Tag Archives: Torchlight

Your Dungeon-Looting Preference: Part Two

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Over the last several months I’ve been trying Tom Clancy’s: The Division on and off, and with Destiny 2 coming along I guess I can talk about loot-oriented action RPGs again. I might have use for a new one, but I think I’m conflicted about The Division. Continue reading

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The Games You Would Actually Play On The Smach Zero

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Ever since the Smach Zero (formerly the Steamboy), came out with its release date, price, and specs, I’ve seen it unsurprisingly ridiculed. People don’t believe in the concept of true handheld PC gaming, and don’t believe in this machine’s specs. I wouldn’t call this a full defense of the Smach Zero itself, but rather one of its mission statement. I think all the criticism is based on a misunderstanding of what something like this would actually be built for.

The most important question in all this is “what is the market for a portable Steam Machine?” Let me paint you a picture: Continue reading

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The Much-Needed Parody in a Sea of Loot RPGs

Earlier this year I’d gotten myself into the mood for dungeon crawlers in anticipation for the PC release of Dark Souls. As I noted in previous posts, it’s also been a year for loot games. Under these circumstances I decided to finally install DeathSpank just to see what that game was all about.

I first tried the demo on Xbox Live Arcade back when it first came out a couple years ago. Back then my main thought was “oh, they finally figured out how to make a Diablo clone work on a controller – make it play like a brawler.” By the time I was prepared to buy the game it had showed up on a Steam sale for probably $8 or something like that. Knowing that this game would probably be buried in my Steam backlog as soon as I started Torchlight II, I decided to go ahead and install it a few weeks ago and at least play some of it.

I think DeathSpank was initially seen as the much-needed parody to put perspective on how ridiculously unrealistic western RPG quest systems are. DeathSpank is the game that actually tries to answer the question “what kind of person would go around willingly helping literally anyone who has a problem?” I try so hard not to be that guy in every other RPG I’ve played this gen, often to no avail. With DeathSpank it’s at least refreshing to not have to worry about the storyline’s believability. The writing is also indeed very good, but that was to be expected. When a well-written parody game actually has good gameplay underneath is what’s usually surprising.

Call it the western equivalent to 3D Dot Game Heroes if you will. DeathSpank is both a sound hack n’ slash as well as adventure game that asked a bit more of me as a player than I expected, even compared to, say, the first Torchlight.

When I installed this game on PC I expected the PC controls to pretty much be like Torchlight or Diablo – just click on everything while occasionally pressing space or something. DeathSpank’s console roots demand a bit more keyboard use than those games, with blocking (space bar) and quick item use (number keys) as core necessities of the game. That already makes the core combat system more involving for people who don’t like how Diablo is essentially “Click on Stuff: the Game.” I personally appreciate that kind of simplicity and intuitiveness in a game’s interface, but different strokes I guess.

Mechanically DeathSpank is otherwise a complete example of one of these kinds of games. What else caught me off guard early on though was how much the game plays around with its quests. A lot of it is indeed “go here, kill this thing, find this item, clear this dungeon,” but almost as much consists of real dialogue tree engagement and item negotiation. Having to buy a taco from a vendor with a specific set of ingredients you had to write down is the kind of mental challenge you just don’t see in video games anymore.

Lastly I’ll admit that I really like the visual style of DeathSpank. These dungeon-click games commonly have deliberately modest graphics to keep them accessible to a wide variety of computers, but DeathSpank plays this up in its art direction. The whole game kind of looks like a pop-up book, with almost everything other than character models rendered as flat objects standing on top of a world that rotates Animal Crossing-style.

Between Torchlight II, Diablo III, Borderlands 2, Path of Exile, and probably a lot more, not to mention what already came out before this year, this generation’s saturation of the loot RPG will probably leave something like DeathSpank and its sequel buried. That doesn’t really stop it from being a worthy game, and if nothing else, a necessary spin on the subgenre.

BULLETS:

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Why is There Not a Definitive Portable Loot RPG Yet?

Over the last few weeks a couple news stories have made the rounds that to me bring attention to a sorely underrepresented genre in portable gaming. Blizzard now admits that it had a Game Boy version of Diablo in the works around a decade ago, and Gearbox won’t rule out a PlayStation Vita version of Borderlands 2. My question is, why hasn’t there been a definitive portable loot-based RPG yet?

One of the main complaints against the Vita and the PSP before it is that every console game doesn’t work well in the handheld environment. For the most part, RPGs are an exception, and the genre has thrived on handhelds ever since Pokémon, but why not this particular style of RPG?

