Why Torchlight Frontiers Is My Most Anticipated ARPG Since Diablo 2 | Gaming News

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Immediately upon playing Torchlight Frontiers, I was presented with a choice between the two currently playable classes: the Dusk Mage and Forged. The former is a powerful magic user charged with wielding both the immense powers of dark and light in perpetual harmony. The latter is a robot. I chose the robot.

I felt an immediate sense of adoration for my sputtering little steampunk monstrosity, who looked inescapably like Maurice's cast iron furnace contraption from Beauty and the Beast. As Echtra Games CEO Max Schaefer explained, my little automaton wouldn't simply equip gear but would instead integrate it into his body. If I equipped a rare pair of leggings, for example, they might change my four spider-like robot-legs into two sturdy tank treads.

I started my journey in a well-maintained town that existed just within the boundaries of safety at the edge of the forest frontier, or as Schaefer called it the forest “spoke.” A spoke is a thematically consistent playspace that offers a self-contained progression experience, and while I'll elaborate on what that means later, for now, let's just say it's one of the brilliantly unorthodox concepts that makes Torchlight Frontiers so intriguing.

The town was called the Imperial Outpost, and while it was currently barren (save for a few NPCs), Schaefer promised that on the live servers it would be brimming with other players. Torchlight Frontiers is an MMO after all. I would have liked to have explored the town further, but my time was short so I made a beeline for the exit.

After a loading screen, I found myself in a stone-speckled moor called the “Wood's Edge.” Schaefer referred to this outdoor zone as a “public play area.” In these spaces monsters respawn, harvestable crafting materials pepper the landscape, and you'll encounter other players outside of your party. Schaefer explained that relative to other zones the “Wood's Edge” wasn't that big, but could still hold twelve or so players in a single instance. And while I didn't see it personally, Schaefer assured me that these zones also have a day/night cycle that governs which enemies are spawning. In the woods, for example, goblins spawn during the day and skeletons at night.

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I shot and sliced my way through the roving packs of goblins with a handful of fun to use and versatile abilities. Using skills like a rapid-fire chest cannon, a wide-arced shotgonne, or a whirling spin attack all generated heat which needed to be dissipated with a devastating vortex attack. Schaefer noted that this rotation was just a small sample of the plethora of abilities that can be unlocked and upgraded with skill points. I voiced a concern about dumping all of my points into a single skill, but Schaefer explained that an AOE ability at any rank will never be more powerful than a single-target ability of a comparable category against only one enemy. So in Torchlight at least, the days of spamming a single ability in every situation are gone.

I think this kind of meticulous examination of the ARPG status quo betrays a great passion and care for the product Schaefer and his team are creating.

It's also worth noting that there are no character levels in Torchlight Frontiers. You'll still accrue skill points, and items have levels (with harder content diving out more powerful gear.) But conventional leveling is out. At least one of the reasons for this perplexing change are those “spokes” we talked about earlier. Schaefer describes spokes as “horizontal content.” The forest spoke, for example, may consist of dozens if not hundreds of areas that become more challenging as you go. Along the way, you'll accrue weapons with elemental modifiers like fire and frost that are effective against the forest's main enemy types. In the next spoke, the enemies may only be susceptible to poison and electricity.

Much like a conventional expansion, new spokes provide additional progression for your character. But unlike vertical content, this system doesn't trivialize the challenges which you've already completed. Physical damage is still effective against all enemies, and there is bound to be a level of vertical progression across all content. But if I understand correctly, the hope here is that Torchlight Frontiers' endgame will be made up of the content that was designed to be replayable and challenging, instead of just what was most recently added.

In the midst of my rigorous questioning I had forgotten to pick up a quest back in town, but when I laid eyes on a cave called the “Den of Upheaval” I knew what I had to do. Like , this specific cave was a scripted inclusion in the otherwise procedurally generated zone. Unlike Diablo, Torchlight Frontiers is also planning to insert a wide variety of other biomes into these dynamic landscapes. Public events, world bosses, and daily quests were a few of the examples that Schaefer used when describing this semi-procedural generation of public areas.


Schaefer explained that unlike the woods, the Den of Upheaval is a private instance. Here monsters won't respawn, and the only other players you'll see were the ones in your party. The maximum party size for this kind of content in four, but Schaefer teased that Echtra is playing with the idea of larger parties for “raids.”

Set and unique items which modify skills are a given, but players will also be able to find “ember weapons” with their very own skill tree and progression.

The den was capped off with a boss battle against a monstrous goblin. Much to my delight even this most trivial of boss encounters incorporated several mechanics like a flurry of rockets telegraphed by red X's on the ground. The complexity on display gave me hope that Torchlight Frontiers' more challenging encounters wouldn't devolve into the mindless clicking that has somehow become synonymous with the genre.

That concluded my demo but I still had a lot of questions. I asked Schaefer what, in his mind, would make up the majority of the end game content in Torchlight Frontiers. His answer was multifaceted. Perhaps the most significant factor will be the “deep item chase,” which will incentivize players to take on randomized maps and endless dungeons at the end of a spoke. Set and unique items which modify skills are a given, but players will also be able to find “ember weapons” with their very own skill tree and progression. Schaefer also hinted at the idea of competitive PVE dungeon races as well as straight up PVP for braggin rights.

Furthermore, Schaefer teased at a player housing system called “forts” that will offer account-wide progression that can only fully be utilized when every class has been played. Characters not currently in use can serve as vendors to sell goods to players that pass by your fort and transfer the earnings on to you.

Schaefer didn't have much to say when it came to the economy in general but insisted that trading equipment to other players simply won't be a part of Torchlight Frontiers. As we all saw with Diablo 3, you can have a satisfying progression loop or you can have player trading, but you can't have both.

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Finally, a lot of major design decisions are still up in the air. Schaefer wants the community to weigh in on options for monetization as well as the implementation of features like respeccing. I think this kind of meticulous examination of the ARPG status quo betrays a great passion and care for the product Schaefer and his team are creating. Instead of simply adhering to convention, even a staple feature of online RPGs like the ability to respecialize is the subject of extreme consideration.

I've been a fan of action RPGs since my first dealings with Diablo 2's “Den of Evil.” And while Diablo 2's motifs of progression, class identity, and community have disseminated into countless other genres, I can't help but feel that with the exception of Path of Exile, the isometric action RPG space has experienced stunningly little innovation for the better part of two decades. There is still plenty more to see from Torchlight Frontiers before I can render a proper opinion, but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic that Torchlight Frontiers might be the breath of fresh air the genre so desperately needs.

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