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Torchlight Frontiers - Forging Forward with the Community as a Guide

William Murphy Posted:
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Torchlight Frontiers is inching ever closer to its eventual launch in 2019, and with two exciting alpha weekends under its belt, and more to come, we caught up with Tyler Thompson, Project Lead and Echtra Co-Founder and Paul Hobbs, Community Manage at Echtra. Together, we discussed everything from how the team’s been trying to push the genre farther, and how they’ve learned to rein it in when they go too far.

First off, you’ll all be very happy to know that yes, there are more alpha tests coming with more invites to go out too. And yes Torchlight Frontiers is still very much on track for launch in 2019. Let that sink in, because while I can’t detail specifics I can happily say that everyone I may or may not know has been thoroughly pleased with the direction of the Alpha.

Why, you may ask? Well, as Tyler Thompson and Paul Hobbs put it bluntly - they really do mean it when they say they want to work with their community to make Torchlight Frontiers a special kind of MMO and a special kind of Action RPG. The team at Echtra is filled with men and women who have designed some of the world’s most loved Action RPGs and online games. It would have been so easy for them to just make yet another Action RPG that followed the formula of games past. A Torchlight 2, but Online-ier, if you will.

Instead, Echtra has opted to make things different. At first, they even tried removing traditional levels. In its place, to equip new gear, you had to spend valuable points to up the level of your ability to wear certain items for each frontier (region) of the game world. This didn’t work out, as it never really felt like a choice because it’s an Action RPG - you always want the highest level and strongest equipment.

Based on feedback from Alpha tests, the team has instituted a traditional level system, but with a twist. You still have specific gear that’s meant to be used in each region, weapons and armor that are most effective against the foes you’ll face there, but now as you play in a region, you’ll level up in that region. The more you play there, the stronger you’ll be against those foes, and the better gear you’ll be able to equip. No more choosing between spending skill points on armor or weapons or skills - you can just focus on your character’s skills from now on and let your Frontier Level be the bar for item and equipment.

And that’s just part of the lessons learned from the community from these Alpha tests. Along with the idea that levels still are a necessary “evil” in an ARPG, the team quickly realized that with so much gear and so many items to swap and make builds with, players were going to need some easy way to sort through it all. Over his Christmas “vacation”, Tyler took it upon himself to come up with a way to make gear organized and accessible depending on your activity and where you’re hunting.

Voila - the wardrobe system was born. Not only can you easily store tons of item sets and builds with the Wardrobe, but because it’ll be a part of your Fort (housing), you can use the Wardrobe to display your favorite items for all who come to visit.

Paul and Tyler offered up some other great examples of how the community actively works to make the game better at all times. The Torchlight Frontiers Discord server is an extremely good place for fans to directly interact with the devs, and in many cases so far legitimate issues have been brought up and solutions to issues have been found. In ARPGs, not everyone wants to worry about doing tons of quests to progress. Some just want to slay mobs and collect loot.

In these early tests, the team saw some folks having an issue with having to do tons of quests to keep progressing to other areas. With discussion and dialog on the Discord, Echtra and the community were able to quickly make changes so that there’s a more clear and easy path to continue the main story with a lot more optional side missions. This way the questing doesn’t always have to take the center stage, unless you want it to.

They also were able to bounce ideas back and forth between the community on Discord to find out that the Dusk Mage’s main “escape” skill was not being used often and this was leading to people believing that the class was super squishy, despite data showing it was just fine. People weren’t using the escape skill, because it was on such a long cooldown and seemed so ineffective at really being useful at all.

And yet, Echtra didn’t want to give it a smaller cooldown, because they were worried the skill would be abused for traveling at high speed across maps and trivializing content. The solution? The players didn’t care if the speed burst was minimal, just so long as it was usable more often. Now in future tests, the Dusk Mage’s escape will have a 6 second cooldown and the speed will only be a brief 20% boost (or thereabouts). No abuse, and the escape skill will actually be used for what it’s intended to be used.

Overall the discussion was really enlightening to see how quickly and how agile the Echtra team is when it comes to designing Torchlight Frontiers. Now if they’d only give us more Alpha tests and maybe some keys to give to you all... let’s make it happen, Echtra!


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.