World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Shadowlands, has brought with it a refreshingly new set of experiences and expectations. My first few weeks of the expansion were dogged by nagging anxiety, urging me to do N’zoth assaults or farm emissary chests. To my surprise, Torghast is really the only player boosting “chore” the expansion has to offer. Yet, Blizzard has been overly mysterious about their intentions for Torghast and after several weeks the community has become conflicted over these intentions as well.
Some believe it’s too difficult, others think it’s too easy, a group comprised of both think it’s just a slog, and then there are the players who genuinely enjoy the content.
As an expansion spanning feature, Torghast needs to get it right otherwise it too will become another failed experiment that future alts and noobs will entirely avoid. RIP island expeditions and warfronts. So, let’s talk about Torghast, what it is, why it stinks, and what it does right.
What is the intent of Torghast?
Blizzard hasn’t really answered this in any formal way yet, their consistent hot patches to the content suggest that they aren’t quite sure either.
On December 14th Blizzard hot-patched in further difficulty scaling for solo tanks and healers and also dramatically increased the health and damage of all mobs on later floors. Layer six, which was fairly easy to beat by yourself a week before, now became your own personal raid with the final boss having upwards of 1 million health points. If your determination lasted long enough, a single run could take hours to complete now. All of that effort for your measly 50 soul ash.
Then on December 17th, only three days later, Blizzard made numerous dramatic and broad-spectrum changes to Torghast that severely lowered the difficulty curve. Bosses were nerfed, anima power acquisition boosted, and there were even nerfs to the scaling implemented only three days ago.
That week in Torghast was such a rollercoaster for players because there was no metric to decide which floor was do-able for their characters. With these dramatic changes, Torghast very quickly went from being do-able for all classes to nearly impossible for most only then settling in the comfortably easy category.
The rate and scope of these changes, I would argue, shows an uncertainty from Blizzard. They just aren’t quite sure about how to balance it and what kind of gameplay it should encourage. As far as I am aware, there isn’t any official statement explicitly defining what Torghast should be either.
In the absence of a definition
I want to think about the problems that Torghast creates for WoW. On paper, I think Torghast is a fantastic idea, like visions, from BFA, and Chromie’s Tower, from Legion. I really enjoy the content that allows me to use my character in unconventional settings. I really wish that Blizzard would lean into that more often, especially for specs outside of damage dealers.
Both Blizzard and the Shadowlands describe Torghast as this insurmountable, ever-changing, and bottomless prison. A place where the worst of the worst are held by the mysterious Jailor. An opportunity for a character's power and playstyle to become radically different than what they walked in with. All of this feels great against the backdrop that is the glacial Shadowlands gear-grind.
The content feels inspired by the many rogue-lites that have begun populating our game libraries. Games like Hades, Slay the Spire, Dead Cells, and Risk of Rain. If you ask me, this is a great and bold step towards something new for WoW. Rogue-lite is one of my favorite genres and I have poured countless hours into hundreds of failed runs.
Torghast, if done well, could become one of the few rogue-lites that I can actually experience with my friends. That’s a really exciting prospect, especially knowing that I get to use a character I have spent hours meticulously curating to fit my style. What is troubling though, is that the very idea of Torghast, as a challenging and dynamic one-off experience, stands in serious conflict with the WoW development team and how they have traditionally implemented content.
Conflict that cuts deep
Generally speaking, Blizzard has used successful resolutions to define the progression of both player power and storylines. The underlying message being that success is largely mandatory for players to move forward, yet anyone that has ever played a rogue-lite knows that success is usually a deviant outlier.
The good news is that conflicts like this aren’t entirely insurmountable for Blizzard. The game Hades has proven that you can have a story-driven rogue-lite where failure is the reward. Each time the player returns home new nuggets of lore become available. Over the course of many failures, fragments of the story from a myriad of characters knit together to form a powerful and cohesive narrative.
