I was already having a bad Monday when the extremely disappointing announcement came that Torchlight Frontiers was becoming Torchlight III and gutting its MMO systems. You know I’m a big MMO fan, so any time an MMO goes offline or fails to launch, I’m sad, even if it’s not one I was personally invested in. But it makes me even more grumpy when it was one that I was actually excited about.
I think that Diablo-like gameplay can be a lot of fun, but I’ve always found the atmosphere that Diablo and most of its various clones portray to be so oppressively depressing that it sucks all of the fun out of the game for me. This is why Torchlight II is one of my most played games on Steam; it’s Diablo, but colorful and not too serious. Better yet, the Steam game I have the most playtime in is still Marvel Heroes (and I used the standalone client for years before switching to the Steam client). When I discovered Marvel Heroes, I wasn’t even a Marvel fan. I played it because I was obsessed with Torchlight II and was wishing there was an MMO version. Since that game shut down, there really hasn’t been anything to fill the void (the closest thing is Path of Exile, but that’s back to the aforementioned oppressively depressing atmosphere), and I thought Torchlight Frontiers was going to be just that. But instead, we’re getting Torchlight III.
Perhaps more frustrating than the fact that we’re not getting the Torchlight MMO I’ve always wanted is the fact that they’re also stripping away all of the things that made this entry unique. So many quality ARPGs have come out since Torchlight — games like Grim Dawn, Path of Exile, Victor Vran, Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, and, of course, soon to be two actual Diablo games — that the world doesn’t really need another straight-up Diablo clone.
Part of me cynically wonders if publisher Perfect World Entertainment, who recently reworked Magic: Legends from an MMORPG into an online ARPG, thought the two games were too similar and forced Torchlight change course to more of a traditional ARPG formula. Maybe they viewed the low player numbers in their weird, year-plus-long, permanent open alpha as a sign that nobody wanted to play it. Why would anyone want to play an MMO that’s half broken and guaranteed to get wiped periodically? Most of all, though, I think they just caved to the MMO haters, who irrationally campaign against anything that involves online persistence.
But the reason doesn’t matter anymore. Regardless, we aren’t getting a Torchlight MMO anymore. Yes, at least it has some social features, like the ability to interact with and group up with others in town if you want to play in online mode. Some would say that this makes it as much an MMO as the original Guild Wars (that’s a whole different debate). But zones will be devoid of any players not in your party, and story and character progression sounds linear and bland. There’s still going to be crafting and housing, which is cool, but no word that I’ve seen about auction house and player trading, which is a major make-or-break point for MMO-ness in my mind. It’s better than a complete scrapping of the entire project, but it’s losing all of the unique, innovative things that made me excited.
Will I still buy Torchlight III? Probably, once it’s on sale for $10 or so. After all, I had a lot of fun in the first two games, and I have no real reason to believe this one will be drastically worse. But I also have no reason to believe it will be better. It will, at best, be the same game with different classes.
And it certainly won’t be the massively multiplayer Torchlight game I’ve been wishing for for years.