive weirdness of the mode as the only reason to play it and just assumes people will dive back in despite a lack of any rewards along the way.

Burnsauce.

Conclusion

Breaking down the problems of a form of content like this can be an instructive exercise. Not for the designers themselves, mind you. If Blizzard either doesn’t already have people doing this analysis or hasn’t internalized these lessons, well, that’s a bad sign independent of what anyone has to write.

No, it’s an instructive exercise for the audience. Why so? Well, because we’re going to see responses to Torghast. We’re going to see the designers talk about what lessons were learned. And we now have a clear picture of what those lessons should be along the way. Which means that the question becomes… what lessons are actually being taken away from this particular misstep?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not hopeful.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial company in the MMO and gaming space owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In the summer of 2021, the company was sued by the state of California for fostering a work environment riddled with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which has further compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. As of fall 2021, multiple state and federal agencies are currently investigating the company.
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Nathan Aldana

Torghast is basically ff14’s Deep Dungeon but with literally no good reason to play it, yep.

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OPUno

Torghast, by itself, is not bad content. Is not great, but you can roll with other people, someone gets a cool power or, even better, perma Bloodlust for everybody and then smash the place. Got Flawless Master that way and it was fine. I had fun with it.

The issue with Torghast is that it was promised to be this amazing single player experience and is not. It simply isn’t. Specially if your class or spec has bad powers. The scoring system and auto loot and Adamant Vaults were massive improvements since 9.0 Torghast was too plain and not that interesting, but it only makes it more evident that solo Torghast is a complete waste of time.

Which yeah, Blizzard promised those things to those players and it just didn’t deliver. Add the removal of Titanforging (that was always going to piss those players off) and of course the LFR/solo queue players just left to FFXIV or whatever.

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tyyriz tyyric

to me, it always felt that torghast was an esports creation we’ve been beta testing. thats why its such a grind.

when you have a trinty+ grp of esports players racing – side by side – another team – the thought was “oh this will be exciting” but the rng of spells messes with that. and so to have the rng be exciting and strategic but not game breaking they had to (1) buff the mobs and (2) nerf the abilities into the ground. so that yeah, sure, they helped but wouldnt define which team won. (except teams would figure out the best spells and run those grps – thus defeating the whole purpose).

but why is it such a grindfest gauntlet without much fun? esports. esports dont care about sights, sounds, lore. its go, go, go.

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Hurbster

Because it was designed purely with player retention in mind?

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Jiminy Smegit

For me, Torghast failed with class balance issues that screamed of the fact that the developers either do not play their own game or ignore feedback. If I played my bear form druid, I could waltz through swatting things like flies. If I played my rogue, I had to get the right power ups and play to the best of my limited ability to survive, which just felt unnecessarily stressful.

Certain Torghast maps were unbelievably annoying too. I forget the names but the one where you got divebombed every few seconds drove me insane. Overall, it was mostly not difficult content but it just felt draining.

I would say balance in general was the main Shadowlands issue. Way too many interactions with covenant abilities for each class meant that Blizzard had constructed a Jenga class balance nightmare for themselves that they were never able to resolve. Nor did they ever seem to try. No proper re-tuning of the covenant abilities, no real effort to address the weaker class specs in Torghast. Blizzard just felt isolated from the gaming community in their own weird echo chamber where Ion plotted how to improve the game for his mythic dungeon and raiding buddies.

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tyyriz tyyric

i remember that there was a fix for my enhancement shaman. it might have been 9.0.5. but they increased the damage of one spell by 300%. not 3%. not even 30% but 300%.

lewis black has a joke about weather forecasters which is appropriate here. but if you were a roofer and your roof was off by 300% you’d be in jail. how is it possible to have any spell underpowered by 300% and not be found before launch. to me thats the problem w/ blizz in general and shadowlands in particular. the designers dont seem to play the game.

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Knecht_Rootrecht

This happens when you design a game around ‘player engagement’ and make it a devs ‘performance indicator’.

By forcing players into specific types of content, the devs can report to the higher ups that they designed something great. Every player in the expansion is doing X, so it must it is good, because it looks good on the stats of dev who created it and the management who pushed for the creation of mechanics with high engagement.

No one in Blizzard with any decision capability is asking whether or not something is fun or creative. All they ask is how doing in X will affect their stats and make them look good in the eyes of their own higher ups.

Internally Blizzard is a rat race towardmeeting ever changing performance metrics while the foundation of their success crumbles.

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tyyriz tyyric

mandatory doesnt begin. remember the anduin quest run where you had to run 18 progressive floors – it was like 2-3 hours and if you got bad powers OR were in non-mythic+ gear it became almost impossible to finish.
(and they had to have a unstated hack of running 1-6 3x over, which clearly was not the original design.

2. the lack of AOE in some classes made it an awful grind while other specs cut through it like butter

3. all i wanted was to feel awesome and smash things. clearly blizzard worried we would and bumped up the HP and AC for mobs. what BETA streamers rocked and were really excited for devolved into an hour long grind. My Outlaw rogue still doesnt have a legendary.

4. the cost of the legendary (both in coin and anima) + weekly limit meant that if you missed a week or didnt max a week, you were behind. so it became a mandatory grind inorder to get a legendary which – unless you spent massive gold – was actually lower spec than the LFR or Heroic gear you were getting (and forget about M+ gear which easily outclassed “legendary” gear.) i still have a 190 Leg. ring when all the rest of my gear is 220-230.

they could have made it Dynasty Warriors or a Korean MMO with lots of big blasts, flying enemies, and massive crunchy sounds. instead they made it a slow grind for little to no reward and the possibility that you got nothing at the end of your hour of play if the boss’s HP+AC+DMG was scaled too high vs your rng powers.

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Utakata

Or tl, dr: Hardcorghast, Cupcake!

…as this reminds me of another formerly sunsetted MMO who took this narrative with it’s players. And it didn’t end well for them.

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TomTurtle

I didn’t feel that they got down the basic gameplay with Torghast, particularly with the amount of subpar anima powers and lack of variety. Conceptually fun but tedious in practice.

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MaynardKeenanX

TorghastIy = another awfuI addition to Ion’s cIowncircus portfoIio.