World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is an upcoming expansion for Blizzard's wildly successful MMO, taking players into the depths of the Azerothian afterlife.
Each World of Warcraft (WoW) expansion has come with a new leveling experience, complete with hundreds of new quests, story beats, and dungeons. In recent years, WoW expansions have come with additional systems too, which feed into the endgame content that gives players incentives to stay in the game.
The previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth, launched with several systems that simply didn't land well. We wrote in our review how Island Expeditions were arbitrary AoE grind fests, feeing an unrewarding Azerite necklace system that only really came into its own with several post-launch updates. Blizzard's attempt to add some RTS flavor with the Warfronts system also fell flat, owing to their relatively simplistic (and tedious) gameplay flow.
It's with this in mind that I came into World of Warcraft Shadowlands' "Torghast" roguelike dungeon system, which might actually shed the curse of Battle for Azeroth's supporting systems, with potential to become a pillar feature of all WoW expansions moving forward.
What is Torghast exactly?
In the lore, Torghast is a spooky tower situated in The Maw, which represents the core of Shadowlands' endgame. The Maw is effectively Hell, where the most irredeemable souls are sent to suffer for eternity. The Jailer presides over The Maw, or at least it used to. The fact The Jailor has gone rogue paints him as this expansion's central antagonist, and Torghast forms a focal point of some of the game's wider mysteries. It's no accident that the structure looks similar to Icecrown Citadel since it appears in the sky directly above the Scourge bastion in the Shadowlands cinematic.
As a gameplay mechanic, Torghast seems like one of the more ambitious projects Blizzard has poured into the game in recent years. It is essentially a roguelike dungeon, with endless random events, hallways, structures, and layouts, designed to be infinitely replayable. Unlike Island Expeditions or the Visions of N'zoth from Battle for Azeroth, Torghast isn't timed, encouraging exploration, forethought, and planning. Torghast can be experienced solo as well, or in a group of up to five friends, scaling the challenge as necessary, complete with difficulty modes.
Within Torghast, you'll gain various types of currency. One will help you craft powerful Legendary items for use in Shadowlands' endgame dungeons and raids, and another will further your standing with your chosen Covenant faction, granting various other rewards.
Being overpowered is fun
As the Tower of the Damned, Torghast is structured with set floors you battle through, ascending stairs at the end to the next randomized level. The Alpha lets you skip some floors so you can try out the different difficulty tiers and help Blizzard test things out. Starting at "normal" difficulty, at around 12-15 floors, already offered some solid challenge.
Part of it is getting used to my Azerite-less damage rotation as a Demonology Warlock (yes, there are some of us!), but it certainly felt tricky navigating the packs of ghostly monsters that hang around in the tower. Sometimes there might even be elites among the regular mobs. An accidental area-of-effect attack or a fleeing Mawrat mob can quickly send things south, and you only get three "lives" per run. Demonology Warlocks have a notable solo advantage as a pet class. However, even still, the various traps, puzzles, and mini-bosses make up for additional challenges beyond the random regular monsters.
To offset the challenge, Torghast grants you Anima powerups that give you dozens of random passive, and active traits. There's a growing list of these available up on WoWhead.
One granted me more potent jumps, letting me dive out of harm's way. Other traits let me pick additional talents per row, something that is otherwise impossible (and overpowered). The traits also stack. One let me summon not one, but two extra demons, letting me shred through elite monsters like a hot Frostmourne through butter.
Rewards will be crucial
Although my immediate reaction to Torghast has been instantaneously positive, I can't help but wonder how it will feel after ten runs, twenty, or fifty runs. Blizzard's prototype for Torghast is the Visions of N'Zoth system found in the current Battle for Azeroth endgame. In that, you dive through a couple of mini-dungeons, earn currency, and empower a legendary cape, which helps you gain resistance against N'Zoth's corruptive influence.
It's not really a fair comparison. After all, Visions aren't random; they're the same every time unless you use one of the modifiers that increase the challenge for more potent rewards. The sense of discovery every time you hit a new floor in Torghast is compelling at first, but I wonder how it might feel after several weeks of it. Will we have seen every combination possible? Every NPC event? Every layout?
Thankfully, the floor-based system or Torghast lends itself well to on-the-fly updates. It stands to reason Blizzard could very easily and very rapidly iterate new floor layouts, new events, new monsters, and new puzzles in relatively small patches. Typically Blizzard is excellent at post-launch updates for World of Warcraft.
While it was never able to get Island Expeditions or Warfronts into a place that felt genuinely worthwhile, Torghast looks like it might avoid the mistakes of the past out of the gate, allowing for further development and features to be piled on top after launch.
One feature alone won't make Shadowlands a perfect expansion, of course. Class balance is often a contentious point with any new expansion, and I'm already irritated by how many broken talents Demonology Warlocks still have. More so, Shadowlands will force players to select a Covenant patron faction, granting access to two core abilities for the duration of the expansion. Some seem far more powerful than others right now, but it's hard to tell how balanced these will be in a polished endgame setting.
Then we have the good ol' RNG. The randomness of World of Warcraft's loot system has long been a point of annoyance. Torghast will, however, let you craft your own loot in exchange for items you find throughout the tower, which sounds incredibly promising to me.
In any case, I'm cautiously optimistic about Torghast, and hope it lives up to the small slice I've seen in the Shadowlands Alpha so far. If it does, I can see the system becoming a staple feature in World of Warcraft long after we've moved on from Shadowlands as well.
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