Sunday, October 02, 2011

Torchlight versus Shadowgrounds: Fake versus Real Progression.

 The first game from the latest humble bundle that I tried out is Shadowgrounds Survivor.

There are a lot of similarities between Survivor and Torchlight, a game I finished just a couple of weeks ago. Both games are essentially linear crawls through dungeons infested with assorted creepy crawlies. Both games use third person perspective and have very simple click to interact controls. Both games have level up mechanics and rpg elements.  Of course Torchlight has a fantasy setting while Shadowgrounds has a Sci Fi setting but that isn't the real difference between the games.

The first real difference is that Torchlight has "strong" level up mechanics where your character's strength and abilities get increased many fold as they gain levels while Survivor has weak leveling up with characters getting a few new weapons  and some useful skills but never doubling in power or strength.

Bizarrely it is Torchlight that feels to me like the more repetitive game. Torchlight's progressions feels like fake progression. The monsters you face all get stronger as you progress through the game but since your character level increases proportionately the difficulty level of the game remains flat.  The game does have an illusion of player choice in the skills you choose to equip but in reality character level is everything. In Survivor the enemies you face don't level but you do face larger groups and tougher varieties as you progress. Since your character doesn't get significantly stronger the only way to survive the tougher encounters is get better at the game. Learning to make best use of the small upgrades that leveling provides is one of the key survival skills. This leads to the paradoxical situation that the small upgrades in Survivor have a much bigger impact on gameplay than the big level increases in Torchlight.


Another key difference is that Torchlight is a much longer game that uses randomly generated maps for almost all the levels. Shadowgrounds is shorter but its hand crafted level maps are much more enjoyable to play to my mind.

It is almost as if in Torchlight the gameplay is entirely secondary to the supposed thrill of "leveling up". This point is really rubbed in when you overcome the final boss and instead of fanfare and closing credits you are immediately pointed to another pointless randomly generated dungeon where you can keep leveling up, presumably forever.

So I far prefer Shadowgrounds  Survivor to Torchlight. Yet Torchlight received better reviews averaging 83 on Metacritic as opposed to 79 for Survivor . Torchlight has also  been far more successful commercially and the forthcoming sequel is eagerly awaited by many fans. So much it seems for my taste in gaming.

4 comments:

Azuriel said...

So... what you're saying is that one of those games is an RPG, and the other is not?

:P

Thallian said...

I think I prefer the real levelling to fake levelling though. Maybe I should try this Survivor out... I usually don't agree with the critics 100% myself.

mbp said...

@azuriel according to the standard definition yes but when I think about it the limited augmentation allowed in Shadowgrounds has a more significant impact on gameplay than the "fake" progression in a typical rpg.

Tesh said...

So wait, to progress in Shadowlands, you have to get better at the game? What a weird idea. :P

*goes to maybe play that one after all*