Hot and Cold - An Embermage's Story
An account of how I play keep away with monsters.
This is the second of my class write-ups from the Runic Fansite event. Last week, I wrote about my experience with the Engineer. Look for Outlander walk-through later as well as an article where I explain why Torchlight 2 will be a game we all play a very long time.
Goodbye Jerich the Engineer
We last left off with my Engineer leading the other fansite people to victory over a mini-boss. Wonder came in right afterward and told us it was time for lunch, so with a heavy heart I said goodbye to Jerich the Engineer and logged out of Torchlight 2. Luckily, the lunch was productive and I was able to pester Marsh and Wonder with tons of questions. If you want to see some of the things I discovered, read my Q and A. Anyway, after finishing our food, we headed back to Runic games and I got another go at Torchlight 2.
Hello Aaria the Embermage; Hello Hard Mode!
Having died multiple times with my Engineer and watching Flux, Telias and Sp3nAz tear into things with their Embermages with no small amount of envy, I decided to roll up one. We only had an hour or so before our podcast, so I rushed through character selection and quickly named my Embermage my default girl name of Aaria. I decided to play solo so I could explore the game without feeling rushed and ratcheted up the difficulty to hard mode for the challenge.
Fun With Magma Spear along the Newbie Path
You start the game next to the Destroyer, who is standing in severe wind and rain waiting to give you your first quest. He looks a little bit worse for wear since the last game... sporting what looks like an eyepatch and sling. I'm not going to spoil it with the finer details, but your first task is to get to the first town. To get there, you have to travel down a long path, riddled with hostile fauna that are designed to be the gentle introduction to the game. The monsters aren't quite as aggressive as they are later and I think it would be pretty hard to die if you have an ounce of gaming talent.
Needless to say, I burned most of the hapless creatures to a crisp before they could close with me. My weapon of choice was Magma Spear, an interesting skill that uses a streaming mechanic like Diablo 2's Inferno. Basically it slowly drains mana and keeps firing as long as you hold down the mouse button. Instead of a flaming jet, though, it fires of a stream of rapid fire projectiles that have a fairly long range. These each do a small amount of initial fire damage and a large amount of fire damage over time. This means that it works best if you can alternate shots so you are hitting multiple monsters and keeping the DOT active on all of them. While you can kill one monster by repeatedly hitting him over and over, the real damage is the three second burning effect.
A second challenge with using Magma Spear is that it fires a straight shot and is easily blocked by interfering terrain. Often, I found myself clipping a corner or having difficulty shooting across a hill. I talked a little bit to Travis about this and he explained how various spells travel to their target differently. Some follow the ground, others arc and some are more straight line. Magma Spear draws an imaginary line to your target and will only fire if it is unobstructed. The actual projectiles are wider than the line, however, and will detonate if they collide with an obstacle (like terrain) before they hit the target. This meant I was constantly changing my position to get the perfect angle.
Overall, Magma Spear felt good and I enjoyed finessing it. While it sometimes takes a while for creatures to die, the mana cost is super low and it charges the Embermage's charge bar quickly. The few times I was able to get a full charge bar it was a lot of fun, because I would then enter a "clear-cast" state where I could use my more mana intensive spells without them costing anything.
One cool thing I found on the trip to the first town was a HUGE chest wrapped in chains with a giant padlock on it. I wasn't able to open it until I killed a close by monster and grabbed a special key from it. I don't completely remember what it dropped, but I believe I got at least one legendary from the chest.
Frustrating Monsters with Frost Phase
At this point, Wonder was starting to talk about starting the Podcast soon so I ran through the first town as quickly as possible, just stopping to grab some quests and stock up on potions. I then ventured immediately onto the Estherian Steppes and introduced the wildlife to Magma Spear. This time, though, I had dinged to level seven, which opened up Frost Phase, the Embermage's teleport skill. It basically functions almost identically to the D2 Sorceresses' teleport with the added benefit of freezing monsters at the point of exit and entrance. The main difference is that it doesn't allow you to teleport across walls unless you are close to a door. I asked Travis about the mechanic and he explained that the game actually does a pathing test to check whether you could actually make it to the spot you are clicking on within a certain number of strides. If you are able to make it, you will teleport, if not, nothing happens. The Engineer's Onslaught works the same way (although it doesn't have the same range as Frost Phase).
