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‘Torchlight 3’ Salvages an Old-School Hack ‘n Slash from Online Limbo

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I was ready for Torchlight 3 to feel like a game without an identity. It’s been less than a year since developers Echtra canned plans for an online-only, shared-world successor to Runic’s dormant loot ’em up, after all. In many ways, Torchlight 3 might very well be the shell of a game I feared it to be—a hollow retreading of Torchlight 2’s quest that’s missing nearly a decade of genre improvements. And yet, I can’t say I haven’t had a grand old time with it.

Today, the first Torchlight is practically quaint: a budget 2009 action-RPG from veteran Diablo devs, released at a time when the genre was poorly served. It expanded on those ideas with an all-timer of a sequel. A genre classic in its own right, Torchlight 2 was further aided by the fact that Diablo 3 was losing goodwill over online requirements and its infamous real-money auction house. 

There’s a light irony, then, that Echtra’s planned revival for Torchlight would skew closer to Blizzard’s oft-maligned online approach. Torchlight Frontiers, as it would be named, was planned as a Destiny style twist on top-down looting with its own multiplayer hubs, battle passes, and a more lateral progression_._ It’d even have its own Diablo 3 styled paid auction house. 

It seems like Frontiers’ earliest players weren’t having it, though, and while the social town hub and co-op play stayed, most of the shared-world features were scrapped. Torchlight 3 picked up a $40 price tag to become something you could play without ever seeing another human being.

On release, Torchlight 3 finds itself once more up a traditional loot ‘n’ slash action RPG in the vein of its predecessors, visibly wrested from its online trappings at the eleventh hour. It is in danger of being conservative and derivative, but fortunately, the game’s lineup of daring adventurers is anything but predictable.

In my main run, I am a Railmaster—a hammer-wielding brute of a lass who summons magical trains (the rails automatically form behind you so that your little death-cart can follow at your heels), each skill on my action bar adding a deadly new carriage to my deadly locomotive. Other classes are equally inventive, from steam-powered Forged automatons that build pressure to unleash devastating blows to the Dusk Mage’s careful balancing act of light and dark spells. Only the Sharpshooter, whose unique trait is “gun ownership”, strikes as a bit naff. Combined with my relic, an elemental aspect chosen at the start of the game that gives me access to an entirely separate skill-tree of fiery death, I am unstoppable. 

Torchlight 3 is a looker, too. The series has always had this Warcraft-adjacent look, all bold colors and massive shoulder pads, and this might be the best rendition of that look to date. Underground caves shimmer with heat, forests are lush with vibrant fauna, and deadly foes crackle in an explosion of loot when felled. My quest tears a destructive, bloody path through a stunning new world in a haze of gunsmoke, cinders and broken bones. It feels phenomenal.

About that new world though: . while Torchlight 3 may not be Frontiers by name, it sure is by nature. The game’s story is largely functional, a forgettable affair that has you stopping a returning Netherim invasion (your typical ancient, Eldr-ish enemy) a century after the last game locked them away. In practice, your crew of colonial heroes sure did just rock up on exotic jungle shores and start slaughtering a native population of “savage” goblins. In tone and frequently aesthetics, Torchlight 3 is Heart of Darkness and Kipling with an item drop table. For a game with such creative character classes, I do wish the setup wasn’t firmly rooted in tropes pulled out of Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks from the 80s.

It’s gross, and unfortunate considering that framing only really exists to funnel you towards the next fight. That, at the very least, is something Torchlight has always been good at. Cutscenes, when they show up, are terribly simple and spread too thin, and I’m sprinting through dialogue to point me at the next thing to kill.  But after learning the ropes, I’m thrown straight in the deep end, with every new brawl featuring incredible numbers of foes. I might not know or care why I’m fighting the latest malevolent tree or giant spider, but I’m having a blast. 

The pace is relentless. Every five minutes I’m stumbling into a new miniboss or incidental dungeon, briskly moving from one region to the next. The world is packed with secret basements, rare packs, wandering bosses and “phased” beasts that’ll teleport you to any previously beaten dungeon. Where the first game gave me a pooch to help carry and sell my gear, Torchlight 3 has me managing a zoo full of alpacas, wolves, owls and dragons. 

I am swimming in loot, and have more gold than I could possibly know what to do with. 

