Torchlight Frontiers: Alpha Report

The weekend before last I was invited to an early Alpha test for Torchlight Frontiers. This Alpha invitation came along with an NDA, but it was only mentioned that you couldn’t post pictures or video of the game, but they didn’t say I couldn’t write about it, so here we are.

I jumped in on that Saturday and got down to business. As of now, there were only two character classes to choose from, a mage type and a melee class that is a steam punk robot of sorts. There was the first “frontier” to explore, this one dealing mostly with Goblins. Apparently each of these frontiers will feature different mobs but also different sorts of resistances you’ll need to success, and this is where their “horizontal progression” stems from. You’ll have to gear up differently for each frontier, which means you’ll have to have different gear sets for each area of the game. Or so that’s how it’s been presented thus far.

Graphically you can tell this is still a Torchlight game, though it does seem to be more of a hand drawn art style rather than a low poly one like the original two games. I liked the look of the game, the areas were interesting and there was a decent variety of mobs. There were plenty of other people running around killing things too, and this feels like the closest thing to Marvel Heroes that we’ll have now that Marvel Heroes is gone. I wasn’t a huge fan of that particular title, but I did play it a bit and it has that same feeling of playing alone but having a bunch of other people running around the same area do similar things. I imagine there will be grouping and public events too, but we’ll see.

Server stability was the only real issue I had. When I would run into others there was some lag, but it wasn’t anything too terrible. I honestly don’t know if it was the server or my Internet, so I’m not going to knock them for it.

My overall opinion of the game is that it looks solid, but I didn’t really put that much time into it. I’m sure in further Alpha tests there will be more to check out. I didn’t really care for the classes on offer and hope that there are some more interesting ones next time. I did like the idea of your own fort where you can get new vendors and things so you have a home base of sorts. This would be optimal for storing all of that gear you’ll need for different areas of the game. It would be nice to have guild functionality as well so that you could meet up with friends and do things together with your base as a starting point. I’m sure we’ll see more developments as time goes on, but for now it looks like a promising title.

Invited to the Torchlight Frontiers Alpha

Along with Isey and others, I was invited to the Torchlight Frontiers Alpha test this weekend. I must have missed the official announcement that they were going to be doing some alpha stress testing, but you can see that here. I took notice when I received the email that gave me a code to install the game:

It hasn’t been that long since I first mentioned the game, having heard about it a few months back. Since then there has been chatter about what the devs intended to do via horizontal progression and whatnot. I have been intrigued for a while, and with Blizzard blowing off Diablo IV in favor of the mobile Diablo Immortal, I have to find my ARPG fix elsewhere. I’ve been pinning my hopes on this title since then, and I’m hoping to get some time in over the weekend to check it out!

Installation requires a download of Perfect World’s “Arc” launcher, which hosts other games like Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, but was something that I didn’t have installed. It seems to have improved a bit since I last used it, but otherwise looks similar to Battle.net or Steam. I hate having a launcher installed for a single game, but it is what it is.

I’ll be sharing my impressions of the game after the weekend. There is an NDA, but it only says that you can’t post photos or video of the game, which means you’ll get a wall of text impression post, but I will share my thoughts nonetheless. Apparently my account name is built4sin82 (same as on PSN), so I assume you can add that as a friend if you want to try and play together this weekend. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll play but drop me a line if you want to try and meet up.

Hellgate: London, Revival

Hellgate: London arrived during a time was I was fairly addicted to MMOs and set out to try most that I could get my hands on. The game originally released in Q4 of 2007, but it didn’t hit my radar until early 2008. My father turned me onto the title, but I had read mixed reviews at the time and didn’t want to buy a copy until he had insisted that it was a decent game. I wrote about it a few times here on the blog back in 2008, but my writing style at the time was pretty attrocious so there wasn’t much detail on my thoughts. I remember it being something that I enjoyed, but it certainly wasn’t the best thing I had ever played. The developers, Flagship Studios were bankrupt by 2008 and the servers were down by early 2009. By then I definitely wasn’t playing it anymore.

Belghast was talking about missing the IP and wishing someone would do something with it again and that reminded me that it even existed. From my memory, it was an Action RPG of sorts but could be played in either third or first person view. It was still the same sort of hack and slash loot box that we’ve come to expect from games like Diablo, but as it was created by ex-Blizzard devs this would make sense. Originally there was a single player campaign and the ability to go online to group up and play through the game. Sounds a lot like a modern ARPG despite being over 10 years old, doesn’t it?

As of this week, there was an announcement that the game would be coming to Steam. There is already a page up on the Steam storefront, as a matter of fact. It’s pretty short on details, and it appears that someone who doesn’t natively speak English wrote up the description. From what we can see there, it’s focusing on the single player element and mentions Hellgate: Tokyo, which I had to look up on Wikipedia to figure out exactly what that was. Apparently in the years following the shutdown of Flagship studios and the game’s servers in 2008-09, an Asian company picked up the rights and made a new version of the game that included areas of Seoul, South Korea instead of London. There was also a development in 2014, where a title called Hellgate: Global was announced to incorporate all versions of the game into one and redistribute into the west. Or something to that effect.

