My Mod/DLC Dilemma

I started playing Torchlight 2 a few weeks ago, and I am having some issues. Now, I did not like the original game all that much, but picking up the sequel for $5 during one of those crazy Steam sales seemed safe enough. And so far, I am not experiencing the same acute symptoms of frustration as in the first game. Except… now I kinda am.

My biggest gripe with the original game was that the loot system was broken. Specifically, there was no real sense of gear progression in a hack-n-slash Diablo-clone genre that is based entirely on gear progression – I used the same “legendary” level 3 necklace all the way into the endgame, never finding an upgrade. While I have not ran into this problem as much in Torchlight 2, the contours of the issue remain in place. For example, I ran into this gearing decision the other day:

We're back to getting Best-in-Slot at level 7, I guess.

We’re back to getting Best-in-Slot at level 3, I guess.

Maybe “higher level = better” is too simplistic a progression design, but… is it really?

The more pressing concern in Torchlight 2 though, is how a lot of things that should be rewarding are really not. Each main area map has a Locked Golden Chest which contains, as you might imagine, a lot of loot. The key to this chest can drop randomly from any mob on that particular map, or from a specific fairy mob 100% of the time.

Compelling design, right? It would be, if these chests dropped something more than vendor trash.

Random loot is random, but after spending more time than strictly necessary opening these chests up and walking away with nothing of any value, I am finding myself souring on game in general. Indeed, even the extra-large treasure chests at the end of boss encounters reveals greys and greens more often than not. Why should I be fighting bosses when smashing pottery is clearly the more profitable activity?

Par for the course.

Par for the course.

In Torchlight 2’s case though, there is a “solution”: mods. In fact, the #1 highest-rated mod in the Steam Workshop is one that tweaks Golden Chests (and boss chests) to always drop a Unique item. That’s not as broken as it sounds – items are still random, scaled to your level, and sometimes class-specifc – and does a lot to fix what I otherwise consider a problem. There are mods for all sorts of things, in fact, including Skill tweaks, doubling the amount of gold drops, Respec potions (base game only allows reshuffling of last 3 Skills), improving game textures, increasing view distance, and even additional whole classes. Indeed, one of the big selling points of Torchlight 2 was its modability in comparison to Diablo 3.

Thing is, I don’t like using mods on my initial play-through of a game. Hell, I usually don’t even like loading in DLC that affects the core game, even when I’m playing the Game of the Year version that bundles it all together.

My situation is a bit unique (and self-inflicted) insofar as I fancy myself a game reviewer. But even before this website, I preferred going in vanilla and raw. Not all my friends had the extra spending money for the expansions and whatnot, so telling them Diablo 2 was better with Lords of Chaos installed really just means “the base game is deficient.” Well, perhaps not deficient in D2’s case, but you understand my meaning.

Good game design is supposed to be good out of the box. If developers are stumbling around for the first several months from release, that stumbling needs to remain part of the overall narrative. I failed to mention in my Fallout: New Vegas review that the game was literally unplayable for the first two weeks without downloading a crack that fixed the DirectX issues; it’s an important detail to know for when the next Fallout game is released, lest it too require Day 0 patching from players to fix what the devs rushed to production.

I suppose some of this harkens back to that debate over whether MMOs (etc) are toys vs games. There is no wrong way to play with a toy, no real rules to govern your interaction with them. In this sense, mods are sort of like adding salt to your meal – some chefs might see that as an insult, but perhaps your individual taste skews more salty than the others sharing the meal. Ergo, developers letting mods fix any subjective “problem” only makes sense. Keep the vanilla pure, and let players add the chocolate and sprinkles as they wish.

Personally though, I am much more interested in the game portion of things, or more specifically: experiences. Show me the genius of your rulesets, the compelling nature of your narratives, the excellence of your craft. Anyone can imagine a stick into a lightsaber, just as anyone can turn a crappy game good with tweaks. I am interested in what you can do, Mr(s) Game Man Person, not mod developer XYZ. I want to be excited that you are releasing another game, not that the modding community has another opportunity to fix a deficient product. And besides, only one of those two parties is getting paid. Hint: it’s not the person/people improving the game.

It may not be entirely rational, but there it is. Odds are that I will keep trucking along in vanilla Torchlight 2 so that I can give an accurate report on its (so far) many failings. It is worth noting that while you can import your vanilla save into the “game + mods” version of the game, you cannot thereafter go back – neither your character nor your gear will appear under the default game any more. While that probably has little meaning beyond the people interested in Steam achievements, it sort of highlights how even the developers believe a segregation between the two ought to exist.

In which case, I shall play their game and complain about it, rather than fix things myself.

