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Warlords of Draenor BlizzCon Recap

Things can end up changing radically between BlizzCon and this new expansion’s release date (remember Path of the Titans?), but here are a bunch of random things that caught my eye:

  • Few to no daily quests at max level (source). While MoP ended up giving us hundreds of daily quests and triple-gating gear, it bears reminding that daily quests have been a Big Deal since Burning Crusade. Perhaps not on exactly the same scale, but still. I am not exactly sure what non-instanced endgame activities Blizzard plans on replacing dailies with, although I haven’t heard much grumbling about the Timeless Isle so maybe that will suffice.
  • Garrison as player housing (source). Personally, this sort of came across as more of a gimmick to me, but I became more intrigued when they mentioned that there will be multiple locations in which to place your Garrison. I enjoyed the farm quite a bit in MoP, so this will probably be fine. I like that you can invite people into your party so they can see your configuration/interact with your NPCs, but if you can’t show off a trophy collection of some sort then it’s kinda pointless IMO.
  • Itemization revamp (source). This is huge to me and will have wide-reaching ramifications across the whole of the game. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, Parry, and Reforging all gone. More limited Enchanting and Gemming. Dynamically changing gear stats (!!). Just think about that for a second. One suit of gear will cover all of your paladin/shaman/druid/etc specs. Enchanting/Gemming will likely mess with things a bit, which is sad, but still that is a game-changing amount of gear reduction. The only question mark here is whether Spirit is going to be considered a primary stat for spec purposes. I imagine it’d have to be, because otherwise you would still need plate with Spirit on it.
  • Free level 90 (source). I know a lot of MMO vets don’t like this, but the grumbling is pretty silly at this point. Recruit-A-Friend gives a 300% bonus to XP gain and gives the referral toon free levels to hand out to alts. I used a Scroll of Resurrection to get a free level 80 almost two years ago. By the end of each expansion, the leveling curve is reduced by 30%. Heirlooms exist. I have heard people suggest Blizzard could have introduced a sidekicking system or dynamic leveling ala Guild Wars 2, but I never quite caught the explanation for why the hell it’s better for a veteran to run through Stranglethorn Vale for the 10th time with his buddy instead of both of them having fun in current content. That new player can see as much old content as he/she wants on an alt. So… how is this not a win-win? Or would you have preferred Blizzard speeding up leveling even further in a way that cannot be avoided? Because that was the other real alternative here.
  • Heroic raiding = Mythic raiding with 20 people only (source). This move actually makes a lot of sense on paper, and undoubtedly makes things easier for Blizzard’s raid design team. The big downside, of course, is how it screws over every heroic 10m raiding guild in existence. While you could theoretically talk to other heroic 10m raiding guilds and buddy-up that way, I feel like heroic raiding likely takes more than just a little group chemistry to make happen. Then again, I suppose it’s fair to ask how many guilds this would actually impact that weren’t already downsizing from 25m mode for Ranking/Realm First purposes. Regardless, I think you should start selling your stock in 25m raids generally, if you have not yet done so.

There are also some other random quality of life-esque improvements like how heirlooms will be Account-wide (a clever solution to cross-realm mail), max-level normal dungeons will be making a return, and BGs will be getting a new scoreboard that highlights actual contribution to the fight rather than damage/healing whoring. Obviously a lot of this will be subject to change and refinement, but I am tentatively intrigued based on what we have seen thus far.

Well, let me specify that I am intrigued by the features and game changes, not this throwback to the most boring racial lore in the game. Oooo, orcs, doing tribal orcish things. We are supposedly going to be seeing “a lot” of paladin lore along with presumably some Naaru shenanigans, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about being Alliance for this upcoming expansion. So we’ll see how it goes.

Review: Torchlight 2

Game: Torchlight 2
Recommended price: $5/bundle
Metacritic Score: 88
Completion Time: 35 hours
Buy If You Like: Torchlight 1, Poorly itemized Diablo-clones

At least the combat feels improved.

At least the combat feels improved.

