Torchlight Frontiers Preview – Frontiers to Go, Loot to Grab

Torchlight Frontiers Preview

Torchlight Frontiers is the sheer definition of a work-in-progress game. It is buggy and barebones, but it also is one of the most exciting prospects in recent years for fans of hack and slash games, and one of the few titles that may work as a real alternative to the all-conquering Path of Exile and the highly anticipated Lost Ark. I’m talking about free-to-play space, of course.

If I sound a little biased, that is because I’m a huge fan of the Torchlight series. Runic Games’ take on the tried-and-tested Diablo formula was always competent, deep, and above all, fun. Torchlight Frontiers may feel a bit light and unsure during the early alpha stage, but that is because developer Echtra Games is putting player feedback to great use. That is how things such as the skill point system were scrapped in favor of a more familiar character level for each Frontier. This sounds like the good kind of iterative development.

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The first thing that you should know about Torchlight Frontiers is how the horizontal progression system works. This is a way of trying to make every piece of content, every frontier valuable and replayable, right from the earlier levels. As you complete quests and defeat monsters in each frontier, you level up and gain access to better gear for that frontier – a cool, traditional experience bar was recently added to keep track of your level.

Early on, you can access both the Goblin Frontier and the Hyvid Frontier. Your character levels up independently for each frontier, and most of the loot is specific to each frontier as well. This means that a weapon that works great against goblins won’t be as useful when you are attacking those disgusting maggots. Juggling those gear sets is a big part of what makes Torchlight Frontiers an appetizing prospect, and for that task alone the Wardrobe system was created.

Wardrobes are these shiny suits of armor on pedestals where you can place your favorite gear sets and swap them instantly according to your next destination. However, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it seems that during the alpha players can only place one pedestal/gear set per class, something that can become a problem when more frontiers are released. Eventually, this limitation will be removed, otherwise you will have to resort to your stash more often, but I wanted to leave this out there for feedback purposes.

Torchlight Frontiers Preview Goblin Frontier

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Torchlight Frontiers alpha offers two classes, the Dusk Mage and the Forged. These fellows couldn’t be any more dissimilar, with the sentient teapot having a steam bar to release a special attack, while the Dusk Mage must balance light and dark skills for optimal effect. I’m hoping that the classes will grow to an appreciable number during the next couple of years, and by that I don’t mean three or four as in the previous Torchlight games – an MMO such as this one requires a substantial selection as to attract more players and keep current players coming back for more.

Your character will have a loyal companion by his side. You can choose between the ever-faithful dog, the Alpaca and the Owl. Not quite the most battle-hardened creatures ever, but they won’t mind lending you a hand – or rather, teeth and beak. When their health gets low, they run for their lives, only to return after a couple of minutes, the silly buggers. Pets have a few slots for collars and tags, and they are mainly used as a very convenient secondary inventory – you can send them to town to sell unnecessary items. The pet will be away for a few minutes, quite a feat considering the ground they need to cover, but make sure that you can handle yourself while on your own – pets are a great distraction when it comes to large mobs or dungeon bosses. The way that the pet animation glitches during the alpha is bonkers, but pay no attention, it should be fixed soon.

Torchlight Frontiers Preview Boss Fight

The Torchlight Frontiers design includes both public areas and instance-based dungeons, with limits of eight players and a party of four players respectively. This was the perfect compromise according to Echtra Games, after trying 20 players in public areas, something that felt “crowded and anonymous”. It makes sense, as all those particles flying around will fill your screen to a point that with a higher player count, things would become messy and confusing. Considering the randomly generated layouts of the private areas, a.k.a. dungeons, it’s best not to get too chaotic.

Frontiers can be best described as spokes on a wheel, independent pathways that the player can discover, leveled up separately – the current level cap is sitting at a very respectable 50 for each frontier. The alpha brought the two frontiers that everyone already knew of: Goblin Forest and Hyvid Colony. Some official screenshots hint at a Viking or Barbarian frontier, judging by the symbol of a man with a horned helmet. Let’s wait and see what kind of surprises they have in store for us, but I sure hope that they bring many exhilarating and original frontiers down the line – these large updates could expand Torchlight Frontiers’ lifespan in unthinkable ways.