Player progression is a unique problem for Torghast simply because of its relationship to legendaries, some of our character’s most impactful items. A weekly cap of soul ash is guaranteed each week from Torghast and any unfinished layers will feel like wasted progression. This makes Torghast feel mandatory and makes me likely to try and fail against content that I’m under-geared for. Yet, because of the importance of soul ash, failure has a uniquely distinct sting that isn’t necessarily found in other rogue-lites. Losing to the last boss on Torghast doesn’t feel good because I’m trying to get my 50 soul ash from layer eight and now I won’t get it. Compare that to any other rogue-lite and dying to a boss should be equally frustrating, rewarding, and educational.
(Since writing this Blizzard has made commitments to eliminating the lives system and seeks to replace it with something new, the words “scoring system” have been floating around)
Death and progression
Rogue-lites, generally, are dynamic and constantly changing. The player, the environment, the enemies, and in some cases even the rules. There should always be plenty of enemies, powerups, and environmental hazards that dramatically shift the way the player plays the game from level to level. It is because of this that no two runs should feel the same, you never know what you are going to get and how you will use those tools to tackle future situations. That’s where the fun lies.
Also, there is a healthy relationship between the overcharged-player stomp fest and the unlikely feeble crawl to the top. A nice fluctuation between those two kinds of runs is healthy for a thriving rogue-lite. Diversity and random chance are what keep players engaged with these one-off experiences. We want that perfect combo and we will keep rolling the dice until we have that run where we plow through everything. Risk and reward are also impactful instruments in the rogue-lite toolkit. It feels good to play with risks that can either make or break your run. Torghast has a hard time truly utilizing the myriad of tools at its disposal.
The supposed ever-changing Tower
Despite having a section of the tower literally called “the Twisting Corridors” Torghast doesn’t really change at all. On any given run, I generally know what to expect. I will get some stat boost to my character, hit real hard, have one or two quirky anima abilities that I forget to use, fight the same enemies found in most other wings, and then fight some boss that has a unique interruptable ability. I’m being over-dramatic and unfair but generally speaking, many Torghast runs feel very similar to previous runs which is the death of any rogue-lite.
I think my biggest complaint is that there is no scaling to the difficulty of enemies outside of stat weights. The enemies you see on floor one of a layer will be the same enemies you see on floor 5, which is something you will never see in a rogue-lite. Enemies should become visually and mechanically more menacing.
Players should feel confident enough to blast through floor one because this is where players get a feel for their future build and start planning ahead. Enemies should be worthless and easily disposed of because everyone comes to Torghast for the powers, not the enemies.
Runs should go quickly, which is something Blizzard has openly committed to fixing. If you think of each run as a slot machine, players would get bored if all three slots spun for too long, but once players see the first and second slot while the third slot spins they become hooked on the experience. The fun of a rogue-lite is knowing what possibilities are ahead based on what you have already. If players can get an idea of a build early then the rest of the experience will be them relishing their opportunities.
Speaking of powers, Blizzard needs more of them. A lot more.
Uninspiring player progression
I understand that Blizzard has a very difficult time creating unique anima powers for 36 specializations, I can’t think of any other rogue-lite that competes with that level of complexity, but the fact is that anima powers really just don’t change that much about my character.
No matter how many versatility buffs I get, hitting harder won’t make me more engaged with the content. I need powers that change the way my character plays and there are some great examples of this in the game already. For example, entangling roots doing damage, or door of shadows damage amping enemies, dropping totems gives damage boosts. These change the way I think about my character and the way that they will interact with the game.
It is those unique interactions with class and anima powers that get me excited to create alts and try them out in Torghast. I want to see what clever tweaks classes and specs get from the development team. I also want to see how I can become blatantly broken by watching the abilities I know and love get super-charged. For destruction warlocks, the semi-permanent summon infernal build is exactly what I’m talking about
I also want to point out that stat upgrades are fine, and even healthy because diversity needs the uninspired to become unique and rare. The real problem here is that there aren’t enough options for any given character to choose from making the uninspired feel like a dominant theme.
After running Twisting Corridors, I noticed that my shaman only had one build and that’s bloodlust build. All of the super-strong epic powers were just some form of buff to bloodlust which was fun, but it killed my hopes for something new and different.
