So, let’s talk Torghast. I’ve been teasing this post for what, two weeks now? Obviously…some things got in the way, and then I went to live in Mythic Plus until I emerged with my Keystone Master achievement for Shadowlands Season 2, but Torghast remains, looming ever larger in the distance.
Torghast was probably one of, if not the most, contentious issues with the launch of Shadowlands. In theory, it sounds great – a roguelike built on WoW’s foundation, fun random layouts, strong powers that shape a run – awesome. In practice, it was sort of a dull chore at its best and an atrocious timewaster at worst, due to inconsistent scaling impacted by game balance, classes and specs with underwhelming or flat-out awful Anima Powers, and, like all the worst things in WoW, it has the dreaded label of “required content” – as Torghast is your sole gateway to Legendary crafting by offering the currency used for it and also offering a handful of the memories per class.
9.1 promised to change all of that, by introducing a drastic set of changes. For flavor, lore, and the actual gameplay, the Tarragrue was removed to be the first boss of the new raid, meaning he no longer sniffs you out when you die too much and thus removing the death counter. You also get to kill him in an easy-enough raid fight, so that’s a fun bit of retributive justice. Instead of a simple system of trying to live to the end and win, Blizzard has retooled everything. Replacing the limited deaths mechanic as a limiter is a scoring system, encouraging you to run through Torghast quickly, completely, and with flair like hoarding Phantasma, not taking Epic Anima Powers, or not taking trap damage. Gone are the instance-specific Torments 1.0, instead replaced with a rotating selection of torments that scale up as you tackle higher layers, and these offer more broadly applicable and interesting twists to high runs – with the old Torments being used up as an element of the Heroic and up Tarragrue fight. You can fight back against this with The Box of Many Things – stockpiling a new currency, Tower Knowledge, and then using that to buy what are effectively Torghast talents, adding Blessings, removing Torments, reducing damage taken, increasing your damage dealt, etc. With the scoring system comes Empowerment, a buff you can activate when you’ve completed a sufficient amount of Torghastery, increasing your Haste and Leech and offering a sustainable buff that you can keep from depleting by going faster and chaining kills, smashing urns, freeing souls, and completing quests inside the instance. Lastly, the structure of a Torghast run changed – going from an even 3-floor pattern to a skewed pattern, removing the old fifth floor to bring the boss forward, and then adding two additional layers as an incentive for high scores in Torghast on layer 9 or higher.
All these changes sound like a lot, and they are, but at the same time…they kind of aren’t.
The core flow of a Torghast run is not drastically different for any of these changes. Each run still has the same basic flavor – zone in, get to clearing, kill floor boss, ascend, and repeat. The most impactful change thus far to the core gameplay is that the floor structure does make bosses easier than they otherwise would have been, since there is one floor less scaling in the way, and that also means that you no longer have the difficult 5th floor run in each push through Torghast, which was where scaling reared it’s ugly head, particularly on classes and specs with bad Anima Powers.
Each other change does make a small impact, however. No death counter means that you cannot fully fail a Torghast run unless you just cannot complete it – pushing to the end, however brutal, rewards you with the full allotment of Soul Ash and, from layer 8 up, the new Soul Cinders currency. Deaths do, however, count against your score. The scoring system encourages exploration over completion, with full points on a floor only possible if you explore everything, with exploration being a mix of enemy kills, urn breaks, treasures and souls, and quests. Each floor has a par time, and meeting or beating it is how you reach full points. Empowerment offers a decent power boost with a strong survivability component via high Leech, and having Empowerment active adds to your score. Empowerment accumulation past the marked point on the bar in the Torghast frame decays if unused, so the incentive is to keep it active as often as possible – don’t hold it for boss fights unless you’re close! The new system of Torments is more gameplay-involved and actually quite good – you have to dodge things, make careful choices about pulls, and manage things more thoughtfully. The new talents from the Box are quite good and can help bring up underperforming specs a smidge, but they aren’t, at least so far, as impactful as the same idea from Horrific Visions in patch 8.3.
