Dark or Light

Max Schaefer On Housing, Pets, Progression and More

Gareth Harmer Posted:
Interviews 0

During Gamescom 2018, we were able to be among the first to get hands-on time with Echtra and Perfect World’s Torchlight Frontiers - the brand new MMO ARPG based on the Torchlight franchise formerly of Runic Games. They also spoke to studio founder Max Schaefer about many of the finer details of how Frontiers will play - from housing to randomization, progression and gear, day and night cycles and more.

As we’ve learned before, the world of Torchlight Frontiers is very much a mix of shared spaces and private instances for solo players and groups. As Max put it: “The primary goal of bringing Torchlight Frontiers to Gamescom was to assure fans that this is a real Torchlight game.”

And indeed from our time with it, it’s very much a classic ARPG and a classic Torchlight game. The controls are the same, combat is the same, and that means it’s both fluid and crisp with a lot of weight to movement and combat. It feels just as good as Torchlight 1 and 2 did, and the PC version has controller support baked in - especially important since it’s also launching on PS4 and Xbox One.

“Generally the shared open spaces are the passage to get to whatever quest or goal you're on,” Schaefer told us. The shared open world spaces will be randomised, but not as randomised as the quest areas like dungeons, caves, and so forth. There will be shared towns and hubs too, but those won’t be randomized, as it wouldn’t make sense for everyone to suddenly find Torchlight Town completely jumbled up each time they entered. Think of the open world areas as the overworld maps in a game like the sadly gone Marvel Heroes, whereas the dungeons and the like are more compact and meant for solos and groups, but also where the bulk of the quests and story takes you.

There will be a day/night cycle to the world, and it’s currently set for 20 minutes each.

Monsters and harvestables change on the cycle, and it’s feasible that special in-world events can be built around the time of day as well.

There are some familiar classes, as you’ve probably seen from the recent gameplay video, but one that stands out and is brand new is “The Forge”. The lore for the Forge isn’t currently written and finalized, but he’s basically a sentient robot-guy. He looks like a metal forge on four spider legs. He builds up Heat as a resource by shooting his gun, and then vents it with a close range AOE. It’s a very unique looking and playing ARPG class, and Echtra wants to do more and more of that with Frontiers - pay homage to the classics while also building and expanding the world of Torchlight.

The pet system is going to get a huge upgrade in Frontiers. In TL1 and TL2, you had pets that could carry items, go back to town and sell junk for you so you didn’t have to, and they aided you in combat. All that’s still here in Frontiers, but now you’re going to be able to collect a ton of pets and house them in your own personal kennel at your fort, and they’re shared across your entire account of characters.

That’s right, as we stated before, Torchlight Frontiers has a housing system that Echtra is calling Forts. Max spoke more to how the kennels work: “The things that you make in your fort are going to be available to all your characters. One of the differences between this and a lot of MMOs is that we’re going to encourage players to create lots of characters. And there are some good reasons for this, because they all have ways to benefit each other. One of them is, if you collect a bunch of pets, they go into your kennel in your fort and all of your characters can select from them.”

Forts add a whole lot to how your characters will play throughout your Torchlight career. Kennels are just one way. Here’s Max again, “Another thing about our forts is that the things you do in them will actually give your player different skills or make them more powerful in some ways. A couple of examples we’re working on are simple things like the pet kennel, another is an enchanting table. You level it up to a certain moping and you can designate one of your characters as an enchanting vendor. A cool thing we do is take your forts and put them in the world randomly for other players to see. And they can come up to your fort and say ‘He’s got an enchanting vendor, I can use him just like an enchanting vendor in the town, and I will pay a fee to get my item enchanted.’ And if it’s your fort, you get the fee.”

In short, Max wants to make sure that players are “incentivised to make a cool fort with lots of utilities, not just for yourself but for other players too.” It’s unclear right now how you’ll share your fort with other players, but one can likely expect that’s a lot like other games’ instanced housing.

You may be wondering what the metagame of a PVE-focused ARPG is going to be. And Max didn’t shy away from the notion. While there’ll be plenty of content, loot hunting and replay value for a single character, Echtra wants you to level up a whole cast of characters, even in the same class, and give them all specializations via the varied ways you’ll have to make them unique.

Echtra’s goal is to de-emphasize player level, and instead focus on progression within areas and regions of the game world. They’re going to be constantly adding new places to adventure with new content and features, and Max and the team want it to be relevant to new and old players immediately. They want to shy away from the idea that a game must keep adding to the level cap or increasing a gear score that gates players from new content. Then, when a new region is added, it can be relevant to newcomers and older players immediately.

For the rest of the year, players can expect Friends and Family testing to begin, and then the beta will come for other Torchlight players, and the monetization system will be built using their feedback. Examples of some item store ideas for Torchlight Frontiers so far include buyable maps that have increased magic find or gold drops. If you group with one player using this map, everyone in the party gets it. Max said it’ll also be possible to earn such maps in game without spending cash.

“We want this to be a long-term thing for years and years after release. There’s a palpable relief [on the show floor] that this is a Torchlight game,” Max said. If you play close attention to the gameplay trailer you might spot one of the unannounced classes. Will launch with 4 or 5 classes.

On the MMO elephant in the room, Max wanted to make it clear: “We’re kind of branding it as a ‘Shared Online ARPG’ rather than saying MMO. It is totally an MMO but when you say that, people have very specific feelings on what that means. When we say MMO, we mean in the very broad sense of what’s in a massively multiplayer online game, but we want to emphasise that it’s a shared online action RPG, just so people know that it’s Torchlight but with the added benefits of an online community.”

You can play Torchlight Frontiers solo, but other people will always be online around you and near you. You can avoid playing with them, but it’s clear that Echtra wants this new Torchlight to push the envelope and bring the universe into a long-term game that lasts for years and years. Expect our impressions of the gameplay soon, and rest assured that it all felt very Torchlight.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.