Whatever the case, this is “version 2.0” which sounds like it includes pieces of content I may not have seen. I never beat the game either, so it goes without saying that I missed a bit. It’s unclear if it’s going to hold up graphically as it’s an old engine, but the screen shots don’t look terrible, probably because most MMOs are running on ancient graphic engines. Perhaps there is some scaling tech there, I would imagine we’ll be able to run higher resolutions and make the game look halfway decent. If the gameplay is as enjoyable as I remember I will definitely be checking this out when it shows up in November. It’s unclear if this will be free to play or buy to play but I doubt there will be a subscription like there used to be. Though, it was always optional and I’d be okay with an optional subscription if it proves to be worth it. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this one for the next few weeks to see if any new information arises.

On Horizontal Progression

A little over a month ago, I first jotted down some thoughts about the upcoming MMO Torchlight Frontiers, a game many of us thought would never see the light of day. I signed up for the beta, which we have no idea when will happen, but this also means being subscribed to their newsletter, and the first new tidbits of information have started to trickle through. The email I received linked to a post on the Arc Games website, which makes sense due to this being a game produced by Perfect World, and Arc being their launcher.

The article in question is about how Torchlight Frontiers will have “horizontal progression.” You can read the full story there, but I have cherry picked some interesting points because this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In most MMOs, or RPGs for that matter, there is always a sort of vertical progression, in that you’ll gain levels of experience opening up new gear and new areas of the game, but this all comes to a screeching halt once you’ve hit the level cap. Then we’ll be subject to the developers’ ideas of what “end game content” should be. Sometimes these activities can be amazing, and other times things are too systematic and boring. In games like the original Everquest, the level cap stayed the same for a very long time, and things like Alternate Advancement points could be earned to still give a sense of progression, but without negating parts of the end game once a new expansion came out. In other titles like World of Warcraft, you’ll see things like Garrisons or Artifact Weapons being introduced just to be thrown in the garbage bin during the next expansion. Echtra Games is attempting to get away from this model.

We’ve come to call the approach “Horizontal Progression.” Horizontal progression is not a specific feature, it’s a way of looking at power growth that creates a great game for the long term. For each feature we think about how it will grow both vertically and horizontally. When this works, there are some big benefits: ​

  • New content doesn’t invalidate past progress
  • Players can specialize characters in a wider variety of ways, for a wider variety of content
  • Players have fun reasons to play all over the world, not just the “end game”
  • Players at different levels/progression have lots of ways to play together that are rewarding for everyone

These bullet points are key, and I think they have the right ideas when it comes to trying to build a world that has progression, but doesn’t throw other bits out the window just for the sake of a level cap increase. It sounds like specialization will equate to having some sort of alternate advancement system, most likely skill points in various trees. There’s also some scaling tech being used to help these systems to work and allow people new to the game to play with veterans.

We achieve this with the magic of dynamic gear scaling. It’s a trick I first saw in Guild Wars 2 and I loved how it kept the whole world interesting and rewarding to play in for me even at max level. In Torchlight Frontiers your high level gear is dynamically scaled down in power when you enter lower level zones. You keep your skills and affixes, but your stats come down enough to keep the gameplay entertaining.

Scaling is also used to reinforce the “different progression” feeling when playing in different Frontiers. Gear that drops in Goblin Frontier is aligned to that Frontier (you can see it clearly in the tooltip) and it scales favorably when moving around that Frontier. You’re a bit ahead of the monsters’ level.

Take that same gear to the Hyvid Frontier and it scales worse – you’re behind the monsters’ level. You have some useful stats, but it’s clearly better to start collecting gear from the local Frontier if you want to progress at a good pace.

Gear scaling is an interesting idea, but scaling isn’t something new. Clearly they have drawn inspiration from Guild Wars 2, but we’ve seen similar concepts in games like The Elder Scrolls Online. I like the idea of “Frontiers” which sound sort of like Diablo III‘s end game content, but where each is dependent on different stats and thereby different gear so each Frontier will feel like it has its own progression without needing to scale arbitrary levels. The post goes on to tease about other ways these systems will work together to fulfill the horizontal progression goal.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a bunch of big features and details about the game we want to share. At this early stage we want to get the vision for the game across so players can see where we’re going with things like “no levels” and Frontiers and dynamic scaling. The next few features we reveal will build on this foundation I’ve just laid out. We have so much more to tell you! It’s not just gear that we’re designing to support “different power”; we have lots more ways you’ll collect tools to help tackle the challenges of Torchlight Frontiers.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. I’m curious to see just what other features they are looking to implement, but thus far it all sounds very promising. This is also wrapped up in an Action-RPG package, and these games tend to be pretty addictive in and of themselves. My only concern here is if there will be enough to set Torchlight Frontiers apart from other successful ARPGs — Diablo III does feel like its nearing the end of its lifespan, but games like Path of Exile are still going strong and have dedicated playerbases. If they can find the right mixture of new features and exciting gameplay I think we might have a damn fine game on our hands. We’ll have to keep an eye on it.