Lastly, I want to talk about traps. I think they are perfect for Torghast and I wouldn’t be mad to see more of them. They make Torghast mechanically challenging in a way that many players simply aren’t used to and I would love for the team to lean into the strengths that traps bring to the tower. Unfortunately, there is a big gap in trap placement. Sometimes there are only traps, most of the time there are no traps, and rarely do I have to actually fight packs of mobs while weaving around traps.
I would love to see trap design and placement being integrated with unique mobs in the tower. Have tight rooms with walls of spikes and a bunch of enemies with an avoidable knockback. There could be enemies that fear you into flame jets. How about enemies that slow you down enough to keep you stuck inside of a slow-moving crusher?
Blizzard could go absolutely nuts by creating rooms and enemies that complement each other. I would also love to see the team build anima powers to help all classes combat those enemies and situations.
If you can’t tell, I’m really excited about what Torghast could be. I’m so excited to see how Blizzard is going to grow and shape this content. I would be heartbroken if it got left by the wayside because what they have here is a great introduction to something new for WoW.
(I will say, the unbridled darkness event that they introduced is actually really fun and hits all of the rights notes as to what I’m looking for. You can go here for more detail.
The general gist is that you are given a special activatable button that turns your screen completely black for 1 minute but gives you some insane damage boosts.
It’s quirky, effective, and game-changing, especially when you consider all of the off-shoot upgrades that you can get for it.
My only issue with this content is that I can’t use it whenever I want, it is only available at certain times in the same way that time walking isn’t always available. Why withhold legitimately fun and well-done content from Torghast?)
A Bold First Step
I think Torghast is a great piece of content when it is a voluntary act of adventure. In the beginning, I was begging to run it with my friends. Currently, I’m burned out on Torghast because of how much I have to run it every week and how under-developed it currently is.
Thinking back about a few weeks ago, I have fond memories of me and my friends talking about all of the crazy fun anima powers we were getting, and in some cases using those powers to boost our friends. Not only is it rare to have a co-op rogue-lite but also to have player powers that can dramatically help your allies. There is a heightened sense of comradery when a group of friends goes in together. That is, I think, Torghats’s greatest strength. The kind of experience it provides is truly rare and unique. Unfortunately, locking alts out of future layers is hugely impacting anyone’s ability to enjoy the content in this way. (Alts are now able to enter any layer of Torghast that your main has completed. The January 29th implementation date was way too late though)
Torghast gives me the same feeling that I have when I stomp through a battleground or low-level dungeon on an over-geared character. The only difference is that I can experience it by myself or at my own pace. The confidence and high of feeling the maximum potential of your character can feel really great, especially after wiping to difficult content repeatedly.
A big open sandbox is how I would fondly describe my experiences in those endless halls of torture. I get to take my character, with all the abilities that I have come to love, into this open-ended experience where I play in the realm of possibilities. I can try different spells, abilities, and specs with no consequences while at the same time trying to eke out their maximum potential. It is the dungeoneer’s training dummy, an experience that I can navigate and test out in my own way.
Torghast is flexible which is something that most of the WoW experience is not, especially in the Shadowlands where every decision is weighted and monolithic.
An unexpected place to find freedom
Of all the places I would expect to find player freedom and autonomy in WoW, I didn’t expect it to be the afterlife’s most notorious prison. But freedom is something that I believe WoW needs right now. There are so many “permanent” decisions that players are making during our time in the afterlife that it’s great to have a place with no character consequences. An impermanent experience that players can have alone, or with friends.
Blizzard has the opportunity to make something that most game developers haven’t made before, especially in the context of a nearly two-decade-old MMORPG. I am hoping Torghast will be improved and built upon because I would love for this style of gameplay to be carried into other explanations in the same way mythic plus was integrated.
I think there are a lot of players out there that really want to like Torghast but are turned off by it because of a myriad of factors. My hope is that it gets the love, attention, and inspiration that it deserves, just like the raiding and mythic plus experiences found in the game.