This week Echtra Games announced that Torchlight Frontiers is no more, but declared, long live Torchlight 3. Max Schaefer stated plainly in the announcement video that, throughout the alpha and development cycle Torchlight Frontiers “told” them that it preferred to be the spiritual successor to Torchlight 1 and 2. The reveal of changing everything from how you pay to how you play says something very different to me, and it isn’t very good.
For those that haven’t been following the development of Echtra Games highly anticipated title Torchlight Frontiers, it may not surprise you to find out that the game was hit with delays over the course of development. While Echtra aimed to meet a 2019 release, it’s now plainly obvious, not only why they didn’t hit that mark, but it may additionally point to the very real possibility that they realized they may not be able to hit that mark at all with their original vision.
I could try and impress an understanding of how ARPG MMOs take a lot of work, and how Free to Play models often have a stigma attached to them. I can rationalize that through every video and written disclosure of these changes, the Echtra team insisted the alterations followed the echoes of what the Alpha players have been asking for all along. Unfortunately, what has transpired here is a travesty, not only for many of us who not only expected a Torchlight ARPG MMO, but a travesty for Max Schaefer as well. In the original announcement, quoted below, Schaefer described a world that enthralled us all.
“Evolving the Torchlight universe into a shared world has always been a goal for the franchise, and I’m excited that we’re finally able to make it a reality,” said Max Schaefer, CEO of Echtra Games. “Torchlight Frontiers will be a living, breathing universe that will still feel uniquely Torchlight, while we add our own creative spin to the game. The team is building something truly special, and we can’t wait for fans to play it for the first time at Gamescom and PAX West.”
Gone is the living, breathing universe in favor of the simplicity of an offline option. Gone is the world of hapless adventurers unexpectedly running into each other outside of hubs. Gone is the evolution that Schaefer envisioned, all in favor of something familiar. Torchlight Frontiers major shift in trajectory didn’t have to happen the way it did. From my estimation of the greater Torchlight Frontiers community, most players didn’t enjoy the Frontier system as it stood. While I can understand that tweaks and changes may need to be made as development grows, my personal misgivings over this announcement do not dwell within the fact that Torchlight Frontiers is now a Multiplayer Online Game instead of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game with a persistent world. My apprehension is that, Echtra Games, in giving up on an exciting, (r)evolutionary vision of a Torchlight MMO, completely diminishes any hope that an MMO in the Torchlight realm may ever come to pass, which seems to have little effect on many of Torchlights fans.
An argument can easily be made that Echtra Games is doing the best thing for them. One could argue they are doing the most financially safe thing. Someone may even debate that they prefer not having an in-game real-money store, and a private offline game instead of an online PvE free for all. They may rightly say that the Frontier system would have never caught on. My take is simply, Echtra made a mistake. Echtra didn’t come to the table with Torchlight 3. They didn’t promise an incremental update of a previous title, or a spiritual successor. What will remain in the wake of this catastrophic decision is a shell of the game we wanted and were promised. Torchlight 3 will surely be be a great game, and will undoubtedly be a game that will be played and enjoyed by many, including myself. Despite how pleasing it may turn out to be, one fact will always remain. Echtra Games threw in the towel on their vision, an MMO that could have truly been something.