This skill completely transformed my game allowed me to snipe monsters while they rushed me then teleport away. Basically I was able to play a gigantic game of keep away with them. It was even fast enough to use versus ranged mobs: phasing and firing off a few shots then phasing again before the enemy projectiles reached me. While teleporting so often was somewhat mana intensive, it was definitely doable and a ton of fun.
Later on I added Blazing Pillar to my mix of spells. It's a spell that summons four pillars of flame that initially propagate from the Embermage in the four cardinal directions. After about a half second, they target the nearest enemy and track them. I really enjoy watching the pillars chase monsters around the screen setting them on fire. While this is a fun spell, it is difficult to cast from range since the pillars sometimes fade before acquiring a target. Basically, I found the most effective way to use this was to Frost Phase near the edge of a group of enemies, let off a couple Blazing Pillars, then teleport away and finish the stragglers with Magma Spear.
Boss Battle on the Temple Steppes
I can't say enough how much I love the new overland areas. The first one is hilly and sports bridges and steps leading to hidden nooks and crannies. Each of these is filled with extra monsters and loot. There always seems to be something else to explore: switchbacks up to monsters guarding chests atop a hill, a ghost wanting me to clear out a dungeon, a hidden area behind a waterfall... I can definitely see myself getting lost here for a very long time.
At this point the Podcast was going to start soon, so I purposefully ignored the dungeons and just went exploring. The most memorable point for me was began when I was approaching a temple wall. As soon as it came into view, a group six ghostly bearlike creatures (Sturmbeornen I think) rushed me. As soon as I dispatched them, another group of six jumped in the fray. It turns out, a couple champion level Sturmbeornen shaman were sitting up on the top of the temple summoning them down at me. While they could cast down at me, I unfortunately could not cast up far enough to hit them. Supposedly each spell has a max up or down angle. Magma Spear can only deviate about twenty degrees from horizontal which means it is difficult to target anything with it that is above or below you. This meant I had to slowly make my way up the temple, facing hordes of summoned ghost bears all the way.
Once I finally reached the two bosses and was close enough to attack them, I noticed they had the teleporting ability. This meant that they would teleport away when they were damaged enough. Unfortunately for me, their teleport range seemed quite a bit longer than my Frost Phase and they were able to teleport completely off the temple. This led me on a merry chase, killing summoned bears all the time until I finally cornered them and peppered them with a liberal dosage of Magma Spears. It felt pretty satisfying. After that, Wonder asked us to go make the podcast, so I said goodbye to Aaria and logged out.
Part 2: Embermage Skills Discussion
The Embermage has gotten the least amount of love since PAX with her active skills remaining virtually unchanged. Because of this, it is impossible to even plan preliminary builds with her at this point. Right now the vast majority of her skills are active attacks. I expect to see more buffs, debuffs and terrain changers in the future.
Jerich's suggestions for further skills
I like most of the Embermage attack spells right now, but think the spell line could use some modifications. Her spell list is not complete by any means, so I can't give a ton of feedback, but here is the small amount I see...
- None of the Embermage attacks has a DPS component. I believe this is a big mistake if it doesn't change by release. Attacks that lack a DPS component don't scale as well with epic loot combined with attacks that do have a DPS component. This will remove a key gear component (weapon dps and strength) from Embermage consideration. Since loot is such a big component of these games, I am a strong proponent of a DPS component for every attack skill.
- Buffs, pets, debuffs, environmental zone effects would be nice to see. In particular I would like to see some utility based spells or targetable buffs like D2 Enchant. Some type of scouting spell turret like Hydra would also be cool.
Even on hard mode, I had an easier go with the Embermage than the Engineer. I think this is primarily due to being able to kite at range and getting my mobility skill (Frost Phase) at level seven compared with the Engineer's Onslaught at level 14. I also didn't jump in over my head at any time and stuck to the overland areas where I had a lot of room to maneuver. I think cramped areas would have been much more difficult. Overall, though, it was a ton of fun. Frost Phase kiting is a blast since you are always moving and plotting your next jump point. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Embermage's skills... I will probably definitely level one as far as I can once beta hits.