Torchlight 2 is the hack-n-slash sequel to the original Torchlight, itself an homage and erstwhile competitor to Blizzard’s Diablo series. Indeed, Torchlight 2 was released around the same time Diablo 3 was making headlines with its controversial always-on requirements and server-dependent gameplay. While it makes a great counter-point to Diablo 3 on the feature listings, Torchlight 2 is essentially more of the same from the original game. Which, in my case, is bad news.

My fundamental gripes with both Torchlight games are their meaningless adherence to archaic game design, and a fundamentally terrible itemization/progression system. Torchlight 2 features four different classes to choose from, each with three separate class trees. While they mainly follow traditional hack-n-slash roles, there does exist room for experimentation: there are more than enough talents to choose from to transform, say, the archer-esque Outlander into a melee-only tank (albeit not likely as powerful as a normal tank class). Where this experimentation immediately breaks down is how there is no respecing in Torchlight 2; at most, you are allowed to get a refund on your last three talent points. While this was how things worked in Diablo 2, it is also true that at one point people thought asbestos as insulation was a good idea.

The more crippling flaw though, and the singular design that undermines everything else the game set out to accomplish is the awful itemization and item progression system. While not as outlandishly terrible as the original Torchlight, it is still entirely possible (and even likely) that you will receive a random drop at level 17 that you will still be using 40 levels later at the end of the game. The core of what made the Diablo series so compelling to play was how items and gold erupted from nearly every enemy you faced, and thus you had a steady supply of dopamine over the course of what otherwise is series of perpetually unengaging clicks. Torchlight 2 has none of that – nearly two-thirds of the game was spent vendoring every ring, helmet, amulet, and pants I came across.

Not even the class-specific helmet from the last boss was an upgrade.

Not even the class-specific helmet from the last boss was much an upgrade to my level 14 helm.

It gets even worse, if you can image that.

Clearing an entire map’s worth of mobs and collecting every single piece of vendorable debris results in what I would like to term one “Gear Unit” (typically 2000g-3000g). Each GU allows you to either purchase one item from a vendor, or upgrade an existing item by either adding gem sockets, enchantments, or purchasing gems themselves. This ridiculous stinginess with gold means you are perpetually strapped for cash, only allowing you to augment the gear you’ve accumulated one map clear at a time. God help you if you’ve finally accepted the fact that you’ll never replace your boots only to have an infinitely rare upgrade drop right after spending 10,000g (or 3 GUs) on your old pair.

Oh, and by the way, the Gold Chests and Boss Chests that you are “rewarded” with for going out of your way to find the keys or defeat said boss end up dropping jack shit 99% of the time. I have found more rares and unique items out of normal, everyday treasure chests than I have ever gotten from boss chests. How do you fuck something like this up?

Oh, hey, a Minecraft reference.

Oh, hey, a Minecraft reference.

I am spending all this time talking about loot and such because that is the heart and soul of the hack-n-slash genre. To get loot wrong in these sort of games is to create a racing game with poor-handling cars or a FPS where the guns don’t shoot at the crosshairs. Indeed, would anyone play a Diablo-esque game if there was no gear at all? The gameplay, which consists of mowing down tens of thousands of mobs within seconds of their appearing on the screen absolutely is not compelling enough on its own, that’s for goddamn sure.

All of which is certainly a shame, as Torchlight 2 is otherwise an improved sequel in pretty much every other way. The gameplay (such as it is) feels more responsive and impactful; the environments are detailed and fun to look at; the music is about a half dozen artful remixes of the Tristram theme; and I enjoy the visual style. It just feels, you know, completely unrewarding to play.

It is worth mentioning that all of these problems have been solved by better game designers, e.g. the players submitting mods to the game. There are mods that range from introducing new character classes to entirely new dungeons to, you guessed it, fixing the loot issue by guaranteeing Unique or better drops from Gold/Boss chests. I decided early on to stick with the vanilla game because I wanted to get a feel for what the devs learned from the original Torchlight. The answer is “pretty much nothing.” Playing with mods “taints” your character though and otherwise makes you ineligible for achievements. But since the base game feels like such a massive chore to play, I highly recommend anyone deciding to install Torchlight 2 to go ahead and fix what the devs had not the brains and/or balls to do.