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Hands On with Torchlight Frontiers - Gamescom 2018

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Torchlight Frontiers brings in a whole heap of firsts for the ARPG series. It’s the first installment to go truly MMO, enabling players to meet up in social spaces and level up a whole pantheon of characters. It’s the first to feature player housing in the form of Forts that provide real impact in-game. And it’s the first to feature the Forged, a completely robotic class that swaps out body parts instead of armor.

Over at Gamescom 2018, I met up with Echtra’s Max Schaefer, leader of the team on Frontiers and veteran of the Torchlight and Diablo franchise. While I got to try out the steampunk-inspired golem for myself, I also had to interview Schaefer on the project. You can read some of the highlights in our previous report, but he also had a cavern full of insight to share about developing the class, the content, and the combat for this completely new experience.

But what’s the story behind the Forged? “We haven’t really written it, but I have my own internal lore for what the Forged is, and it’s sort of a mystery. There’s some spirit of an old dwarven warrior encased in Ember lodged in there somewhere. But what I like to think of it is that there’s these robot guys walking around and they seem enough like a person that everyone just treats them like that. Nobody knows how they’re working or anything, but they’re human enough that they’re just accepted as another race in the world.”

Steampunk Swordsman

My playthrough starts in an Imperial Outpost, where the short and dumpy Forged gently totters around to the nearest quest giver. I can imagine I’m getting a little side-eye, as if I’m three racoons in a trenchcoat pretending to be a hero, but the townsfolk seem eager enough to take my aid. A goblin named Wideload has been causing a ruckus in the nearby forest, and I’ve been sent to his lair to bring his chaos to an end.

The Forged itself is an unusual class, in that it doesn’t wear armour. Instead, entire body parts are swapped out as easily as weapons. New arms, new legs, and even a new chassis can be looted and swapped, giving the automaton a completely different appearance. “There’s [even] tank treads for you legs. This is an opportunity to just do ridiculous things with a character that you can’t do with a humanoid.”

As I looked around the stone buildings, I could also make out other players (mostly because of the nameplates above their heads). The region was bustling, even though we’re on a local network of about 20 stations on the convention floor. And even with those other player characters on display, the scene didn’t feel unnatural. But this wasn’t time for sightseeing, so with a prod of the controller stick (don’t worry, both mouse/keyboard and controller are supported on PC) the four-legged clanker moved into the forest.

Wooden Expression

As I headed into Wood’s Edge, the landscape changed. Gone were the stone buildings and flagstone roads, replaced with a light forest and dirt pathways. I was joined by a pet owl, who’d mainly be helping to eat the eyeballs of any foolish goblins. As for me, this was a prime opportunity to gear up before hitting the dungeon.

Social areas like Wood’s Edge are random-ish, in order to hold the various dungeon entrances, but they’re also shared with other players. It’s also where some harvestables are found - I regularly found trees with a green aura around their roots that I could mow down and loot.

During the daytime, I could count on hordes of goblins to keep me occupied. At night, however, the green gremlins would give way to skeletons and zombies, providing a visible shift as part of the cycle. Currently, day and night last for roughly 15 to 20 minutes each, although this is likely to be tuned during beta.

It didn’t matter what I was slaying, though, as combat was hugely satisfying. The Forged has a basic melee attack and a whirlwind attack, but both are fairly low on damage. By switching to a machine-gun style ranged attack, damage creeps up. The most satisfying move, however, was opening the Forged’s front hatch to unleash a shotgun blast in a cone in front, which was also hugely effective at dealing with packs of goblins.

Unfortunately, those final two attacks generate heat inside the Forged, which needs to be vented once it hits a certain threshold. Venting heat is also massive fun, as it sucks in nearby enemies and then does a circular AoE, all the while making this steam train whistle noise. It’s both absurdly cheerful and utterly devastating, and I got hooked on it very quickly.

Even though this was the start of the goblin forest, Schaefer teased some info about what to expect as you move deeper. “Every area has a theme, and this is just the very beginning of the goblin area, running around old imperial army camps that they’ve overrun. As you proceed further into the forest you get into actual goblin homeland areas where they have their homes and a totally different architecture and stuff.”

“But that’s just the goblin forest area. We’ll add other spokes as we call them, that have different monsters, different feels and different emotions going on. One of the ones we’re calling the Echonock Mountains, it’s very vertical. You’re up on little precipices and platforms. The whole mood and feeling of it is very different. You feel very vulnerable and exposed out in the elements, and each area has its theme like that.”

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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.