I spent a fair bit of time playing Torchlight recently, which prompted a retroactive review of the experience. In expressing my assessment, i couldn’t help but notice that the majority of my reservations were symptomatic of a larger issue – the alarmingly inhospitable expectations woven throughout the action role-playing genre’s identity.
Fancy words aside, the main problem for me is the amount of braindead grinding needed to access the coolest toys in the game. Naturally we’re all going to find some snazzy piece of armor and want to complete the rest – or hear about a rare pet/hireling that we can’t resist. Should it cost fifty hours of repetitive chores to unlock these scraps?
Action RPGs tend to be engaging at the beginning because we’re constantly seeing new things and making meaningful decisions at a fast pace. Ultimately that rhythm grinds to a halt, and the amount of dead time between exciting new discoveries stretches into hours. Daring to want that last component of Griswold’s Legacy means killing a thousand recycled monsters beyond the last unfamiliar pixel you’ll ever see.
After i finished all of the story quests in Torchlight and reached lvl35 with my first character, i discovered that the fastest way to obtain unique items was by scamming the gambler NPC in town. I promptly maxed out my Barter skill, equipped as much Decrease in Vendor Prices gear as i could round up, and filled my inventory with stacks of Dogfish/Catfish. Then i sold, bought, and resold the entire stash hundreds of times, twenty clicks at a time, and used the profits to buy irregularly priced socketed unidentified items from Duros the Blade at a steep discount. Over 1/3 of them were uniques, yet it still took forever and a half to assemble Magnus’ Trove.
It was probably the least fun i’ve ever had playing a video game. And then there’s the fishing. Don’t get me started about the fishing. How can any of this fluff be considered gameplay? Don’t these arbitrarily time-consuming activites seem like they were contrived purely for the sake of boasting X number of replay hours? Personally i find it disingenuous, and i think it tarnishes an otherwise excellent game. There has to be a better way, right? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but i can offer a few suggestions.
As much as i tried to resist its charismatic visual charm and overt Diablo nostalgia, Torchlight finally baited me into downloading the XBLA demo. Before i knew it, i’d purchased both the full XBLA version and the discounted PC version, and sunk quite a few hours into the game.
Now that i’ve seen almost everything there is to see in Torchlight, i have to say that i’m extremely disappointed with how unnecessarily long it took to reach this point. Don’t get me wrong, the game is expertly crafted in many ways, but my lasting impression of the experience is frustration.
As much as i want to show off screenshots of Torchlight’s compelling atmosphere, i can’t bring myself to recommend the game to anyone – for the simple reason that it quickly turns into addictive torture by design.
Believe it or not, the whole reason i played the demo was because the XBLA description promised that i could transform my pet into various creatures, including elementals. I’ve had a soft spot for elementals since the original Warcraft.
What that marketing blurb didn’t explain is that you have to “play” their braindead fishing “mini-game” for 5-10 hours straight in order to catch one extremely rare fish to permanently transform a single character’s pet into a (random!) elemental. I mean, why??
I know i’m not the only one who misses them, because the announcement of Guy and Cody returning in SSF4 brought on a wave of Final Fight nostalgia throughout literally every gaming forum on the internet. Over the past couple years, we’ve seen various classic franchises such as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe ported to nearly all the current gen consoles. Now Capcom is rereleasing Final Fight and Magic Sword on XBL and PSN with GGPO netcode.
Someone’s obviously buying these things, yet there haven’t been any new titles to speak of. Why is that? Sure, we have seen a few modest offerings such as the 3D remake of Turtles In Time, but nothing that truly captures the feeling of playing Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Genesis in glorious 320×224 resolution.
It’s almost as if the game industry has forgotten what made the beat ‘em up genre so fun to play. This isn’t a 2D versus 3D issue because third-person 3D action game developers still know how to do combat properly, as evidenced by incredibly polished series like Devil May Cry and God of War. For whatever reason, nobody can figure out how to get the hits in a modern brawler to feel right anymore.
Back in June of last year, Magnetro and i collaborated on this five-minute combo video for God of War 2, developed by SCEA Santa Monica Studios where a number of oldschool Street Fighter players worked. It’s no surprise then, that many of these combos look like they came straight out of a fighting game.
All of the editing and the vast majority of the clips were performed by Magnetro. Even though we discussed every little detail, i only had time to record three clips: the Barbarian Hammer ToD combo at 0:38, the Spear of Destiny juggle combo at 0:53, and the projectile madness combo at 1:23. It was a lot of fun messing around with GoW2 because Kratos has such an incredible variety of combat abilities and approaches, not to mention a wide selection of enemies to beat up.
Even though i think the combos at 2:56 and 4:07 are absolutely amazing, my favorite clip has got to be the 4:14 crumbling pillars sequence which was cleverly manipulated by activating the Amulet of the Fates to slow time immediately beforehand. Be sure to visit Magnetro’s website for a full transcript explaining all the combos, glitches and extras.
Here’s a short combovid made up of clips i recorded way back in 2004, when LoKD was new. For anyone unfamiliar with the Legacy of Kain series, it had one of the most astonishing storylines ever told through the video game medium.
Of course, the term combo is used loosely here since most enemies have very weak defense mechanisms. It would be more accurate to call them attack strings but combos isn’t too far off.
The game’s combat system is flexible enough that there are some creative things to do to the generic peons that try to rush you in groups. The command inputs are transcribed using PlayStation 2 default control conventions, but the text explanations refer to all actions by their general names. The PS2 and Xbox versions of LoKD are virtually identical, so everything here works on both versions.