It’s been nearly two months of patch 9.1 in WoW now.
One of the big, marquee features of Shadowlands was Torghast – this attempt at bringing a roguelike into WoW through a basic set of choice powers that add on to your class, spec, and Covenant power to bring you up through a set of random floors. In 9.0, Torghast ended up largely reviled – the most supportive I’ve seen players of Torghast is a middle-ground “eh,” while a lot of players either outright hate the place, or have decidedly mixed opinions.
My experience with Torghast in 9.0 was whiplash. Somehow, perhaps quite luckily, my raid mains in 9.0 had the best times of Torghast with well-designed anima powers and scaling. As I leveled alts, my experiences were less enthusiastic, and while I was pretty positive on Torghast as a whole until the end of the Twisting Corridors jaunt, at which point my alt gameplay and experiences with Torghast were far more unfulfilling.
So we came to 9.1, which brought a huge set of facelifts and structural overhauls to Torghast. Early in the patch cycle, I…didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really like it either. It felt like a common weakpoint of Blizzard’s game design – if players don’t like something, they tend to really go overboard on making it more complicated to squeeze out a tiny bit of enthusiasm. Torghast in 9.0 was, at least, easy to understand and play – you killed stuff for Phantasma, spent it on Anima Powers, picked up loose powers on the semi-random, tileset-based maps, and killed the empowered mob at the end of each floor and the boss at the end of the run. 9.0 Torghast was an even split for “sawtooth” difficulty – 2 floors of ascending difficulty, a vendor floor, a slightly easier start to the next floor of the 2 ramping difficulty floors, and then a final vendor before a boss who was the culmination of the run. You had a limited number of deaths which scaled up with your party size, since you could run Torghast with 1-5 players in any roles. Finally, Torghast scaled up in difficulty both numerically but also via the Torment system, which in 9.0, was a stacking debuff added for each layer past a certain point, with the debuff effect based on the instance of Torghast you were running.
Torghast in 9.1 discards some of the simpler concepts in favor of more complicated ones. Death limits are gone, but you are instead penalized for dying on your final score. There’s no longer a real choice on how to clear a floor – you must explore all of it, breaking all jars and freeing all souls if you want the best score. No longer can you simply beeline for the finish as soon as you find it, but you’re compensated with these actions filling a bar for the Empowerment buff, gaining Haste, Leech, and movement speed, alongside bonus points for actions while Empowered. Anima Powers remain about as they were, with some tweaks, but Phantasma now has competition in that an end-run point bonus exists for having 500 of it as you kill the final boss and there are a series of transmog shoulder and cape cosmetics you can buy with it instead of power. The system of Torments by instance type are gone, instead replaced with a set of random setbacks with varying implementations. You can gain additional power in Torghast via two added mechanisms – via the Shards of Domination system from the Sanctum of Domination raid, whose set bonuses work in Torghast, and via The Box of Many Things, which has its own currency (Tower Knowledge) earned for successful Torghast runs (with more for higher rated runs), and are basically just Torghast talents – more damage dealt against given enemies, less damage taken, fewer Torments, the addition of Blessings, etc.
All of this rolls up into a Torghast mechanic that is somewhat obfuscated by the game – the run score. Your base score is built on 2 factors – how much of each floor you explore as a percentage and the time it takes you to do so, weighted against a “par time” for each floor, which is unique per instance, layer, and floor. If you fully explore each floor and do so under the par time, you’ll have a pretty good run – but it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll reach the 5 gem rating for that score at the same time. In order to max out your Torghast runs, you have to obtain a handful of bonus objectives – these are what the game masks until you achieve them and check the breakdown at the end of a run. You get a bonus for a lot of different things – completing a quest from an NPC in the tower, opening chests, breaking the majority of jars (90%+), freeing all souls, ending a run with 500 Phantasma, or taking no Epic powers. There are surely more, but I named a few off the top of my head.
But I’ve already written about Torghast in 9.1, and all of this feels perhaps superfluous (albeit with more knowledge and information than I had last time!). So let’s break down new Torghast in categories.