It’s surprising, actually, how rarely I’m heading back to town to stock up and gear up. Torchlight 3’s campaign is effectively a straight shot, its map a winding trail of various regions and dungeons punctuated by short breaks for visiting your Fort. I’m picking up health potions about as often as I’m using them, and genre staples like Identify Scrolls, once used to stagger how often you’d trade out gear, are gone in favour of unobstructed progression. The stark emptiness of hub area Trevail Point, clearly built as a social space but used largely as a pick-up point for quests, is one of the larger clues that there’s a good chunk of planned game missing from Torchlight 3.

Loose strands of that Frontiers past litter Torchlight 3’s landscape. Most of the time, it’s in the small things. Little pains like the inability to ever truly “pause” the game or the main menu pushing multiplayer over singleplayer are easy to ignore. The Contracts system is the most blatant sign of the game’s free-to-play past, though. Once pitched as a traditional _Fortnite-_style Battle Pass, Contracts have been defanged of paid tiers. Now, they act as a sort of secondary experience bar that dishes out gold, gear and cosmetics every few hours.

I was so ready to throw forts in that pile. One of Torchlight 3‘s biggest new features is giving you your own castle, a permanent base with which to store your pets, stash your loot and retrain skills before heading into the next region. Without the MMO-lite frame of Frontiers, I reckoned these player houses would feel utterly superfluous. They still do, I guess but I’ve found that doesn’t bother me as much as I feared.

See, I was worried Forts would play out like World Of Warcraft: Warlords Of Draenor’s infamous garrisons: Identikit bases with pre-built slots for placing various buildings, with perhaps a few decorative objects to sprinkle around. Instead, Torchlight’s Forts are a creative sandbox, a high fantasy Animal Crossing that lets you place everything from loose shrubs to fantasy outhouses however you please. They’re hardly essential, but welcome respites punctuating the otherwise unstoppable progression forwards—even if my own fort still looks like trash.

Nevertheless, it’s another piece of the game that feels like it’s missing some sorely-needed context. I can’t say if Frontiers‘ shared-world vision would’ve worked, but Torchlight 3 can’t escape feeling like the reconstituted parts of another, more ambitious game. Ultimately, they’re distractions more than anything—awkward, unavoidable reminders that the game you’re playing once looked very different, but never so damning as to distract from the bloody romp you’re actually playing. For a last-minute turnaround job, Echtra could’ve done a whole lot worse.

Torchlight 3 launches following a good few months in early access, and Steam reviews from that time tell of a faltering endgame and inflexible build options that can’t compare with its contemporaries_._ Where Path Of Exile will give you an overwhelming sprawl of stats and abilities from which to forge your own hero, _Torchlight 3’_s progression is extremely limited. You have three skill trees (plus one for your relic), but they’re narrow, rarely threatening you with much choice with no incentive for stepping outside your spec. Lifebound scrolls let you bump at your gear’s stats at risk of losing them on death, but both equipment and scrolls drop frequently enough for it to rarely be an issue. It’s easy enough to always equip best armour, and always give them that little boost. 

There’s always an obvious choice for progression, and I’m never scratching my head over what’s best for my particular build. Your Railmaster and mine probably aren’t that different.

But then, that’s never been the way I played these games, though. They’re popcorn RPGs, there to stimulate that extremely videogames part of your brain that loves to bash skeletons with a massive hammer. 

Torchlight 3 is no Torchlight 2. It’s repetitive, hollow, and I’m sure I’ll probably move onto the next thing before the end of Act 2. For now, though, I think I’m happy sticking on a podcast and murdering a whole lotta spiders.

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Made homeless: S Korean finance minister falls foul of own rules

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Hong Nam-ki helped enact rules to protect tenants from rising costs, but landlords have instead been replacing renters – including Hong – to raise deposits. The irony lights up social media.

South Korea’s Finance Minister, the architect of rules aimed at protecting tenants and slowing deposit increases, has himself been forced to look for a new home as landlords react to the rules by quickly replacing tenants so they can bump up deposits.

Hong Nam-ki is also faced with broadening his search as the average deposit where he lives 20 minutes from parliament has soared by a third since his housing rules took effect in July, with the irony of his predicament setting the internet alight.

“Worse comes to worst, he can camp by the Presidential Blue House, right?,” one netizen asked on a real estate forum.

Seoul apartment prices have risen more than 50 percent since the left-leaning President Moon Jae-in inherited loosened mortgage rules from the previous administration three years ago.

To slow buy-to-rent demand, the Housing Lease Protection Act, led by Hong, capped increases of “jeonse” deposits at 5 percent and allowed tenants to extend standard two-year contracts for another two, unless landlords themselves move into the property.