On top of RPGs, one of the things handhelds are good at providing is fast-paced, addictive gaming. Games like Diablo and Torchlight fit this to a tee. I’m not even just talking about Nintendo and Sony handhelds here either. I’m shocked there isn’t even a good Diablo rip-off available on iOS or anything.

What do we have so far? Heroes of Ruin for the 3DS (which I haven’t heard great things about), Soma Bringer for the DS which I don’t think ever came out in English, Heroe’s Call for iOS, and maybe a few other obscure mobile games. The only franchise that seems to be making any real effort at this is Phantasy Star, with multiple entries on the PSP and DS which have ranged from good to fantastic.

Sega has been making all the right moves with Phantasy Star Online 2 – not just making it free-to-play, but also developing free clients for the Vita and mobile devices. Even if the mobile version can’t take you online it’ll still be nice to have as a companion app to grind your character when you’re away from other machines. Why can’t Diablo or Torchlight have something like that?

The fact that touch screen interfaces are now the norm in handheld gaming makes them even better-suited to loot RPGs. Instead of a game where you constantly click on stuff you’d just tap on stuff all the time. With some adjustments I bet an original RPG like this would work fine.

The best reason I can think of for this void is the lack of attention the western developers who make most of these games give to traditional handhelds. For most kinds of games I could understand the weak hardware being an issue, but most loot RPGs, Diablo and Torchlight in particular, are already technically modest games made to run on a wide range of computers. At the very least they could easily make a portable game with graphics resembling Diablo II, and it would look just fine.

Maybe they only care about iOS and Android when it comes to portables now. Okay, the only roadblock I see there is the price ceiling. I’m sure if they could get away with a $40 or $60 iOS game someone like Blizzard would’ve tried this. A little lower and I don’t see why Runic games wouldn’t try it. I guess Sega really did have the right idea by going F2P with PSO2.

Maybe developers are just too risk-averse to try it, but I still don’t think there’s any reason to NOT try it. At this point I really hope PSO2 becomes a hit on the Vita and mobile so that just maybe it can spark a trend. It seems like a powder-keg of a genre really – all it’ll take is one breakout hit.

BULLETS:

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Late to the Party: Diablo

After snagging a trial code for Diablo III… I’m still not too sure about it. Being new to the franchise I thought this would be the point where I’d see some kind of light, but a combination of Blizzard’s DRM policies and my own computer have stopped me from playing anywhere near enough of the game to form a complete opinion.

The only other Blizzard game I own and have played is the original StarCraft, and I’ve played barely any of it since 2000, so unlike all my friends I didn’t feel the obligation to immediately lay down $60 on Diablo III, and I’m starting to feel glad I was cautious. There’s a lot that’s telling me this is an exceptionally well-crafted game, but I’m still not sure if it’s one for me.

Since everyone’s talking about the online problems with Diablo III I’ll start with the game itself from the perspective of a newcomer.

At first glance and through the first few minutes of gameplay Diablo III comes off as basically Torchlight with higher production values. Usually that means more intense graphics, but what initially caught me off–guard about DIII is that it feels like a Blockbuster game that deliberately goes for art over tech. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that.

Anyone who looks closely will notice that the character models are at the level of a PS2 game, but it seems like Blizzard poured all the money into the textures, art direction, and 2D elements (HUD, backgrounds, etc.) to smooth things out. It really lets the art stand out as what makes Diablo III look like a AAA game while also probably allowing it to run on most of today’s computers.

The core game – the combat, is where my jury is still out. Like Torchlight, I immediately noticed a very refined game inside Diablo III despite being unfamiliar with the franchise. All the systems work just about perfectly and feel very convenient which feels doubly amazing for someone who’s only recently encountered them. The thing is though, I’m not sure if it’s totally compelling for me.

I haven’t really started feeling that addictive nature people talk about – the nature that ensures people not playing the game are still thinking about grabbing the next cool piece of loot. All the loot in this game just feels like a bunch of numbers to me.

The game I’m contrasting this with is Phantasy Star Online – my favorite loot-gathering RPG (in which I’m now finding shocking similarities to Diablo). For some reason PSO’s gameplay feels more personal to me. Mainly, I get a better feeling of satisfaction from finding a new sword or piece of armor. Maybe it’s because I see the name first and then the numbers, or maybe certain numbers are more prominent to give them more meaning, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because I feel a greater sense of agency from PSO’s closer camera, console controls, and slower-paced combat. I’m not sure but I don’t think I can blame it on Blizzard. Maybe I just have that loyalty towards PSO.

