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.

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Astellia Impressions

Astellia isn’t a game that’s really been on my radar, but the Massively OP staff were given a number of keys to the beta, and I’m always up try a new MMO, so I decided to check it out.

At least Astellia is prettyI won’t say it’s as bad, but Astellia reminds me of Trinium Wars in that it feels less like a real game and more like a parody of bad MMO tropes.

To start with, the tutorial is about 90% cutscenes and 10% gameplay, or at least it feels that way. I admire that the developers actually wanted to make story a priority, but they’ve mistaken more story for better story.

There’s not really an effort to explain the setting to you, to develop any characters, or to give you any reason to become invested. There’s very little context for anything. Instead you’re just bombarded by an onslaught of corny dialogue and ridiculous fantasy names — and this is coming from a guy who willingly and happily reads a series where the name “Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor” is a central part of the story.

As far as gameplay goes, the main selling feature of Astellia — and the source of its name — are the Astels, fey spirits you can collect and then summon to aid you in combat. Very much shades of Pokemon here.

Looking over the journal of potential Astels you can get, it seems there are more options later on, but the Astels available to me at the start were all in the form of seven year old girls. It’s exactly as creepy as it sounds.

My archer and her Astels in AstelliaAlso, one of them has a giant cup of tea on her head, and her abilities centered around buffing allies with “soothing tea” mid-combat. I acquired her whilst an army of demons burned my character’s home village, presumably murdering everyone she ever cared about, and the tonal dissonance was so whiplash-inducing my immersion never really recovered.

It’s also probably worth noting that the Astels didn’t really seem to do much. Maybe they feel more impactful when you’re in more challenging content and/or have leveled them up more, but in the time I played it felt like I could have ignored them entirely and nothing really would have changed. Not a good sign considering this feature is the Astellia’s chief claim to fame.

The graphics are pretty, but not so pretty as to make the game really stand out. The bar is pretty high these days, and Astellia isn’t going to compete with the likes of Black Desert, especially since there isn’t a lot of personality to its art style. I will say some of the character and mob design is pretty cool, at least.

Combat in Astellia is your standard tab target affair, complete with mobs that drop dead after a few hits and don’t seem to require any tactics to defeat. There’s an active dodge mechanic, but I didn’t encounter anything that actually needed to be dodged while I was playing.

Female armour is alive and well in Astellia

This is reasonable attire for an adventurer to wear into battle.

What surprises me more than anything, though, is how bad the animations are. None of my abilities had any kind of flair to their visual or audio effects, and it felt like they had no impact at all.

If there’s one thing you can usually count on Eastern games to deliver, it’s great combat animations, but in Astellia — at least as an archer — they were at best on par with those you’d see in a ten year old Western WoW clone.

This, at least, could be attributed to beta jankiness. This was a true beta test, not a soft launch, so there’s still time for combat to improved. A lot of the game’s other problems feel pretty deeply ingrained, though.

The worst thing is that without Astellia’s glaring flaws — its overbearing attempts at story-telling, the vague whiffs of child exploitation, and the like — it wouldn’t be memorable for anything at all. There’s really nothing about it that’s unique or interesting — it plays like it was built using a checklist of generic fantasy MMO tropes.

The classes, for instance, are as generic as they come. Warrior, assassin, archer… There’s not even an attempt at originality.

While it seems a bit arbitrary to me, the trend seems to be to compare Astellia to Bless Online, and for my money, Bless is a much better game. Bless had better graphics, a better story, better classes, and better combat.

My archer in AstelliaI’d still tentatively recommend checking out Astellia if/when it becomes free to play, but only as an exercise in kitschy silliness. This is definitely not a game I see as worth playing seriously. It’s all the ridiculousness and creep factor of TERA minus the good combat, which was about the only thing TERA did right.