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How Echtra Plans to Make Their Dream MMO ARPG

William Murphy Posted:
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What seems forever ago, we talked with Max Schaefer and Runic Games upon the announcement of Torchlight 1, and how the IP’s ultimate goal was to evolve into an MMO. That had always been the goal with the ill-fated Flagship side-project Mythos (also involving Max Schaefer), but we all know that Flagship never could get Mythos where it wanted to go. Runic wanted to make Hob, and Max still wanted to make that ARPG MMO he’d been dreaming of for years. Enter, Echtra Games...

Echtra Games was founded with one goal specifically in-mind: to make the next evolution of the Torchlight IP. Max moves down to San Francisco and began assembling a team of super-ARPG devs - many of which worked at Blizzard on Diablo, and at Runic on Torchlight. Two years later, and here we are seeing the fruits of their labors, with the Torchlight universe looking bright and shiny in the Unreal Engine 4. The game’s beta will be starting “soon TM” and Frontiers will be launching on PC, PS4, and Xbox One in early 2019. There’s no word yet on a Switch version, but I made sure to impress upon him just how rad that would be. I even used the word “rad” so he knows I mean it.

In the IGN First interview with Jared Petty, Max shied a bit away from the MMO term, because he’s worried that people will expect a “World of Warcraft” type experience. But he stressed to me that Torchlight Frontiers is indeed very much an MMO and an ARPG. It has large areas where players can gather and do things en masse, and smaller more personal zones to hunt, play co-op or solo in as well.

He stressed that anyone who played Torchlight 1 or 2, or Diablo or Path of Exile will feel right at home in Frontiers. There’s no word on if cross-play will happen between console and PC, but Max was happy to report that they’re not shirking on any goals with this game’s content and features to make the game work on consoles.

The iconic pets that have been present since Torchlight 1, themselves brought over by Travis Baldree from the classic Fate, are definitely making a return in Frontiers. Only now, you can expect that they’ll be much more customizable and have a few tricks up their sleeves - in short they’ll do more than fight alongside you and take your trash loot back to town (though they’ll do that too).

Max also let slip a detail few have heard about until now - there will be a form of housing in Torchlight Frontiers called Forts. He couldn’t say any more about it, but to expect that they’ll be more than just places to hang decorations and loiter between dungeons. They want them to be just as much a part of the gameplay as anything else in Torchlight. I immediately envisioned customizable forts that you use for some sort of horde mode variant, and I hope I’m right. Ubisoft’s ill-fated The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot had a similar idea, and Torchlight could easily adopt it and make something truly epic in a more complete online world.

Something that’s also worth noting? Procedural dungeon/map creation is still a big part of the game here. One of my least favorite parts of Diablo 3 is how far removed the game is from randomized dungeons. I loved exploring new locals in Torchlight 1 and 2, and in Path of Exile, so I’m happy to report that the same practice of shaking things up will be present in Torchlight Frontiers.

There will be classes, talent trees, and all that good stuff, and the focus on gear will be finding it out in the dungeons and world - not in crafting. First and foremost, Torchlight Frontiers is about the ARPG at its core. That’s the adventure, the fights, the loot, and the co-op gameplay. Max told me that while they’re toying with competitive gameplay modes, it’s not something they’re focused on. They want a killer PVE MMO - any PVP will come second to that core looting and hunting experience.

I’m jealous right now, as I know our own Ed Orr and Gareth Harmer are hitting up the Perfect World booth at Gamescom 2018 to see and play Torchlight Frontiers before I get a chance to. Torchlight is one of my all-time favorite games, and I’m beyond thrilled to know that Max and his crew at Echtra are working on the MMO ARPG I’ve been longing to play for a decade. Beta is coming soon, and gods-willing, we’ll have plenty of keys to share and coverage to offer on what will likely be one of 2019’s best new MMOs.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.