Things I Want From A Torchlight MMO

This past week Perfect World Entertainment announced Torchlight Frontiers, an MMO based on the “it’s like Diablo but with color” Torchlight franchise, and I can’t wait to try it. I really miss Marvel Heroes, which you’re probably tired of hearing about by now (and if not, you’re in luck, because I’m going to talk about it some more today!), and there isn’t really anything to fill that gap. It seems like Torchlight Frontiers will be exactly that thing. After all, when it first came out, I was excited about Marvel Heroes less because of the Marvel license (I credit that game with making me care about that particular franchise, because prior to playing it I had seen maybe half of the MCU movies, if that) and more because it looked like an online version of Torchlight II. Since the announcement, I’ve been daydreaming about what I want to see from this title. Here’s my list:

Both Premade and Procedural Content
One of the great things about Torchlight and Torchlight II is the fact that, every time you play, it’s a different experience because of the randomly generated levels. I’ve always thought procedural generation would make leveling multiple characters in an MMO a lot more interesting, so I’d love to see that integrated into Torchlight Frontiers. That said, it’s a lot easier to tell a story in premade locations, so I hope they go for a mix of the two.

Something To Do With All That Loot
The joy and the curse of ARPGs is loot. It’s a great feeling when you finish off a boss and it explodes in a shower of armor, weapons, and coins all over your screen, but, sadly, most of that loot isn’t going to be useful to anyone. Torchlight has a nice system for dumping useless junk into your pet’s inventory and sending them off to town to vendor it, but it would be cool if there was something more we could do with it. Deconstructing for crafting materials is the first thing that comes to mind, but Torchlight doesn’t traditionally have crafting, so we’re not sure what form, if any, that will take in Frontiers. Maybe donating it to vendors for upgraded stock or fusing it into socketable ember pieces?

One of the things I miss the most about Marvel Heroes is the summoner playstyle. It’s not something you see in a lot of MMOs, probably due to system resources, for both players and the server, but OARPGs seem to be able to pull this off. I loved controlling an army of squirrels as Squirrel Girl, building turrets everywhere as Rocket Raccoon, or beaming in hordes of robots as Ultron. There’s something satisfying about overwhelming your opponent with superior numbers. Torchlight’s Alchemist had this in the form of Nether Imps and alchemical golems, and there were various spells that any class could buy to summon zombies and skeletons. I’d love to see this playstyle return for Torchlight Frontiers.

Class Variety
Not to keep bringing up Marvel Heroes, but one of the best things about that game was that there were so many characters to play. I don’t expect there to be fifty-something classes in Torchlight Frontiers like in Marvel Heroes, but I’d like to see more than three or four, if not at launch then a couple years down the road. Gameplay variety is the thing that keeps me coming back to games like this.

A Decent Business Model
Read the comments on any article on the announcement of this game, and you’ll mostly see varying degrees of skepticism (if not outright hatred) of Torchlight’s owner/publisher Perfect World Entertainment. PWE is known in the MMO community for being the king of lockboxes. If you’ve ever played Neverwinter or Star Trek Online you know what I’m talking about. Every other drop gives you a lockbox to clog up your inventory, with keys to open them only available in the cash shop. It’s a really annoying business tactic, the video game equivalent of popup ads, but one that I guess I could put up with if the game was good enough. After all, if you want to draw a hard line against playing games with gambleboxes, your options are sadly few and far between these days. That said, I’d really rather they went with more of a buy-to-play model with microtransactions for actual content.

Even though we don’t have a whole lot of information right now, I’m really excited for this game. I had given up hope of ever seeing this when Torchlight’s studio Runic announced they were closing, but in retrospect, that was just making way for this (probably to give PWE more direct input on the game, for better or for worse). I’m especially excited that it’s slated to come to mobile, as I’ve always thought Diablo-like games could be really fun on mobile, but most of the ones I’ve found are poorly translated Korean grinders. I have high hopes for this game, hopefully I’m not disappointed!


My Essential ESO Addons and Settings

I recently got my wife and some friends into Elder Scrolls Online, and was struck by just how much work it is to get the game to play the way I feel it should as a long-time MMO player. Here’s a list of addons I install and settings I set for every new computer/character, roughly in order of importance to me. Hopefully it will help some other players get into the game more easily.

