Each new expansion for World of Warcraft brings with it new activities and gameplay experiences to enjoy, some of them winners and some of them not. Blizzard’s upcoming expansion Shadowlands is building on popular roguelike elements to challenge players with Torghast, Tower of the Damned – an ever-changing prison filled with levels, loot, and undead lackies.
So will it be a winner, or not?
What’s a roguelike?
According to the wonderful contributors over at Wikipedia;
Roguelike (or rogue-like) is a subgenre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player character. Most roguelikes are based on a high fantasy narrative, reflecting their influence from tabletop role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.
Anybody who has seen previous posts on the blog will know that I have played quite a lot of the roguelike sensation The Binding of Isaac over the years, but am by no means an aficionado on the genre. Even so, the elements of dungeon crawling as well as procedurally generated terrain and levels is something that would translate over to World of Warcraft very well. Enter the dungeon, advance as much as you can, reap the rewards. Ever-changing visuals and enemies would spur on the longevity, and keep players coming back for more.
What’s the goal?
Working either solo or in groups of up to 5, players will fight enemies in order to ascend the tower of Torghast – a mirror of Icecrown Citadel within the shadowlands, revealed after Sylvanas Windrunner pulled the Lich King’s Helmet of Domination in twain like a wishbone. The resulting eruption of power from destroying such an artifact not only made Bolvar Fordragon – resident Lich King and watcher of the dead – rather upset, but also tore open a passage to the shadowlands in the sky.
Torghast, Tower of the Damned is found within the Maw, home to the most damnable, irredeemable souls to ever exist after death. As players advance the floors, the simple and straight-forward dungeon layouts will give way to more complexity – traps, puzzles, and locked doors with keys held by elites enemies with innovative ways to end your run. Mostly by killing you.
There’s no word of an end to the tower, or a floor high enough for you to claim victory over Torghast itself. There’s also no timer in place. As you ascend, however, you will gather runes and take them to a rune sage – an NPC who will use these runes to give the player access to cosmetic rewards, as well as legendary items which can be crafted.
It’s worth noting that, much like the Horrific Visions of N’zoth introduced in 8.3 – a dry-run for Torghast, it seems – players will need keys to access the activity itself. Ion Hazzikostas, Game Director for World of Warcraft, mentioned during his interview with Sloot that the team wants there to be lots of ways to earn keys at the cost of, well, playing the game more. Play more of the game, get more access to keys, do more runs. Seems fair.
How do I win?
Other than pressing your keys harder than anyone else (just kidding), you’ll need to employ the use of anima as you rise up the abominable tower. This new currency grants the player permanent upgrades to their abilities through Anima Powers, much in the way that the Corrupted Mementos allow you to upgrade your titan research tree in 8.3. These look like they will have interactions with your covenant abilities too, reducing cooldowns or making them do cool things. Or, in the case of Paladins, just give you a chance to outright kill stuff.
Phantasma is another currency also found in Torghast, disappearing from your character’s possession when you leave the tower. If you are lucky enough to find a vendor on your travels through the floors – known as a Broker – you can trade that Phantasma for Anima Powers.
It’s fair to extrapolate that a lot of the upgrades you receive might not pertain simply to damage, but rather to longevity and survivability too. Much in the way that your titan research allows you to deal with or postpone certain mechanics within the Horrific Visions of Stormwind or Orgrimmar, you might be able to stun certain creatures, or have their abilities do less damage to you. Cheat-death mechanics could also be a welcome save for players scoping out the harder floors.
Remember, time is not a constraint in Torghast, but your number of deaths sure is.
Speaking of death, the Jailer – notable Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) and tormentor of souls within the shadowlands – has a special way of dealing with pesky adventurers within Torghast. Should you or your group’s death counter climb high enough to draw his attention, he will deploy the Tarragrue – a “lumbering iron-clad creature that will appear at the level’s entrance and slowly move towards its end.”
Ignoring the similarity in name to that of Dungeons and Dragons’ most overtly dangerous and destructive creature, the Tarragrue sounds like a fantastic take on the slow-wipe mechanic. Rather than a hard enrage which unceremoniously wipes the group, your doom will come slowly, but in plain sight – if the Tarragrue sees any heroes within the dungeon, it will make its way towards you and kill you. If it kills everyone, your run is over. If it makes its way all the way through the dungeon and gets to the end, your run is over.
Blizzard have hinted that there might be ways to slow the Tarragrue, if only for a short time, but defeating it is impossible.
Beware the Tarragrue.