…and then I looked at Diablo III’s clock and realized that I’d been playing for more than two hours.

It’s been a very long time since a game actually made me lose track of time. I actually think Half-Life 2 was the last game that did this to me. I’m still trying to figure out what it was with DIII. I think it had something to do with the game’s combat though.

The core of it is that Blizzard simply nailed the feeling of clicking on enemies and getting a tactile response. Somehow the combat even feels more precise than Torchlight, which I could typically only play for around 45 minutes at a time.

In my experience gathering the loot isn’t that exciting at all. In fact I find the skills and abilities to be far more interesting. I feel more enticed to try out new skills than new weapons, though that could be because I’m playing as a monk who strangely must equip weapons he doesn’t actually use. I’d be surer if I could actually play the game.

Look, I understand that Blizzard doesn’t want people hacking auction house items offline – that’s exactly what happened to Phantasy Star Online and is why the homebrew version is online-only, but I shouldn’t be experiencing lag in a $60 singleplayer game. I think I’ve been kicked out of singleplayer four times already, though mostly because of my own internet problems. That shouldn’t be an issue for singleplayer though.

I guess the main problem is that singleplayer and multiplayer are linked. If Blizzard really can’t get around that, I’d be fine with starting an offline-only save file. I have no idea how much I’d actually end up getting involved in co-op or the auction house, but I have a feeling that if I bought this game I’d spend significant time in singleplayer, but as-is I can’t in good conscious pay $60 for it on principle. Diablo III is probably a great game, but I have other equally great games on my plate right now.

BULLETS:

  • So Thief and Thief II finally came out on Steam and are now on sale. Took long enough.
  • I never watched Buffy, but apparently fans of that show might want to investigate Persona 3: http://t.co/xSfoXcep
  • I always said Payday was basically Left 4 Dead in a bank, now they’re admitting it: http://t.co/E6IzM8w3
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The Loot RPGs of 2012

A little while ago I talked about the saturation of loot RPGs over the last few years and actually suggested it was tapering off a bit. Not really, since we’ve got half a dozen either coming out or coming out of beta this year.

The problem I noted last time still stands – I can really only devote myself to one of these kinds of games at a time. Given that, it seems even more ludicrous that other developers are daring to release their loot RPGs in the same year as Diablo III.

How many fans of these games do they expect to really divert attention to Torchlight II, Borderlands 2, Path of Exile, Guild Wars 2, and Lineage Eternal this year? The first Torchlight seemed to have been made specifically to tide people over until DIII, and now Runic is in a bit of disarray because DIII is launching sooner than they expected it would.

I mean, I’m interested in these other games but only because I have no history with the Diablo franchise and want to wait until I can get a trial or something for DIII. I don’t have that loyalty to Blizzard (I haven’t played any of their games since 2000) so I’m at least willing to give the others a shot depending on timing.

The only one of these games that feels like it’s going to come out of beta during the summer drought (in North America) is Torchlight II, and finally looking at footage has actually got me genuinely interested in it. I’m surprised at how different it looks from the first game. I don’t know how I’ll stack up in multiplayer situations in this or DIII though.

Path of Exile looks like it might go into a more open beta this summer and it’s almost the only one of these games that’s free-to-play, so that one is at least easy to try out and looks interesting. The graphics are especially impressive compared to all the competitors that have gone for art over tech. I hear PoE is even still just as easy to run as Torghlight II.

The real outlier that actually seems like it has a chance is Borderlands 2. All the other ones look very similar, right down to the red and blue orbs at the bottom of the HUD. Borderlands 2 on the other hand is a loot-driven shooter that will actually launch with a console version. Whether or not I’ll play it depends on what else is coming out in September which right now is just Far Cry 3.

The other major outlier is Phantasy Star Online 2. It’s the one franchise here that commands the most personal loyalty from me, but it’s also the only one that’s not being released in English right now. I’m starting to think that Sega is focusing on Japan right now so their game won’t get squashed by all the other competition. Personally I would recommend they release a console version since that’s where PSO started, and only Borderlands is also doing a console version right now (DIII and Torchlight II probably eventually). There’s a lot less competition in that market for this kind of game. One big reason I’m especially attracted to PSO2 though is because it’s the only game here attempting a handheld version down the line.