Ok, this isn’t a addon, it’s a addon manager from Let’s face it, as great as they are, keeping track of mods and addons is a pain, especially in a game that updates every few weeks. Minion makes getting and updating addons easy. You don’t have to hunt around for your addon folder or fiddle with unzipping addons in just the right place. Just open Minion, search for what you want, and click Install. If the game is open, just type /reloadui and your shiny new addon will show up instantly. All of the links I’ve provided below can also be downloaded through Minion.

In my opinion, every MMORPG, if not every open world RPG online or not, needs a minimap. I understand the arguments against it–it’s screen clutter, immersion breaking, just use the compass, etc.–but it just makes navigating so much easier. If I don’t have a minimap, I’m going to find a way to get one modded in. I’m still amazed there’s no official option for this.
My wife tried ESO several times before it clicked with her, and she just told me the other day that she thinks the main reason it worked out this time was that she installed the minimap addon.

Quest Tracker
It’s a minor annoyance when Lord of the Rings Online only allows five quests on its tracker, but it’s understandable. It’s a holdover from a bygone era when screens were smaller with a lot fewer pixels. But when a game launches in 2014 with only the ability to track one quest a time? That’s just unacceptable. It’s made even worse by the fact that the compass icon for an untracked quest is the same as that of a quest you haven’t picked up.

Show Buffs & Debuffs
Settings>Combat>Buffs & Debuffs
This should have been in there at launch, but at least we finally have it now, even if it is off by default. I think they thought they could get by without it, putting indicators on character models to show that they have buffs or debuffs, but when you’re running around in a dungeon there’s too much visual clutter to see if an enemy has bleed particles or if your character is glowing in all the right ways.

Another feature that was finally added officially (again, defaulting to off) that I’ve never understood how they launched without. It’s usually easy enough to tell which characters are NPCs and which are players (just look for the ones trying to jump their way over a fence, and failing), but I like to know who characters are without having to point at them. Plus I like to see the clever character names that people come up with.

Show Ability Bar
Settings>Combat>Heads-Up Display
I’m an altaholic, so when I log into a character I don’t always remember where all of my skills are. Some people prefer to remove the screen clutter when not in combat, but I like the comfort of being able to see my skills at any time.

Prevent Attacking Innocents
So, on my very first character, I was doing to main quest in Vulkhel Guard, running errands for some evil elves who were trying to be subtle about their evilness (and failing). One part of the quest involves searching a warehouse and being jumped by a random assassin (I still don’t quite get why, but whatever). The assassin died from a DoT, right as I was about to release a fully charged bow attack. The arrow fired just as the guy died, and because video game physics are weird, the arrow flew right through his collapsing corpse and hit some unsuspecting dock worker right behind him, one-shotting him. And, because video game ethics are also weird, while everyone would have been totally fine with my killing the assassin in the street in broad daylight, and wouldn’t have intervened to help me, killing the random dock worker caused me to get zerg rushed by every guard in the town.
And that was the day that I discovered the Prevent Attacking Innocents option.

So, there’s a whole category of items that are just vendor trash. There’s a way to mark items as junk and hide them from your normal inventory. Why not automatically mark junk items as junk, and sell them automatically when you visit a vendor? Dustman does just that. It also has a lot of settings to fiddle with, so if you want to to automatically trash ornate or white items, you can have it do that too.

One of my favorite things about ESO is that it encourages exploration through meaningful rewards. One of the most useful rewards, at least while you’re leveling, is skyshards. Collect three and you get a skillpoint for relatively little effort. But sometimes you’ve had enough exploring for the time being and just want to take the quickest leveling path possible. That’s what the Skyshards addon is for.
The same goes for lorebooks and the Mage’s Guild line. I actually usually disable lorebooks just because there are so many of them it makes the map cluttered and hard to navigate, but I leave it installed in case I want to powerlevel Mage’s Guild. Also, as any Elder Scrolls lore fan will tell you, all of the lore books are very well written, so if you like to take reading breaks between monster killings, this addon is for you.

Remap Dodge
Controls>Standard Keybinds>General>Roll Dodge
Double tap to dodge is fine, but sometimes the extra few milliseconds it takes to press a key a second time is the difference between dodging out of the red and being a daedra snack. I usually bind this to middle click, since it’s easy to access.