Failing a Run Is Far Harder to Do: The bane of many a player in 9.0, failing a Torghast run felt awful. You could spend time – a lot of time – running Torghast only for the scaling or a poor selection of randomized Anima Powers to knock you over by the end, time invested to receive nothing. Failing at Torghast is a lot harder in the new model – still potentially doable, but only if you are in way over your head – either because you’re awful at the game (sorry) or you overshoot your player skill/item level and pick too high of a layer. Because of this…
Getting a Legendary is Easier For All: The upshot of the changes made is that since it is harder to fail a run and you get more Soul Ash, getting a Legendary built for a character is much, much easier – faster to get the Soul Ash, more easily farmed since Soul Ash is no longer capped, and generally easier as the 5-floor scaling is more forgiving for existing layers.
The Box of Many Things Should Have Been There To Start: Sort of, but I’ll get to the other side of this argument in a moment. Having talents for Torghast that make runs generally easier in a way that is useful to all classes and specs is great, and is absolutely something the game needed from the start. A lot of specs have Anima Powers that, well, kind of suck, so having a generic, universally available boost available to you is fantastic. It does make subsequent runs notably easier, and having a path to farm the Tower Knowledge needed through lower layers makes breaking through barriers easier.
The Timer Reveals That Torghast Isn’t (That) Long: I used to think Torghast took an hour, and it always felt like a grueling, insurmountable task as I came to dislike it. Under the current system, each floor tells me how long I took (save for the broker and boss floors) and so there’s a moment of relief, like “oh, that wasn’t so bad” present in each run under the new system.
The “Flawless” Achievements Reward Something For Being Good at Torghast: In 9.0, being good at Torghast was the reward, unless you wanted to push the Twisting Corridors. There wasn’t any extrinsic value to having done Torghast all the way at its hardest other than self-satisfaction. The Flawless achievements and reward mount for doing all 6 instance types at Layer 12 with a 5 gem rating means there is a long-term goal to work towards and that’s pretty neat!
Torghast Is Still, At Best, A Chore: Very little about Torghast feels rewarding or satisfying to play. We could have a spirited debate for days, weeks, even years, about the nature of “mandatory” content in World of Warcraft and I suspect that no one would change their minds, so I’ll just say my take here – Torghast feels like a requirement for most players because it largely is. You need a legendary to play at your most effective and powerful, and even at the lowest rank, a single piece of Legendary gear confers more total power than nearly any other single upgrade the game offers. The cosmetic rewards and the all-Flawless achievement mount do make some headway towards making Torghast feel like it has legitimate rewards, but Soul Ash and Soul Cinders are not in and of themselves rewarding – they are obstacles that must be overcome to get to the power you want. Until Torghast offers a meaningful reward that doesn’t feel like an artificial power gate, it will always, at best, be a chore that many of us do begrudgingly.
Torghast Is Still Bland: I like that Torghast is an HD-remastered version of ICC with these different environment types and more natural incursions like lava and rock formations, but my appreciation for that has worn thin over time. My hope is that the Jailer breaking reality means that Torghast becomes this portal to worlds, where wings aren’t just things within the tower but instead Torghast becomes a parasite, invading other worlds with the Torghast steel and stone infiltrating jungles, snowy landscapes, Titan complexes, desert wastelands, and more. For now, though, it’s just 6 very similar tilesets with a greenish one, a fiery one, and 4 varying shades of blue/gray. The raid environments of Sanctum of Domination being based on Torghast means the weardown is accelerated.
Anima Powers Still Hold This Stupid Balance In Mind: Since a discussion in the spring in my guild, I’m firmly in the camp that having Torghast be this balanced experience with difficulty in the standard WoW way is absolutely dumb. Anima Powers being extremely temporary should be an opportunity to make things insane, but Blizzard keeps trying to sell this dull version of Torghast with basic powers and small, single-digit power boosts. Torghast would be amazing fun, in my opinion, if the powers just got blown out and the whole gameplay of Torghast was instead surviving some obscene pile-on of mobs with a character so empowered that you’re doing Legion DPS levels of damage and have Legion tank levels of health.
Anima Powers Are Poorly Balanced: I led with the above point because the thing that makes Torghast actively bad for me on some characters is that it insists on themes that most players don’t care about in PvE content. Rapid shifting as a Druid for bonuses – okay, cool concept, but as a Balance druid, all my normal spells are limp noodles without Moonkin form and dedicating GCDs to getting a small bonus is kind of dumb! Or when I play my Hunter, who is Marksman, and around 40% of the Anima Power options I get involve buffing a pet…that I don’t have and am not using. The brief time I tried using my frost Mage in Torghast felt pretty bad as well, and the Priest powers, while more hits than misses, still had some misses. Coming from Paladin and Demon Hunter, both of whom have exceptionally well-designed Anima Powers with maybe 1 true stinker choice each. that feels really disappointing.