State of the Game: Projects

Over the weekend I was able to get some gaming time in, and as regular readers will note, I jump around between titles pretty regularly. Sometimes I’ll try something out and it won’t stick, but I’ll jot down my thoughts and move on. Other times I have a bunch of games I’m interested in playing at the same time, so I’ll spend a little time here and a little time there. Recently, the games I’ve been focused on are Destiny 2, Fallout 4 (DLCs), ESO, and Burnout Paradise Remastered. There are a few other games I’ve been tinkering around with, but these are the four I’m focusing on talking about today. So let’s dive in.

Destiny 2:

I realize that I started playing this game a year after everyone else, and I realize that the only reason I’m now playing it is because it was offered for free. Still, I honestly can’t figure out why it was so universally panned when it came out. I know there were plenty of people who were still playing it regardless of the negativity, but when it comes down to it, in its current state it doesn’t feel any different than the original game. Truth be told, I didn’t delve too deeply into the first game. I had one max level character and finished up the main story plus DLC stories but I didn’t do every single quest, I didn’t play crucible and I didn’t raid. So probably I don’t know what I’m talking about.

With that said, it’s still a great game. There’s something about melding first person shooter gameplay with RPG elements. I absolutely love this style of game and I should have just picked this up way back when. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay money to play it, but I am looking forward to getting through the rest of the game and picking up the DLCs as I go along. Here’s hoping that they stretch this one out for years instead of making another numbered entry. It appears their gameplan going forward is to add at least two more DLC in the next year so perhaps there will be reason to keep playing.

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In my past couple of sessions my best friend and I have leveled up to 10, and have a light rating of a little over 100. I’ve managed to grab a few blue pieces of gear along the way, and we’ve completed the main story up until rescuing Cayde and being pointed in the direction of Io. At this point there was a level gate (we were 9 at the time) so we pushed on by doing some adventures and public quests. We had been pretty much ignoring much of the side content in favor of completing the storyline, but at this point it appears that perhaps we should do a bit of everything just to make sure we’re ready for the next bit of DLC once the original main story wraps up. It’s been a blast and I find myself wanting to play more often than he is available, so I may start leveling up a Warlock on the side. We’ll see how time permits.

ESO:

Due to trying to play too many games at once, my time with ESO has been sporadic. During my last session I decided to try out some PvP battlegrounds, and like my experience with Destiny 2, it sucked. I’m not nearly a high enough level or geared well enough to hang with the groups I was being matched up against. It looked like it has the potential to be a blast but I’m not there yet. So I ended up running around doing more quests and it’s been fun.

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I honestly don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time save for running around following quest markers and killing shit. I guess that’s par for the course. This seems to be the same in most MMOs, so here we go. I’m more invested in other storylines at this point in time and my memory isn’t what it used to be so I tend to just take in the sights and mosey around at my own snail’s pace. Not having a subscription to this point has made it more appealing because I’m not wasting time and can play as I see fit. Perhaps once I get nearer to the end of the original game’s content I’ll think about subscribing to see more of what’s been added in my absence.

Far Harbor:

Fallout 76 comes out in a month and a half. My goal was to finish off the Fallout 4 DLC before that happened, because I know once there’s a new Fallout game I’m not going to bother with the predecessor any longer. The last time I had played I killed off a rather large Mirelurk queen as part of a side quest, and I went back to Far Harbor to turn in all the quests I had completed during that session.

During my session over the weekend, I ended up with a journal full of more side quests from those citizens, as one of the quests that I completed had the city’s leader backing me, something not easily done with “mainlanders” such as myself. I completed a couple more, when a robot appeared outside of town looking for a detective (me). I followed her to a hotel that contains an underground vault, where a murder was committed and hence why I was sent for. Upon entering, we find that all of the people inside are no longer people, and are actually “robo-brains.” This means their human brain has been transplanted onto a robot’s body. Immortal as they are now, they’re still very much able to be killed, as is evident from the crime scene I’m asked to investigate. This questline bugged out on me several times, but in the end I found out that the killer was actually masquerading as one of the other residents having killed her himself. Basically she found out about something he didn’t want anyone else to know about so he killed her then took on her identity. I also found a dead overseer in a vault-tec suit, who’s journal entries were quite hilarious (you can read those above). I have no idea how much more it’s going to take to complete Far Harbor, and there’s still Nuka World after that, but hopefully before Fallout 76 hits shelves.

Burnout Paradise:

I don’t have too much to say about Burnout Paradise, I’ve played a few more times since my initial post, and it’s been a blast. It’s truly a fun game and something I can do that takes very little brain power, so on nights when I don’t feel like diving into something with more depth, it’s relaxing to cruise around this beautiful little world. The trophies come in droves though, as evidenced by this round of screenshots:

If you were ever a fan of arcade style racers, definitely give this one a try. That’s all I have for this time. Happy gaming everyone!