I have a few other addons installed, like a addon to gridify my inventory, add a GW2-style /wiki command, or prevent accidental stealing, but those are more about preference and I wouldn’t call them “essential.” I’m sure there are lots of other cool addons out there I haven’t discovered. Let me know in the comments what your favorite addons are!

Announcing Symphony On A Chip

I’d like to introduce you to my new blog, Symphony On A Chip! I’ll be posting there about my favorite retro game music from 20 years ago or more. The goal is to post a couple of times a week, but my goal for this blog is once a week and you know how that goes. The music does most of the talking, however, so hopefully it’ll be a little easier to stick to the schedule on that one.

Don’t worry, Occasional Hero isn’t going anywhere; I’ll still be posting weekly-ish as always. This is a side project idea that I’ve been toying with for a while, and Blaugust finally gave me an excuse to do it.

Anyways, if you want take a look, head over to, or follow me on Twitter for updates from both blogs. Hopefully you’ll hear something you like!

I’m happy to hear any feedback!

First Impressions of Mega Man X Legacy Collection (Switch)

I’ve been a Mega Man fan literally since before I can remember. My parents got a bootleg copy of the awful Mega Man 3 DOS version (don’t copy that floppy!) before I could talk, and I have fond memories of watching them play on their Tandy 1000 with monochrome monitor. I was also quite obsessed with the Ruby Spears Mega Man cartoon growing up. Being pretty much a lifelong PC gamer, I didn’t get to own many of the Mega Man games until later (I jumped on the Nintendo bandwagon just as Capcom was jumping off), but I did find PC copies of a couple of the games in the Mega Man X series, and it remains one of my favorite series in the franchise. It retains the spirit of the Classic series, while adding new progression, such as armor upgrades and health expansions, that give you a reason to replay and explore levels, as you often need a weapon acquired from one of the other bosses to get into secret areas. I also felt like the difficulty of the X series was a lot more well balanced than any of the other series in the franchise. So when Capcom announced that they were releasing Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 & 2 (containing X1-X4 and X5-X8, respectively), I knew I had to get it.

First of all, I’d like to say that, for years, all things being equal, if a game came out on both console and PC, I would always choose the PC version without hesitation. Nintendo has recently broken me of that habit, however, with the Switch. My internal argument in favor of PC is that I can play either in front of my computer or on the TV with a controller via various streaming schemes (Steam Link works really well for me!), whereas, with console you’re stuck only playing on the TV, and if my wife wants to watch TV while I want to play, one of us is out of luck. With the Switch I can play on the TV or in tablet mode, which has been the first console feature to lure me away from PC. Of course, if we were talking about a game with high end graphics I would still definitely go for the PC version, because the Switch, while remarkably powerful for a device of its size, is still a tablet, and can’t hope to match the quality of a full size computer. But we’re not talking about high end graphics, we’re talking about mostly 2D pixel art games, so Switch it was.

Gameplay-wise, these games are just as you remember them (terrible dubbing and all!). The emulation is really great. The audio is crisp with no stutters or pops. Since these games were all made for standard ratio, and the modern widescreen format is slightly taller than that, the game comes with the option to either stretch it to full height with slight scaling blur, present it in pixel-perfect scale with a border, or, if you’re some kind of animal, stretch it to widescreen. There is some occasional slowdown, but I’m told there was in the original SNES release as well. Some sites I’ve seen are saying it chugs in places it shouldn’t, but I never owned an SNES so I can’t say for sure. I do feel like X1 runs better than the SNES Classic version for whatever that’s worth. There are no rewind or savestate options (other than saving at save screens so you don’t have to write down that massive password matrix), which seems a bit odd given that these features were included in the classic Mega Man Legacy Collection, but I kind of like it; rewinds and save states cheapen the original experience. If you’re having trouble with difficulty, there’s a new novice mode that makes the game a little less punishing. Plus I imagine that all of that gets more complicated as you get into emulating more complex systems like the PS1 and PS2.

Over the years I’ve found various ways to play Mega Man X 1-5 (well, I guess I had X6 in the Anniversary Collection as well, but I don’t think I ever got around to trying it as I’ve always heard it’s a trainwreck), but this is my first time playing the PS2 games. Putting the PS1 and PS2 games next to each other is a good argument for why some games should have stuck with pixelart, and X7 in particular is a very good argument for why Mega Man should have stuck to 2D platformers. I didn’t even make it through the tutorial stage because of the wonky controls. Worst of all is when the game abruptly switches from 2D to 3D without warning, which caused me to almost died more than once because suddenly holding right on the control stick goes from running forward to running right off of a cliff. Nevertheless, I’m glad to finally get the chance to experience these later games, even if they are mediocre compared to the earlier ones.

