World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ new roguelike dungeon expands on one of Legion’s best experiments

At BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard revealed World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the MMO’s eighth expansion. Over the weekend, developers described numerous new features coming to World of Warcraft next year. One of the most exciting sounding activities is a new roguelike-inspired dungeon called Torghast, the Tower of the Damned.

At the show, we spoke with technical director Frank Kowalkowski and senior game designer Paul Kubit, and they compared Torghast to a fan-favorite mission from World of Warcraft: Legion.

“As we’ve built things like Torghast, we’ve taken inspiration from another favorite Legion mode: Withered Army Training,” said Kubit. “Which is in and of itself a roguelike mode.”

In Withered Army Training, players could bring an army of elves into a dungeon. Players controlled their usual character, supported by these elves — almost like the Overlord games or Pikmin. As players descended, they could find new elves to add to their horde, or send some of their soldiers back with heavy treasure chests, empowering their army for any subsequent runs.

The mode was a blast, and a great experiment to show just how malleable the World of Warcraft quest engine seems to be. But as in all rogue-lites, players eventually earned enough power to breeze through the halls. It created a sense of accomplishment — destroying enemies with ease that once gave you a great deal of trouble. Still, players ran out of reasons to run the mission, and Withered Army Training fell by the wayside. Blizzard hasn’t implemented anything like it since.

Torghast brings run-based gameplay to Shadowlands. It’s a dungeon that’s never the same twice. The winding halls and enemy placements are different each time around — unlike Withered Army Training. You go in, grow in strength as you play, fail, and start over again.

In Withered Army Training, you could reach the end of the mission. Not in Torghast; it’ll keep going until it defeats you.

“You eventually got really good at it,” Kowalkowski said of Withered Army Training. “You can eventually amass this giant army and you just steamroll all the way through to the end. Torghast doesn’t have an ending. Its end is the point at which your player can kind of reach at that time. So it is truly going to be something where you can keep challenging yourself and you’re going to reach that point of challenge where Torghast is going to say, ‘Get on out.’”

Torghast’s infinite replayability partially comes from that level of challenge. But it’s also impacted by how different the dungeon feels each time you venture in. Kubit told us about an event happening shortly after launch that will fill the hall with beast enemies for a time — changing up the dungeon’s enemies once again.

But all things grow old with time, just as Withered Army Training did. Kubit acknowledges that maybe that’s OK, even if the team is still trying to keep the mode fun and fresh over the expansion’s life:

I’ll add my analysis of a rogue-like games in general is that typically they do burn pretty hot, right? When I play one of them, you play a lot and then once you’ve kind of mastered the mechanics of it, then a lot of the interest goes away. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at with Torghast to make sure that over time we’re able to keep the mode fresh, make sure that, yes, as you continue to climb and get higher, whether it be due to your gear level or some progression within the Torghast system itself, that you’re discovering new things, you’re discovering new powers, you’re discovering new ecologies that you have to fight against, and problems you have to solve.

While we don’t know all of the rewards for Torghast, we do know it’s how players will craft their own Legendary items in Shadowlands.

Most things in World of Warcraft draw from something else — even a small, single mission like Withered Army Training can one day inspire an entire mode. Players may not control giant armies of elves through the new dungeon, but the twisting halls and run-based encounters shouldn’t ever be boring.

Blizzard hasn’t revealed when exactly it will launch World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Typically, it launches new World of Warcraft expansions in the fall, around August or September.

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