Retro Review: Torchlight + Anthem Revisited

I have at last bowed to the inevitable and installed the Epic Games Store. It joins Steam, Uplay, Origin, and Battle.Net as other game launchers that I have installed just at this moment.

My character in TorchlightThis madness must end.

Like most people, I was drawn to the EGS by its promise of free games. The first I picked up was ARPG Torchlight. I’ve nursed a mild curiosity about the Torchlight franchise for a while, recently intensified by the buzz around the upcoming Torchlight MMO, Frontiers.

Torchlight is a very, very traditional ARPG in pretty much every possible respect. I could describe to you its gameplay or its story, but honestly whatever you’re picturing in your mind is probably accurate.

This is both Torchlight’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Torchlight works — it plays well, and it has no major design flaws.

However, it does feel incredibly samey. There’s very little here you haven’t seen in any number of other ARPGs. Torchlight doesn’t even do much to shake up its formula relative to itself. Boss mechanics aren’t really a thing, and if you’ve played one level of Torchlight, you’ve played them all.

I found this sense of repetition grew increasingly oppressive as the game went on. The early levels feel plenty fun, but after a while it just turns into pure grinding. The story is too paper thin to add any texture to the later levels.

Combat in TorchlightThere are a few little things about this game I appreciated. The most notable is that Torchlight is the first game I’ve ever played that offers a choice of death penalties. When you die, you can resurrect at your body for a loss of XP, at the start of the current floor for a small fee of gold, or in town for free. Clever — I like it.

Torchlight’s one nod towards setting itself from the pack seems to be that every class gets a pet that can help it fight, carry loot, and go back to town to sell stuff. Truthfully I found this impacted my experience of the game very little, but I do feel the need to point out that the pet I chose was a ferret with steampunk goggles, and that is definitely The Best.

I also did like how my class — vanquisher — played with positioning. A lot of her abilities can pierce enemies and ricochet off walls, which raises some interesting tactical options. It’s hard to aim, but being able to get the perfect ricochet off and tear through a whole cohort of enemies is pretty satisfying.

Torchlight was a decent ride early on, but by the end I was glad to be done with it. I’m still kind of curious to check out the sequel at some point, but I hope it improves on the first.

Overall rating: 6/10

A return to Antium:

A sign of things to come...In other news, the beginning of Cataclysm pre-events has caused me to start playing Anthem again, albeit on a pretty casual basis.

I’m glad I took a break to prevent burnout, but I’m also glad to be back. This game remains as fun as I remember it, and while the new content is very minimal right now, the lead up to Cataclysm does nonetheless provide some extra spice.

The main feature right now is a number of new free play events, but alongside those are subtler changes to the world. Strange crystal formations have begun to appear all over, and sometimes you can literally see a storm forming on the horizon.

As much as the game definitely needs a big new content update, I kind of like this slow rollout. It makes the world feel very alive. There’s some special about flying around free play and suddenly bumping into new enemy types without any fanfare at all.

The howls those new lightning wolves make are horrifying.

This also gave me the opportunity to check out the new stronghold, The Sunken Cell.

The bad news is I had a hell of a time trying to get a group for it. I did some reading and discovered Sunken Cell is considered an inefficient place to farm due to its puzzles, so I’ll try not to assume anything dire about the game’s population based on this (free play, for the record, is still hopping).

The Sunken Cell stronghold in AnthemThe good news is Sunken Cell is my favourite stronghold so far. It has a very twisted ambiance that I really like, the final boss arena is spectacular, and the story is intriguing, if inconclusive.

Here’s hoping Cataclysm proper keeps up this momentum.

Anthem: Story Complete

I’ve now come to the end of the story content in Anthem. The main plot ended as it lived: forgettably. But that’s okay. The main story isn’t what makes Anthem special.

My storm Javelin prepping for a mission in AnthemIt is the side stories where Anthem reaches its full potential. The game captures the fantasy of the “Free Lancer,” a science fantasy knight-errant, very well as you explore contracts and freeplay, policing the wilds of danger and making life safer for the ordinary people of Bastion.

Interestingly, the side missions and conversations continued for quite a while after finishing the main story. I’ve played plenty of games where it was possible to keep pursuing side missions after the main plot, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a wealth of side stories that only unlock after the big plot stuff is wrapped up. Seeing as the side stories and background NPCs are Anthem’s strength, I was quite pleased by this.

Oddly, even though I’ve now completed every last bit of story, I’m still two levels below the cap. Since there’s no content locked behind level cap (so far as I know), that’s not really a problem; it’s just surprising. How people were getting to thirty within the first week after launch I’ll never know.

I did manage to unlock my final Javelin, Ranger. The other Javelins took me a while to warm up to, so maybe I need more time with it, but so far this is my least favourite to date. It’s just a dude who shoots things and flings the occasional grenade. There’s nothing special about it.

At least the rocket barrage ultimate is satisfying, if a bit finicky to aim.

I remain quite happy with Anthem on the whole, but now that I’ve experienced pretty much everything the game has to offer, I will agree that it feels a bit anemic in places. It needs a bigger world, more strongholds, and more than anything else it needs more Javelins.

My ranger Javelin posing in AnthemThe current selection are all fun (some more than others), but since there’s little ability to customize the playstyle of each Javelin, there definitely needs to be more than four of them. We don’t necessarily need the ridiculous number of suits Warframe is offering, but we do need more options than this. Obvious choices could include a stealth Javelin, a support Javelin, or a pet-focused Javelin.

My understanding is that Bioware does hope to add more Javelins at some point, but that it isn’t a priority, which is concerning.

I do feel my time in Anthem is now winding down, though I may still pop in now and then. It’s good stress relief. But there’s upcoming free content updates to look forward to, and having gotten over sixty hours of good fun out of it, I’m quite satisfied I got my money’s worth.

It may not have blown me away the way Andromeda did, but Anthem turned out far better than I expected it to.