While there aren’t any major differences in gameplay between the two frontiers, there are a couple of features that deserve to be highlighted. In the Goblin Frontier, the forest is mostly inhabited by little goblins during the day; however, as soon as the night comes, skeletons make up the majority of the enemies, and it felt like night also brought an increase in numbers and aggressiveness, as well as better loot, but I can’t say for sure if this wasn’t a mere coincidence. As for the Hyvid Frontier, apart from the yuckier and slimier looks, it adds some environmental hazards where you must time your pacing right. The loot that you get from the Goblin Frontier is mostly fire-based, while the loot from the Hyvid Frontier is poison-based.

Torchlight Frontiers Preview Fort

Fort, Sweet Fort

As you go on your journey, you will stumble across resources such as logs, ore and stone. Harvest these whenever possible as you can construct specific buildings in your Fort to refine them. Using these resources refined or raw will grant you additional structures to get more crafting options or to create more cosmetic items.

Your fort is your home, sweet, home. The housing system in Torchlight Frontiers, the place where you can build useful structures and decorate it with tons of useless clutter – it all depends on your sense of fashion. But no matter what your idea of housing in an MMO is, you will have to return to your fort frequently – thank goodness for portals. The reason is simple: the Arcanum, your Skill Station, with its enticing set of skills to unlock and upgrade. By completing quests and killing monsters you will earn skill points which you can then use to unlock new active and passive skills. Don’t forget to drag them to your skill slots, obviously! I have already covered the Wardrobe, and I must mention the Reliquary, the device where you can craft the mighty Relic weapons, if you’ve gathered all the resources that it takes.

Relic weapons are mythical weapons that level up, even if they aren’t effectively being used in combat. They have a short active time (my Blood Drinker sword lasts for 30 seconds) and a large cooldown (120 seconds). Oddly enough, I didn’t consider that my Relic weapon gave me “super powers”, as the developers said; instead, I preferred to resort to my faithful long-range magic attack, but it may be a case of the right weapon for the right player.

Torchlight Frontiers Preview Co-op Play Nighttime

The Mapworks device is also going to play a vital role in Torchlight Frontiers. This will open portals to dungeons that exist outside of the regular game world, with modifiers to enemies and rewards. This is meant to provide extra depth to the game and additional challenges.

Torchlight Frontiers is setting itself up to be a hoarder’s dream. There’s tons of loot and your pet will unremittingly run to town to sell stuff, not to mention the gear that you’ll want to save in your stash. Finding legendary items and crafting Relic weapons is surely going to be one of the goals in this game. Lifebound items are planned, and these will surely ramp up the challenge as you will lose them if you die – thread carefully when you have these equipped.

On the other hand, I have no clue about what is being planned for endgame. Apparently, PvP isn’t going to be a major focus in Torchlight Frontiers, but I don’t see the game existing without some sort of player versus player action. The Mapworks device will probably play a huge part in endgame, but we are yet to see what else the developers have in store.

Torchlight Frontiers Preview Hyvid Frontier

I’ve also heard several discussions concerning Torchlight Frontiers’ art style. It seems that it isn’t consensual, but it appears that most of the complaints are coming from its colorful and slightly cartoonish look. Apparently, those critics never played the two previous Torchlight games, as the visuals are very similar – if something, Torchlight Frontiers’ graphics look a lot more sophisticated than the previous games. Personally, I quite like it and it makes for a striking change from the grim atmosphere of Path of Exile. In fact, the Hyvid Colony looks bleak enough and I hope that future frontiers add some more color to the map – tropical island frontier, anyone?

Torchlight Frontiers has many things going for it. For one, the way that Echtra Games is using player feedback is remarkable, with the inclusion of Wardrobes and the scrapping of the previous skill point system being testimony of that. The horizontal progression system brought forward with frontiers will endow this game with an impressive scope, as each new release will act as a brand-new zone for every player, not just for those who have reached endgame – this offers a substantial level of freedom to everyone. With several dozens of hours needed for each frontier, I can only imagine how big Torchlight Frontiers will feel like for a new player in two or three years.

That is, if everything goes well. The free-to-play business model should grant it a very respectable player base, and if everything feels fair in the cash shop side of things, I can anticipate a bright future for Torchlight Frontiers. The big question that remains is if in the long run it will be able to make a dent on the colossal success of Path of Exile.


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