Tower Knowledge Implementation is Awful: I really want to unabashedly love the Box of Many Things, but I can’t for a simple reason – Blizzard locks it behind a time-gated, capped currency with less clarity than the Valor system on which it draws clear inspiration. How much TK can you earn per run? Haven’t seen the game tell me clearly what the max is per run! That alone makes it awful – Valor sucks for the same reasons otherwise but at least you know that a Mythic dungeon is worth a set amount, a rating increase in M+ is worth a given amount, and Callings are worth a fixed value based on if the quest gives a rare or epic cache. TK seems to be loosely based on the scoring too, but how much per gem? Is it even per gem?
The Conclusion and My Guess at Torghast’s Future
In Battle For Azeroth, Blizzard added two systems to WoW that were intended to offer players easily accessible, fun content. They were Warfronts and Island Expeditions. Neither landed particularly well, but one managed to pull out a victory – and it was Islands. Why? Islands adapted to feedback by adding fixed schedules, events, and upping the ante on rewards by having the random rewards supplemented with a currency you could use to buy reward caches. Warfronts languished because Blizzard didn’t act on feedback enough and got the flavor all wrong – Warfronts felt like matches with the world’s dumbest AI instead of epic battles, and a big part of the challenge was that they were always designed to be against AI, instead of even entertaining a PvP mode. They were supposed to capture the feeling of the Warcraft RTSes, but had little actual base building flavor or actual real strategy against a changing and shifting AI. They added Heroic modes and then gave up on them.
Right now, Torghast is the Warfront of Shadowlands, in my eyes. Torghast has been slow to adapt to player feedback, left bereft of value, and it just doesn’t feel like it hits the right notes or any notes. It has bonus events with no bonuses, that take so long to rotate through that they don’t feel interesting or learnable, and that can impede a normal Torghast strategy. The changes made in 9.1 do help a little bit, just like Darkshore was a better Warfront than Arathi because of the lessons learned from that, but it still wasn’t really fun, and while players do have a certain nostalgia for Islands (which are being made soloable in 9.1.5!), no one I’ve seen has had anything to say about wanting Warfronts easier to get at. They were clearly a basket Blizzard put a lot of eggs for BfA into, and when they failed, it feels like we got less content because they just scrapped what seemed to be a lot of datamined work on alternate Warfronts.
Torghast feels so much like that to me. So much of the hype from Blizzard was about how we’d love Torghast, about how this mode would capture us and bring us in to play more and more, and here’s the thing – I’ve had moments of fun in Torghast just like I did in Warfronts. However, is it what I want from the way the experience was marketed and sold? No. Torghast doesn’t feel interesting in the way I want a roguelike to feel, it just feels like playing what my character will be in 9.3 (if it even comes out, which is a genuine question at this point!). Warfronts weren’t the innovative merging of RTS and MMO gameplay, it was just a really bad battleground mode against mostly-stupid AI bots and a scripted boss fight.
So I guess if I had to bet right now, I’d actually be willing to speculate that Torghast dies altogether in 9.2. It’ll still exist in that the current content will still be there, but I would wager that we’ll have some new thing on Zereth Mortis to do that will confer Soul Kindling or something for Legendaries past rank 6, alongside heaping helpings of the prior two currencies. Or maybe it will just meld in as a reward for a new weekly quest. Either way, my suspicion is that Torghast is going to meet an unfortunate end. The handling of it has “warfronts” written all over it and it doesn’t seem like a mid-expansion renaissance a la Island Expeditions is coming for it.
At the same time, Blizzard is sometimes incredibly stubborn about their darlings, instead of following the time-honored advice of killing them, so maybe we’ll get the Really Adamant Vaults in 9.2, which will have more Korthia stuff mixed in like the fight room for Guardian of the First Ones and it’ll be our reward for doing well in Torghast and the Adamant Vaults – more of it!
Either way, I think that we are far from done with hearing about Torghast, and I suspect when 9.2 is in our sights, it’ll prove to be an interesting topic!