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Posted on June 10, 2013, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. pixelrevision

    Funny I felt the exact opposite on torchlight. The game for me worked well because everything was a harder choice. While I do feel like less loot could drop overall (selling trash gets tedious). I loved that you would use 1 piece of gear for many levels meaning enchanting and gemming felt really worth while as opposed to something to just be skipped until some sort of end game.

    When I would get a new orange there were times I needed to think about the tradeoff even though it was 15 levels higher that the item I was replacing, due to some odd bonus/enchant. I find that agonizing over things like that and the skill tree (due to the limited respeccing) to be the things that made the game feel much more satisfying than diablo 3.

    • I have no problems with tough decisions. In fact, my first gear picture there was a little misleading insofar as that 2nd piece might have boosted my Vitality enough to allow me to equip a different piece of equipment that was enough of an upgrade to justify the loss of stats from the two pieces. All that sort of convoluted, break-out-the-calculator gearing can be a lot of fun, depending on the game.

      The problem I have here is how infrequent any of this is occurring. If Diablo 3 was an AH simulator, Torchlight is a trash-picking simulator. What do I really have to look forward to here? I would get excited killing a boss in Diablo 2 (note: not Diablo 3) because there was a chance at better items. Here… there’s really not. I have a better chance finding something via breaking 100 pots than getting anything of note from boss chests. The fact that the 100% unique item mod being #1 on Steam sort of tells you something about how the rest of the vanilla game is structured, loot-wise.

      As far as the talent tree goes, I’m never a huge fan of these sort of permanent skill schemes. It’s great that they sort of compromised by allowing you to respec the last three skills, such that you actually get the opportunity to not be screwed over by a cool-sounding skill that sucks in practice. But… that is sort of what happens anyway. There is one of the gunner skills that I have found to be ridiculously OP, whereas another was getting sorta good, but couldn’t keep up (the glaive one). So now I have 5+ sitting in a skill I don’t even bother putting on my bars, making my character significantly weaker for the rest of the entire game all because I had the audacity to not read the Wiki and copy a build before playing.

      Was that the message the designers wanted to get across? Or should I not worry about it because the game isn’t going to be difficult enough to even require me to place skills intelligently anywhere? There is a reason why fewer and fewer games are being designed this way, and that reason is not always an attempt to cater to casuals. Sometimes the old way was simply bad.

  2. I think one of gaming’s largest problems is that only WoW was considered an online RPG for nearly 5 years. Every game that drops gear gets compared to that model. Every reward program is compared to WoW’s leveling system of “clear improvements everytime”. WoW vanilla, I used the same gear for 10 levels because the system was the other way around.

    It would be interesting to compare your sense of entitlement, which is what this post alludes to, compared to other games similar to the genre. I personally find the loot system here much more rewarding than say Diablo3 but a whole lot less than Marvel Heroes. Maybe a few runs through the mapworks once you’ve completed the main story might add some additional notes.

    • You have a pretty interesting definition of “entitlement,” clearly. I’m not comparing the loot to the “WoW model,” I am comparing it to its genre peers, e.g. the Diablo series. We can all pretty much agree that Diablo 3 wasn’t all that good, but the irony there is that at least the AH sort of justified the absolutely random-ass nonsense garbage that dropped from every mob. In this game, at least thus far, it has the worst of all worlds going on. I don’t remember Diablo 2 ever being this bad.

      It wasn’t all that long ago that blue quest rewards or the occasional dungeon piece would stick around for 10+ levels in WoW. I remember doing the Blood Elf starter zones on all my Horde toons simply because the +4 Stam cloak final reward wasn’t replaced until you were well into level 30+. Spidersilk Boots were definitely worth crafting… at least unless you dedicated the amount of time to grind out AB tokens for the PvP boots. And so on.

      Thing is, that sort of system makes the quest reward system break down. I always planned my leveling strategies to include those blue items, but in the process I was removing the joy of upgrades for a significant amount of time. That always ends up feeling worse, IMO, because then you really start focusing on the mechanic actions – which include pressing the same buttons 1000x times with no sense of character progression beyond the XP bar filling. And it’s not even as though your attacks are getting stronger either; the initial boost was huge, but the damage you deal to mobs will visibly decrease for the next several hours.

      That simply doesn’t feel any fun. If it does for you, fine, whatever. Personally, I’d like there to be at least the chance at an extrinsic reward for doing the same thing over and over for hours considering it sure as hell isn’t intrinsically rewarding at all.

  3. I get what you’re saying that vanilla should be good, but you have to admit to many games these days are trying to kill off mods. It seems a bit unfair to not give them any credit for allowing mods when they could have just went the “let’s milk them with DLC” scheme =\

    Maybe I’m just sensitive about this since one of my favorite games was the first Dawn of War and it’s expansions. I loved that game in large part because of the amazing things modders did. Then Relic decided to kill mod support for the second one. That’s been a big sore spot for me. I still get a bit peeved whenever I think about :(