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Posts Tagged ‘Torchlight’

I’ve never really liked item sets in these silly RPGs and their cousins, MMOs.

From Diablo to Titan Quest to Torchlight to World of Warcraft, there always seems to be a subset of items that function as a set, where equipping more than one of the set gives some sort of bonus.  That’s fine design, since it gives gear a little more meaning and fun, rooted in that sweet, sweet loot pinata jackpot endorphin rush.  The item sets themselves don’t bother me, actually, it’s just that actually putting together a set based on random (and usually very rare) loot drops is an exercise in futility.

Combine the leveling mechanism (gain experience points from killing stuff and quests, level up, be stronger and more specialer, ad infinitum) with the rarity of actually acquiring those set items, and the fact that you have to kill a lot of pinatas to get said gear and well… more often than not, the activity of grinding to try to acquire those set pieces makes them obsolete by the time you get all of them because you’ve leveled up a few times (or more) trying to get them.

I do call that bad design, at least if those sets are meant to ever be completed when they might be relevant to the bulk of gameplay.  (And if they are not meant to be so completed, why have them at all?)  Why offer the Perseus Hunter set for the dashing midlevel Hunter if they have almost no chance whatsoever of assembling the set before they start shopping for the Artemis Set?  The storytelling often included in item sets is fractured beyond usability, and the function of the gear gets lost to the winds.

Yes, yes, there’s a market for gear sets for “twinks” in WoW (sometimes, anyway, and mostly just for stuff that doesn’t Bind on Pickup), and gear sets are great for role players, especially with appearance tabs (if you’re lucky enough to have them, like LOTRO).  Some “endgame” gear sets are good, too, since you’re not leveling up any more, and character progression is largely based on gear.  Item sets aren’t wholly useless by any means, they are just… silly.

At the level cap, you can at least “sidegrade” to gear set pieces if they wind up being better as a set than whatever other random stuff you’ve collected.  That’s solid design to keep people playing when the leveling system has fallen into uselessness.  Bonus points if those sets look sweet together.  Guild Wars largely gets this right, since the level cap (and gear effectiveness cap!) is reached pretty easily, and at that point, chasing item sets makes more sense.

And yet, item sets simply aren’t all that special in the leveling content, since the rarity of special items for the set runs contrary to the core leveling mechanic of the game.  Some players will collect the sets anyway, knowing full well that they will be largely useless once collected, but many will just use a set item for as long as it’s useful on its own, since the set bonuses are extremely unlikely to ever come into play at all.  It’s just another piece of random loot at that point.

That’s just… silly.

Of course, I do think that games need a bit of silly here and there to break up all the Serious Gaming Business, but game elements that are internally conflicted like this just set off my “wait, what’s the point?” alarms.  It’s that clash and tension between leveling and collecting stuff for a narrow level band that bugs me.

So… how to do it better?  Would item set pieces work better if they were extremely common rather than rare and special?  Maybe give a real chance for the set to be collected in time for it to be useful?  Maybe shift item sets from random loot drops to purchasable items?  Enhance the purchasable set with upgrades from loot drops, to catch the best of both worlds?  Maybe work like the “satchel loot” from WoW’s Dungeon Finder (guaranteed high quality gear for running dungeons… not really a “set”, but definitely themed and visually unified)?  As in, you’re guaranteed a set item if you do certain tasks, and set items are paced properly to be useful for when you get them and a bit beyond?

What else could we do as designers?

And yes, I know that these sets are one more layer of addiction for the completionist and collection (pack rat) mentalities of players, but since there’s never really much of a payoff (considering pacing and obsoletion of item sets once fully collected), I’d argue that it’s not a very effective layer of addiction.  (Of course, maybe that’s a good thing…)

It’s just that the randomness of the loot mechanic and the rarity of item sets, layered on top of the leveling system, well… it’s silly.

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Hat tip to the Rampant Coyote on this:

Torchlight 2 Announced

OK, so the once-proposed MMO is… nowhere to be seen at present.  Curious.  And yet, with the fancy new peer-to-peer matchmaking, Torchlight will have multiplayer.  Whee, right?

It strikes me that such functionality is similar to World of Warcraft’s Dungeon Finder.  The DF is effectively a way to get peers together for an instanced gaming session, it’s just that the “lobby” for the matchmaking is the WoW world at large, a shared persistent game space.

Yes, yes, technically peer-to-peer isn’t the same thing as the client-server architecture that WoW uses, but the actual player experience of dungeon crawling is similar enough.  Namely, get together with a few friends in an instanced dungeon and go kill stuff.  Take loot home and go do your own thing for a while, lather, rinse, repeat.  I find it interesting to see these two games potentially offering similar multiplayer game experience.

If the Torchlight guys are still looking to build an MMO, they seem to be doing it in pieces, layer upon layer.  Add a persistent overworld, player economy and a few more treadmills (rep grinds with NPC factions, crafting suites, etc.), and you’re set.

Well, and jumping.  You can’t have an MMO without jumping.

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Torchlight has a fantastic game mechanic that it borrows from its ancestor, Fate.  Players have a pet that not only serves as a combat companion, but also a handy remote access to shops.  Specifically, you can load the critter down with vendor trash, and send it on its way to go sell the junk.  It will bring back cash and empty pockets to start the cycle again.  You need never leave the dungeon whilst adventuring to take care of the “inventory management” vendor dump timesink minigame.

