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.