What do I get?
As mentioned, cosmetics and access to the crafting of legendary gear are two of the big draws of completing Torghast runs, but also the access to account-wide recipes, as well as story progression for your chosen covenant. Ion Hazzikostas made it clear that the team wanted to get Torghast “fully stood up” before adding too many rewards, which is certainly fair if it will drive a huge part of the Shadowlands experience.
Although a PvE activity (at least for now), there do not seem to be plans for leaderboards as yet like there are for Mythic+. The team are keen to build up Torghast in whichever way it seems to go, following player feedback and criticism.
What’s the verdict?
So is Torghast going to be great? Absolutely.
Well, I hope so.
Cynicism and overconfidence are really easy to indulge, but I will say that the concrete information we have access to at the minute looks great – and I highlight that because the system has nice visuals and a cool idea. Horrific visions seem very much like the pre-alpha test for Torghast, and these were received rather well by the community. Wrathion’s unpronounceable legendary cloak is the subject of upgrade in this instance, but access to several game-changing and empowering features to play with and improve sounds great.
Blizzard is always innovating from expansion to expansion. The raid finder in Cataclysm, scenarios in Mists of Pandaria, player garrisons in Warlords of Draenor, artifact weapons, class halls, mythic dungeons in Legion, and island expeditions in Battle for Azeroth. All systems introduced by Blizzard – and I know I’m missing a lot out from each expansion – all with their ups and downs.
The raid finder (LFR) in Cataclysm was (and still is) heavily criticized for the way it handed players loot ‘too easily’ – an opinion which has largely fallen by the wayside in recent times. More dedicated, hardcore players can raid the harder content to get the best gear, and players unable to commit to full force raiding can still experience the killing of bosses relevant to the quests and storylines they interacted with through the use of LFR.
Scenarios in Mists of Pandaria were considered pretty boring and largely too easy as Blizzard tried to tackle the standard five-man group composition and the need for dedicated tanks and healers. It didn’t catch on too much, but led to solo scenarios for players during quest lines which continue to this day, as well as being perhaps (and I emphasize perhaps) the very beginnings of the concept that led to island expeditions and eventually Torghast.
Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor were the first big foray into the desire for player housing – a space in the world which players could customize as their own. At the time, I loved it, but over time it was slated for dragging players out of the open world too much. Not to mention being one of the main selling points of what turned out to be a disastrous expansion. Even so, Blizzard brought the mission table from player garrisons back for both Legion and Battle for Azeroth, and it looks set to return in another iteration for Shadowlands.
Artifact weapons were slow at first, but when they got going they rocked in Legion. Classes and specializations had awesome weapons with dedicated talent trees which let them excel and, once Blizzard tackled the problem of catching players up on their secondary and tertiary characters a few patches in, there were activities and achievements to set out on in unlocking various appearances for them too. Blizzard themselves completely botched their attempts at bettering the system in Battle for Azeroth with the introduction of the Heart of Azeroth necklace and azerite armour, but not every swing of the bat is a home run.
And so we are to our latest of Blizzard’s expansion activities. Island expeditions – and I’m going to be disagreed with heavily here – had the potential to be great. Had they been tuned better, had they been more rewarding, had they been less like an after-thought, I think they would have had a lot more engagement than players spamming four heroic island expeditions in 20 minutes for their weekly chunk of azerite, honorbound reputation, and the gated mechanic of unlocking and upgrading the Worldvein Resonance essence.
There are literally hundreds of rewards to be had from island expeditions – mounts, toys, pets, appearances, sets – but they’re a slog, and player engagement is very low outside of the standard queue-able versions. On Draenor EU, the busiest Horde-dominated European server, I seldom see more than four or five groups going in the island expedition group finder, most of them for PvP groups to get access to their essence. I was told on several occasions that so much more loot dropped from the mythic version, but after hundreds of heroic expeditions and twenty or so mythic expeditions over the course of the entire expansion, I haven’t seen a single mount drop. That sucks.
Blizzard have got the keys to the kingdom when it comes to Torghast. Player feedback across island expeditions and horrific visions have been plentiful and, certainly in reference to the former, damning. This blue post on the forums has also established Blizzard’s position of the current version of Torghast on test servers being in “true alpha” and subject to a lot of changes. Blizzard can steer the boat in any direction they choose with Torghast and, as they open up more floors and more features to public testing, I hope we get to see a proactive approach to bettering the system rather than the reactive, band-aid fixing that has plagued Battle for Azeroth and its lacklustre gameplay systems.