I want a pet like that in these MMO things that I play.  In fact, I think they would be a perfect Item Shop sale.  It’s an anti-timesink mechanic, so subscription games won’t likely bother (WoW’s vendor mounts and Jeeves being the obvious exception, though notably only present now that the game is older), but for nonsub games that monetize via convenience and vanity items, it strikes me that these convenience/combat pets would be a hot seller.  Games like DDO already sell bigger backpacks, so the philosophy of monetizing the inventory management minigame is there.

So, icanhazpet?

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Torchlight Sale

Torchlight is on sale via Steam this weekend.

Half price for an already nicely priced game that’s good dungeon crawling fun?

That’s worth dealing with Steam for.

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First torch I see tonight,
Wish I may, wish I might,
Find a game worth playing tonight.

Yes, it’s silly; yes, I’m not terribly original; yes, it fits the game well enough…

LATE BREAKING ADDITION:

Pete over at DragonChasers has a post up with a link to an interview of the Runic Games CEO (thanks, Pete!).  Torchlight is meant to segue into an MMO at some point.  This interview has some great comments, and it sounds like these guys understand the market.  Very candid, if a bit “softball”, this interview is well worth a peek if you’re interested in Torchlight:

Torchlight Dev Interview

ANOTHER LATE BREAKING ADDENDUM:

Getting the demo via Steam actually is content limited, rather than time limited, like the demo via Runic directly.  This is great news, since either preference can be accommodated.

I downloaded the Torchlight demo to see just what the fuss is about.  It’s a beast of a 413 MB download (though that’s smaller than many modern games)  According to the FAQ, that’s the footprint for the installed game, so I suspect that the demo download really is just the full game.  The catch is that you’re limited to only playing for 120 minutes.

I’m a bit ambivalent about that, actually.  I’m of a mind that demos function better when they aren’t time-limited, but rather, content limited.  There’s a compelling case to be made in either direction, though, so it’s not something that I’m too fussy about.  Just know going in that the Torchlight demo is of the time-limited variety.  (They didn’t point out on the site, as far as I could tell.)

At any rate, I figured I’d have two good hours with the game.  That’s fair enough to get a sense of what it has to offer, I think.  It’s not like you’re going to Torchlight for a fifty hour story.  You’re going to play it for some aesthetically appealing dungeon crawling.  And well… WYSIWYG.  Truth in Advertising.

Torchlight is a dungeon crawler with some satisfyingly fun gameplay.  The art direction is solid, and sits in a nice space between cartoony and emogothpixelshader.  (Though the token chick is still just a bimbo with a gun.  No surprise, no progress.)  It’s not War and Peace, it’s not Braid, it’s not Portal.  It’s a visually appealing loot treadmill with plenty of monsters to be whacked.  If that’s the sort of fun you’re looking for, Torchlight will make you a very happy gamer.  The lovely price point of $20 is icing on the cake.

I wound up playing as an Alchemist with a Dog for a pet.  I chased the “pet control” talent tree and wound up with my Dog and three little Imps shuffling around from place to place as I chipped in magic ranged attacks and pistol/wand shots from the back row.  Yeah, I was a Huntard/Warlock hybrid… and I loved it.  It almost felt like a squad based RTS with minimalist controls.  I’d bum rush a herd of baddies, let my little Zerglings and Ultralisk go to town at close range, and serve up three flavors of ranged PAIN.  When the field was clear, I’d claim the spoils (walking over gold picks it up automatically, but you still need to click on items individually) and spoil for another fight.

Yummy, yummy mindless loot pinata fun.  It’s not something that I’d ever do all day, every day, but man, for the two hours I had the game running, I was a happy camper.  It’s probably best played in runs like that in between other gaming so you don’t get tired of it.  Unless you live on that sort of thing anyway.  *shrug*

Of course, it’s not all hugs and roses.  (Or is that guns and kisses?  I can never remember.)  As it happens, I was staring at a loading screen for almost a quarter of my time in the game.  My laptop isn’t cutting edge, but neither is it a dinosaur.  This bothered me a little bit, but I can’t really fault the game much for it; my machine may simply be slow.  It just stunk when my time in the game was limited.  No “pick up all local loot” button seems a glaring omission to me.  There isn’t much here for womens’ lib in games.  There is no respec function without a mod. (But the modding tools look really powerful.)  You can only get the game via digital download, either from the devs directly or via Steam.  Since I don’t like Steam much these days and I’m not sure about the DRM stance of the dev download, I’m a bit leery of such a purchase.  Maybe I’ll pick it up in a box when they get around to releasing it that way.

None of these are all that terrible, and really, what the Torchlight guys are offering is a gem of a game.  I’m still on the bubble about actually buying it (since I have too much going on already and I don’t want to be tied to the internet or limited downloads for actually playing the game… especially if I want to install it on more than one machine), but I can readily recommend it to fans of the dungeon crawling genre.

If nothing else, I’m keeping my eye on the game to see what they do with the proposed transition into an MMO.  I’m leery of that just because I don’t like the internet tether… but I do wish them well.  The game will never be the “virtual world” that I’ve asked for time and again, but as a straight up funhouse grind, it works beautifully.  Sometimes, even for theorytwits like me, that hits the sweet “zoning out” spot just right.

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