It’s worth noting that the physical version, in a bizarre move on the part of Capcom, contains a physical cartridge of Collection 1 and a code for a download of Collection 2. It seems like they were just too cheap to spring for the cartridge size large enough to hold both collections. I’m honestly not bothered by it as much as some people are, it’s just weird.

Oh, and I feel I should also go on record that the changes to the boss names in Mega Man X5 to not be weird references to members of Guns N’ Roses is a great change. Thank you, that has always bothered me, even before I knew the story behind it.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the collection, and I hope it heralds the return of the X series just as the classic Legacy Collection heralded Mega Man 11. Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some Mavericks that need my attention.

ESO Has My Favorite Business Model

And here we see Sotha Sil’s greatest creation hard at work: The Cash Extraction Engine!

I don’t like subscription games. It’s what has kept me out of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV since those games launched, even though I think they’re both great games that I’d have a lot of fun in. I like the freedom to play whatever I feel like right now, and a subscription ties me down to one title for at least a month. And yet, I just reactivated my sub for a game that’s buy-to-play with a fully optional subscription, and not in a “well, you can play without paying a subscription, but we’ll penalize you so heavily you won’t want to” kind of way like, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic. That game, as you probably guessed from the title, is The Elder Scrolls Online.

First of all, yes, I realize the irony of the fact that I wrote a month ago about ESO’s lack of stickiness, and now I’m still playing. I’m still annoyed at the lack of an auction house, though my Khajiit has recently discovered a proclivity for… acquiring certain items at a…discount, so I’ve finally earned enough money for a small house! I’ll be sure to post screenshots when it looks presentable. The other factor is that I was pointed to a great guild, The Loreseekers (run by the guys who do the podcast of the same name), and have finally been healing some dungeons with them.

Anyways, back to ESO’s business model. First of all, I love that a $15 subscription gets you $15 of cash shop currency. I don’t think I’ve ever bought crowns outright, because this is such a good deal. Yes, a lot of games give you a free stipend of currency for subbing, but ESO is the only game I know that gives you an amount equal to the subscription fee. Sadly, this has the effect of making most of the cosmetics in the cash shop way overpriced ($30-$40 for a mount? That’s more than a DLC! And totally woth it to ride around on a dwemer spider) because the loyalists who subscribe all the time have piles of crowns sitting around waiting to be spent. But hey, it’s still a good deal even still.

The second reason I love this subscription model is because of the crafting bag. I have played more hours without the crafting bag than with it, and, once you can afford a few bank and inventory expansions, it really isn’t that bad. You simply make room in your bank for most of the material types, avoid picking up the myriad cooking and potion ingredients, and decondtruct your gear and deposit materials every time you go through a town, and you’re fine. Nothing out of the ordinary for someone who’s played (MMO)RPGs for any length of time. But inventory management is the single thing I hate most about RPGs. In games like Torchlight 2 I actually install mods to make my inventory bigger so I don’t have to deal with it. So if I can pay $15 a month and pick up any crafting material I want and not have to worry about it, I’m happy to do so.

The final perk is access to all of the DLCs. It’s sort of like renting the DLCs, as I’m happy to play them while my sub is on and ignore them the rest of the time. You could also think of it as rent-to-own, since you could just sub until you have enough crowns to buy the DLCs permanently, but at the rate they’ve been cranking out DLCs, it’ll take a while to pay for them all (not unlike rent-to-own property).

I promise I’m not getting paid to advertise for Zenimax. I’m just really happy with their business model; if it didn’t include lockboxes it would be perfect. Speaking of which, if they thought giving me free lockboxes for daily logins and Twitch drops would make me entice to buy more, they’re sorely mistaken. After opening probably twenty of the things I’ve gotten mostly junk (potions, food, and poisons), a couple of super ugly hats, and one outfit that I wouldn’t have paid for, but since it was free I guess I’ll use it. I’ve converted almost all of it to crown gems, which I have to admit is a nice feature, but I haven’t yet found anything particularly tempting to spend the gems on.

