Visiting another plane of existence gives Blizzard a chance to change up WoW's formula.
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The next expansion for World of Warcraft, Shadowlands, is taking the conflicts of Azeroth to a whole new place: the afterlife. Venturing to a new plane of existence--one that Blizzard hasn't explored much either in its games or in WoW's lore--offers opportunities for the developer to add new ways to play WoW in the expansion that haven't been a part of Azeroth before.
Torghast, the Tower of the Damned, is a pretty literal expression of the Shadowlands offering something strange and different to the WoW formula. The new endgame activity in the Shadowlands basically imagines WoW as a rogue-like. On paper, it shares similarities with Final Fantasy XIV's Deep Dungeons called "Palace of the Dead" and "Heaven-on-High" which use a rogue-like structure and throw challenging enemies and variables at you as you ascend a number of floors. And here, WoW seems to be providing an endless challenge that plays differently from the rest of the game in some key ways.
At Blizzcon 2019, executive producer John Hight and senior game designer Johnny Cash explained how Torghast gave Blizzard a chance to mess with the WoW formula and experiment a bit. Essentially, Torghast is a tower in which you face a variety of battles that ratchet up in difficulty the higher you climb. Your goal is to get as far as you can before you're eventually killed.
"We really wanted to give you a place to be able to go, commit maybe 45 minutes of your time, but have a very exciting replayable experience," Hight said. "The way that's designed is you alone, or up to five people in your party, begin ascending this tower that was really designed to kill you, or to put an end to you.
"The reason it's replayable is because everything changes each time you play through. You might enter that first level, and the walkway that you were used to that goes to the right now goes to the left, and the traps that you were about to face, be it fire or blades, will be completely different. The bosses that you encounter, the spawns you encounter, and more importantly, the crazy loop that you're going to get when you go in there. Because these are in the form of buffs and power-ups, and if you get lucky, you'll find some combinations that make you completely [overpowered]. You'll be able to completely clear a level, master it, be the hero amongst your group, walk to the next level and find a completely different setup."
The shifting reality of Torghast also applies to the items you'll find in it along the way. The tower is full of buffs and power-ups you'll earn that linger only for a particular run, like the power-ups and equipment you'd get in a rogue-like game. It sounds fundamentally different from other World of Warcraft activities because, by design, it's not focused on balancing your abilities against the enemies you're facing.
"One of the things we can do is really fundamentally play with the rules of what you assume. and what we've all assumed, WoW is," Cash said. "Normally you're getting gear, and it might be an incremental power upgrade, and over time you're going to get a bunch of those, and then you'll gradually grow in strength. In Torghast, there's the cool opportunity amongst the ever-changing layouts and monsters and traps, what if we can give you a buff that you find that doubles your power instantly? And that combos with another thing and another thing and another thing, such that you can instantly blow up enemies, and when they blow up, they chain to blow up other enemies, and those enemies heal you. These crazy combinations, and you need them to defeat those more powerful levels."
"It's an opportunity to explore a space that--you know, we can't double your power in the outdoor world because people would farm the hell out of that, and clear the raid way too fast or way too easily," he said. "And so it lets us play with rules that we normally can't."
There's no timer in Torghast, and eventually, you will die. But ascending the tower isn't just about seeing how far you can get and having a randomized activity you can replay over and over. Torghast also provides rewards beyond the buffs you can find along the way to make a particular run more enticing.
Working through Torghast will reward you with runes that will let you craft new Legendary items. The system also gives you some control over the gear you earn as you fight your way through the tower's torments.
"We know that people love loading in their Legendaries," Hight said. "They told us after Legion, 'Where are my Legendaries?' They're not Legendary weapons, but they are going to be Legendary pieces that you can equip--up to one, but you can build more than that and you can swap out. You're going to have a lot of control over the aspects, the abilities that are on those Legendaries."
The challenges of Torghast sound as though they'll give WoW players something new to think about when they hit the endgame of Shadowlands. You might bring different builds to bear in the rogue-like tower, or take advantage of other elements, like the new Soulbinds system. It all seems like a fresh take on the WoW formula that has allowed Blizzard a little freedom in playing with the game's underlying formula--and will likely provide players with an opportunity to shake up how they play as well.