It takes a lot to keep people playing the same MMO for 15 years. Over that time, World of Warcraft has spiced things up with Pokemon-style pet battles and timed dungeons that scale in difficulty, giving players a new way to constantly push their abilities. WoW's new features are frequently great, but many are not. Those that players like tend to become a permanent part of World of Warcraft, while the rest are swept under the rug and left as expansion-specific, one-off experiments. I hope that the new, fully randomized roguelike dungeon coming in the upcoming Shadowlands' expansion sticks around forever, because it's the best damn thing added to World of Warcraft in years.
It's called Torghast, Tower of the Damned, and it's a full-blown roguelike inside of World of Warcraft. And when I say roguelike, I mean it. Floors are randomly generated and populated with a variety of different monsters each time you enter, and as you climb the tower you unlock powerful new abilities that—like any good roguelike—create hilarious and unexpected interactions that frequently feel broken (in a good way). Torghast is also surprisingly challenging, and if you die too many times your run ends and you have to start all over. Compared to how regimented and carefully balanced World of Warcraft usually is, Torghast is a wonderful bit of chaos and fun.
Breaking the rules
When Shadowlands releases later this summer, Torghast will be a new endgame activity for characters who have completed the main story. It's intended to be the primary source of materials needed to craft and customize Shadowlands' powerful new Legendary items, but I don't even care about that. After playing Torghast for several hours on the Shadowlands alpha test servers, this is the first time in ages that an activity in World of Warcraft has been more exciting than the reward itself.
Unlike regular dungeons, which require a party that adheres to the roles of tank, healer, and damage dealers, Torghast can be explored alone or with up to five friends of any class. The dungeon's difficulty simply adapts to your group.
Torghast is a traditional roguelike in all the right ways. Each floor is full of randomized enemies with different abilities, along with randomized rewards called Anima Powers. Sometimes found in breakable jugs or dropped by especially powerful foes, each Anima Power you find gives you a choice between up to three abilities, like increasing a certain stat or giving you a new spell. In a one-hour run through Torghast I usually find between 20 and 40 different Anima Powers. That's a lot.
Some of these are pretty minor, like marginal increases in certain stats, but others unlock interesting new abilities or encourage me to play in weird ways. Bottled Enigma, for example, clouds your character in a magical fog that makes all attacks from enemies outside the fog miss, effectively protecting you from ranged attacks. Frostbite Wand, meanwhile, does an initial burst of damage equal to half an enemy's total hit points when you first hit it, but after a while will slowly regenerate that lost HP. The trick is to kill the enemy before it starts regenerating.
One of my favorites is an Anima Power that extends my Demon Hunter's Metamorphosis ability, which normally turns me into a powerful demon for only half a minute. This Anima Power extends the timer whenever I kill a mouse. Normally I'd save Metamorphosis for a big fight because of its four-minute cooldown, but some rooms in Torghast are swimming in mice that I'd normally ignore. Suddenly, my most powerful ability could last upwards of two minutes, letting me sweep through floors without breaking a sweat.
Later on, I found another Anima Power that enhanced Metamorphosis to increase my size and stats while active, turning me into a boss-sized mouse slayer. Then I found a third Anima Power that changed the behavior of the mice in Torghast so they wouldn't run away when their health was low, which was a major annoyance when I wasted precious Metamorphosis seconds chasing them. In that one Torghast run I went from being a boring old Demon Hunter to the spirit of vengeance for countless generations of elephants.
That's not even close to how broken Torghast builds can get. Some players managed to stack so many Anima Powers that enhanced their spell damage that they were able to one-shot the final boss on a floor. Wowhead has a fun list of other ways players have been able to craft absolutely overpowered characters.
All the time you need
One of the other best parts about Torghast is that the dungeon isn't restricted by a timer. Blizzard says it will implement a "soft timer" to stop players from idling on floors forever, but it shouldn't stop players from taking their time to explore or rest between fights. To people who don't play WoW, that might not seem like a big deal, but it's a huge change in the context of how most recent WoW activities have been designed.
In Battle for Azeroth, for example, timers feature in a lot of the most exciting group activities. Island Expeditions, for example, are a high-stakes race against another group of players, but the timer stops you from getting to explore these cool, semi-procedurally generated islands. And while I love the challenge of Mythic+ dungeons, there's no denying how oppressive the timer can feel. Blizzard uses time limits again and again to create a kind of arbitrary challenge. Their prevalence is a bit exhausting.
It's refreshing that Torghast is something that I can approach at my own pace. The lack of a timer lets Blizzard have fun with the design of certain rooms, too. Much of Torghast is random bits of hallways or open arenas stitched together, but once in a while I'll stumble into a unique puzzle room that shakes up the rhythm in a good way. One of my favorites so far is a room full of platforms connected by portals that constantly change their destination.
If Torghast were timed, this room would be frustrating as hell because you could waste minutes before finding the portal that takes you to the exit. Without a timer, though, it becomes a rare instance of Blizzard trolling its own players. It's fun to see just a smidge of the cruel friction of WoW: Classic find its way back into the modern game.
Though there is no timer, it's still possible to lose in Torghast. On each floor, an enormous and terrifying monster called the Tarragrue is locked away. If you die more than a certain number of times on the floor, the Tarragrue is unleashed and begins slowly hunting you down. It reminds me a lot of the ghost from Spelunky, because the Tarragrue will kill you instantly if it catches up to you, but it moves slowly enough that you sometimes can just barely race through to the exit and get away.
I've played a lot of roguelikes and it's a delight to see Torghast mimic them so faithfully. Just like the best ones, it starts simple and blossoms into something much more complex as I earn new powers and navigate random challenges. It's impressive just how many unique abilities Blizzard has crammed into it so far—and how it might expand over time with new updates and patches.
The only real downside is that Blizzard has confirmed it plans to limit how often players can enter Torghast each week. It makes sense, considering Torghast is how players will earn powerful Legendary items, but it's a terrible idea—arbitrary limits like this sap a lot of the fun out of other similar activities. Players are already begging Blizzard to simply cap the rewards from Torghast and let them explore it as many times as they'd like, which I'd much prefer. Blizzard seems extra proactive about responding to player feedback in the Shadowlands alpha test so far, so I'm optimistic it'll listen.
Normally I'm apprehensive about playing on World of Warcraft's test servers since none of that progress carries over. It usually feels like wasted effort. But my time in Torghast has been so much fun I've happily sunk several hours into it in the last week, and I'm itching to return. While there's a lot about Shadowlands that sounds promising, Torghast stands out. It's such a fun and smart departure from the standard WoW formula that I hope it becomes a permanent fixture in Azeroth.