Just beating the first Torchlight actually got me in the mood to start playing Mage Gauntlet on my iPhone again. Whenever I’m away from home and can’t play Torchlight, PSO, or Demon’s Souls, I tend to play Mage Gauntlet because that’s the closest equivalent I’ve been able to find for my phone. I hear that for hack n’ slash loot action, Dungeon Hunter 2 is basically it, and I think that’s a real problem.

The iOS version of PSO2 is going to be a kind of companion app – you’ll be able to bring your character down to a single player experience similar to the main game. It’s just something to do in the game while on-the-go, which would be awesome for Torchlight and Diablo. That’s not even mentioning the PlayStation Vita version of PSO2 that actually will have cross-play with the PC version.

The main factor influencing which of these games I decide to devote time to and when I play them however is how I view them as products in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know how many people dedicate hours at a time to Diablo but I mainly see all these games as really advanced time-wasters.

It was hard to play more than maybe 30 minutes of Torchlight at a time – it seemed more like a comfort-foot game with actual deep mechanics, and I already have plenty of those. DIII seems to me like the game you play every weekend instead of Team Fortress 2 or Modern Warfare. I don’t know if I can go back to the days of spending three hours trying to find one sword in PSO.

BULLETS:

  • So at some point the guys who made Super Crate Box made (or are still making) some kind of hip-hop inspired first person shooter in the style of DOOM, and I’m trying to figure out how to get my hands on it. Something to do with a kickstarter that’s already funded.
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Your Dungeon-Looting Preference

In order to get my index finger in shape while deciding whether to buy Diablo III I’ve finally gotten started on Torchlight – two years (I think) after buying it on a Steam sale. I ended up waiting so long because I feel like I’m saddled with way too many games of its ilk.

For the last few years, the loot-driven game has become all the rage in RGPs – strangely on both the western and Japnaese sides. Y’know, games where nearly the entire driving force is the thrill you get upon finding a slick halberd or helmet and selling the rest of the crap. Those games are great, but I can only really devote myself to one at a time.

I don’t know if anyone else feels like this, but I think we hit a saturation point for this kind of game a while ago. Maybe that’s already tapering off, but it’s still left behind a pretty serious backlog for people like me.

At the time I got Torchlight I think I was already on or about to get on Phantasy Star Zero – which many proclaimed was the true successor to Phantasy Star Online. Personally I enjoyed it a lot – my favorite action RPG combat (before Demon’s Souls) was back, the loot drops were as compelling as ever, and it was all on a handheld now… until I picked up Phantasy Star Portable 2 on a half-off deal. That game felt like a proper advancement on top of the PSO design, but for some reason there’s still nothing like the original, which miraculously came back on homebrew servers. Even today I still log into PSO’s SCHTHACK servers every now and again, especially since they just released a massive client update. The price for that though is a line of abandoned dungeons and characters in my wake.

This is exactly the reason why I haven’t bought Borderlands, don’t plan to, and have passed up numerous Steam sales for the game. It’s probably a very good game, and a co-op loot-based shooter is something I’ve wanted to see for a while, but I don’t need one more of that kind of game.

Even now I’m deciding what to do after finishing this blog – log back into PSO, or boot up Torchlight. Just starting up Steam drew my attention to this new little game called Hack, Slash, Loot.

Finally getting into Torchlight, I can definitely feel the craftsmanship Runic put into this game. Having never played previous Diablo games, I can tell this is of some highly refined game design which I guess has been enough to draw me into Torchlight. If this is a hint of what I’ll find in the big DIII then I’ll definitely consider getting it.

On the other hand, for some reason I still can’t get over the sense of desire that Sonic Team still manages to illicit in Phantasy Star. With everything going on on-screen in Torchlight, each new drop you get just feels like a bunch of numbers to me. If I happen to finally find a red lightsaber in PSO though, it genuinely lights up my gameplay experience. It’s probably a less advanced game than what I might get from Runic or Blizzard, but everything in it feels more personal somehow.

Most people are probably gonna drop everything else when DIII hits. I still don’t know yet as I have a strange feeling I’d be stepping into something way out of my depth. If Sega can get us an English version of Phantasy Star Online 2 though, that will definitely be my game.

BULLETS:

  • I can’t be the only person who keeps having 240 Microsoft points in change left over. Somebody’s gonna tell me the best way to spend those points every time this happens. This is one thing that’s better about PlayStation Network: they tell you how much it actually costs and only transfer the exact required amount of money to your account.
  • “You won’t like me when I’m angry. Becase I always back up my rage with facts and documented sources.” – The Credible Hulk
  • Had no idea they were making another Total Recall.
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