All of this together makes the experience of Torghast different, but still very similar to the 9.0 experience of many players. You want to smash through each floor as quickly as possible – but now you want to do so while completing every objective. You want to play carefully and smartly so as to not lose points, but that is very similar in flavor to the death limits from 9.0 If your goal is to simply get your legendary currency and leave, that is easier in many aspects – but if you struggled with Torghast in 9.0, you’ll still encounter much the same struggle, minus a smidge of the later-floor challenges since floor 5 is now just the final boss instead of a trash wing that ratchets up the scaling higher.
The par time sounds sort of bad, but it’s fairly permissive provided you aren’t massively underplaying your potential. Floors on my Demon Hunter have taken around 4 minutes, with par time 2-3 times that. Now, granted, my DH is pretty well geared and I play pretty decently (I’d like to think), but that means there is room in there to improve. Granted, you also don’t have to care about the scoring at all if all you want is your Soul items – just finish the run however you damn well please and the last boss will still cough up the goods.
The scoring system, like many systems in Shadowlands, is a sort of obfuscated mystery box of gameplay objectives. In short, you can score from 1-5 gems (I’m just gonna say stars, it’s stars, no one says gems Blizzard, fuck off) based on your total score. The 5 star rating requires 200 points, which is about what you’ll get if you meet or beat the par timer while exploring each floor completely. You can, however, gain more points to comfortably lead – this is done through bonuses. There are bonuses for not taking trap damage, not dying, holding 500 Phantasma while killing the final boss, not taking epic-tier Anima Powers, and more. These are the bits that are hidden unless you expand the main score window at the end of a run, and they are where you can really comfortably (and fairly easily) lock in a 5-star rating. Deaths, however, subtract 10 points a pop.
The rating only matters for a few things. Firstly, a higher rating means more Tower Knowledge, which is rewarded up to a weekly cap for use in buying the talents for Torghast. Secondly, once you have the Adamant Vaults trait from the Box of Many Things, 5-starring a run will open up two additional floors that are brand new. The new 6th floor is a standard trash floor, and basically is the old 5th floor on crack – more enemies to kill, new enemies with new abilities and things to watch out for, and a simple tileset that feels sort of like Torghast and Castle Nathria had a child. The 7th floor is a weird mix, containing a smaller amount of trash to clear, then a Broker, and then a new final boss from a roster of new choices. Killing this boss has a chance to reward Conduit upgrade items that can take your conduits in baby steps from wherever they are now to 252 item level. This chance is small and very much still a moving target on what we know about it – the best speculation I’ve seen suggests that you only have a chance at getting one from your first run per week in the Vaults. There are also supposedly socket items for Season 2 gear that drop in the Adamant Vaults, but this does not seem to have been reported on live servers by players yet.
One final note before concluding this post is that the scaling of Torghast item level recommendations in 9.1 is much, much sharper – the final layer of 9.1, layer 12, suggests a 252 item level in the layer selection UI. Since item level 252 is Mythic raid/+15 Great Vault loot level, that seems…a tad high. However, similar to the recommendations added in 9.0.5 for the base 8 layers, it is likely over the top to ensure that you are overgeared for the challenge in question. Layer 12 does not open until this week, so we’ll see how that goes once live servers let you climb that high!
In short – Torghast is still Torghast. If you loved in 9.0, well, it’s still about the same in terms of the overall gameplay feel. If you hated it, well, it is still easily contemptible as a feature. It remains an ugly wart of sorts on the expansion as a whole – not fun enough as a standalone gameplay mode, very compulsory-feeling which dampens the mood on reset day, required for players of all stripes who want to maximize their character’s power, not a good roguelike, still beset by an almost crippling desire to keep some measure of control and balance in the game, and ultimately, just not particularly engaging as a gameplay mechanism. Choreghast, Boreghast, Snoreghast – whatever you call it, most players generally seem pretty unexcited by it, and I think the most interesting thing for me to watch in patch 9.2 and forward is whether or not it even continues or if Blizzard finally just gives up on it.
Because, honestly, I kind of hope they give up on it. Or just go for broke and let you get insane anima powers and go nuts. At this point, just pick one – but I don’t have a lot of confidence they can make it fun.