ESO’s Lack of Stickiness

I’ve owned The Elder Scrolls Online for about two years now. It’s a really great game; its business model is one of my personal favorites–buy-to-play with an optional subscription that actually feels both worth it and truly optional at the same time–its graphics are beautiful, and, while I still prefer tab target MMOs, the gameplay has really grown on me. I recently decided to pass on the Summerset expansion (there’s plenty of this game I haven’t seen, and jewelry crafting and a new magic skill line aren’t enough to entice me), but I’ve had the itch to play again anyway. So why is it that, every time I try to come back, I never seem to stick around for more than a few weeks?

The first reason is one that I talked about recently: the game is super depressing. In pretty much every quest line, someone ends up dead and everyone is sad. In most MMOs when you hear “My husband is missing! Please find him!” he’s probably just been taken captive by brigands or something. Sure, every once in a while they’re dead, but in ESO you hear a quest like that and you just want to say “Sorry, but he’s probably been fed to demons or something. It’s probably for the best that you just forget about him,” and keep walking. It sounds heartless, but if you pursue the quest, the guy’s wife or kid or someone will probably end up getting themselves killed in a mad quest for vengeance. It’s a world I very much don’t want to live in, which doesn’t make me want to spend my free time there.

Nobody To Play With
I don’t have many friends who play MMOs right now (I had a few for a while, but between Fortnite: BR and real life stressors, not so much anymore), but none of them are in ESO right now. This game’s group content looks really fun to me, but with no friends to play with and really bad luck finding guilds that don’t fall apart within months, I haven’t gotten to see much of it. Also, with level scaling, at what level are you even useful in dungeons?

Lack of an Auction House
I’d really like to mess with this game’s housing and furniture crafting, but unless I want to decorate a hotel room (or at best a one bedroom apartment), I need a decent amount of gold to buy a house. And it’s really hard to make gold when you can’t sell to other players without joining a trade guild that has a vendor in a good city. And to get into one of those guilds, you have to pay a monthly tax or get booted. Given that I’m already not very consistent in playing, I doubt I’d last very long in one of those. I’m sure there are some out there without a tax, but, as I said before, I’ve had a hard enough time finding guilds that last that just to PvE content, let alone ones rich enough to have a trader.

The Usual Suspects
Then, of course, there are the usual reasons why I don’t last in an MMO: Things like all of the classes (and different ways to play those clsases) look fun, and I can’t get one leveled before getting distracted by something shinier. Also demotivating is inventory management. This game throws a lot of crafting materials and deconstructible gear at you, and bigger bags get expensive after a while (see above rant about money). Logging into a character with a full inventory and no quick way to dig it out is a sure way to get me to log out and play something else. And, of course, there are so many other things to play.

One of these days I’m hoping this game will click with me. It’s certainly been clicking for a the last few days, so hopefully that means something. If anyone knows of a good guild (preferably with a trader), let me know! That would definitely go a long way toward making this game stick.

Six Months Later, Still Mourning Marvel Heroes

“Temporarily Unavailable”

Half a year ago today, my favorite low-stress, sort-of-MMO went dark, amid a flurry of weird circumstances and mishandling on the part of the studio and Disney. Do we really know why it folded exactly? I’m not sure. I think I stopped paying attention when the end was clearly upon us.

The worst part is that it has kind of ruined Marvel media for me. My wife has recently gotten into the Squirrel Girl series (which is excellent, by the way!), and, given that she was one of my favorite characters in Heroes, reading those comics always dredges up memories of shooting squirrels at everything in Midtown (Death From The Trees! Hulkbuster Squirrels! Squirrelpocalypse!). Infinity War was also painful, not because of the characters they killed off (seriously, if you want me to be sad about characters dying, don’t kill off ones who are currently shooting another movie), but because of the game they killed off six months earlier.

I feel a little silly talking about some dumb video game, and, let’s be honest, a sometimes mediocre one at that, like I’ve lost an old friend. But I think other gamers who have had a game that they thought would be there for years to come unceremoniously yanked out from under them will understand. Ask anyone who played City of Heroes (man, what is it with super hero MMOs?) or Star Wars Galaxies anything about those games and you will get a long nostalgia trip about how great it was and how there’s nothing else out there quite like it. Well, now I understand those people a little better.

I’m still hoping someone will come up with a way to do an emulator/private server. I’d love to play this game again, even if it’s just as a single player experience.