Jeonse is a lump-sum, returnable deposit paid instead of monthly rent. Landlords invest the deposit and pocket returns.

The Act led to an unprecedented shortage of jeonse housing nationwide as landlords sought to empty properties ahead of its implementation in July so they could increase deposits for new tenants, expecting not to be able to raise them again for four years.

In Hong’s case, his lease ends in January at which time his landlord is set to move into the property, a realtor citing an industry database told the Reuters news agency, echoing local media reports.

‘Let him suffer’

“My fellow landlords, lets not rent out to Hong, let him suffer!” wrote another netizen on the popular real estate forum. “Lets make him feel what the government has done!”

Reuters could not immediately reach Hong’s landlord for comment. A spokesman for Hong declined to comment.

South Korea’s Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki was kicked out of his own home [File: Third party via Reuters]

For a comparable three-bedroom apartment in Hong’s complex in upmarket Mapo, western Seoul, the finance minister would now face deposits that have surged 32 percent in three months to 830 million South Korean won ($731,310), showed data from Naver Real Estate.

Hong, who has served the government for more than 30 years, had a net worth of 1.06 billion won ($935,044) at the end of December, government data showed.

Schadenfreude

Hong is one of a group of senior officials popularly blamed for failing to curb runaway home prices in Asia’s fourth-largest economy even after more than 20 rounds of mortgage curbs and other steps during Moon’s tenure. In that time, median Seoul apartment prices have risen more than 50 percent, KB Bank data showed.

His forced move opened a torrent of schadenfreude, with South Koreans struggling to find affordable housing mocking Hong for being a victim of his own making.

“Dear Hong, come and live in my place. I’ll give you a good deal,” said one netizen.

“Hong’s so smart. Way to go bro. Keep playing the victim and demand a bigger job from Moon,” said another.

Hong, who doubles as deputy prime minister for economic affairs, is himself a landlord but cannot move into either of his two properties. The tenant in his apartment in Uiwang, south of Seoul, has extended the lease by two years due to the new rules. The other property, in Sejong, is under construction.

At a regular parliament audit session in early October, Hong was asked by an opposition legislator if he had found a new home.

“I haven’t found one yet,” Hong said.

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Dozens of legislators urge US to boycott Saudi Arabia-hosted G20

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Embarrassment for the kingdom, the current G20 president, as it gears up to host world leaders next month.

Forty-five legislators in the United States have urged the Trump administration to boycott next month’s G20 summit in Riyadh unless Saudi authorities address key human rights concerns, according to a correspondence released on Wednesday.

The letter from US Congress members to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes after European legislators passed a resolution this month, calling for the European Union to downgrade its attendance at the summit, also over human rights.

The developments are a source of embarrassment for the kingdom, the current G20 president, as it gears up to host world leaders next month at what is widely seen as a crucial event for Saudi international diplomacy.

Among a suite of demands, Congress members called on Riyadh to release jailed activists, end its military campaign in neighbouring Yemen, and provide accountability for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

“As the world’s leading democracy and purveyor of human rights, our government should demand dramatic changes to Saudi Arabia’s dismal record of human rights violations,” said the letter, seen by AFP news agency.

“Should the Saudi government fail to take immediate steps to address this record, we should withdraw from the Saudi-led G20 summit and commit to making human rights reforms a condition of all future dealings with Saudi Arabia’s government.”

Jan Schakowsky and Ilhan Omar, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives, were among the 45 lawmakers who signed the letter, which was supported by advocacy group Freedom Forward.

Sixty-five members of the European Parliament have also signed a letter calling for the EU to downgrade its attendance at the virtual G20 meeting.

A downgrade would imply European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the European Council President Charles Michel will not take part in the summit if they heed the call of the legislators.

There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi government or Pompeo.

‘Whitewashing’

The administration of US President Donald Trump is a key ally and supporter of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

The legislators’ letter came as Riyadh on Wednesday began a two-day Women 20 (W20) conference before the G20 summit to be held on November 21-22.

The virtual conference sought to promote women’s rights and gender equality, but came under fire from human rights campaigners angered at the ongoing detention of several female Saudi activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul.

“While courageous women are subjected to torture for peaceful activities, the Saudi government seeks to assert itself on the international stage as a ‘reforming’ power,” said the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“W20 attendees should refuse to play a role in Saudi Arabia’s whitewashing efforts, use their platform to speak up for Saudi women’s rights champions, and advocate for the end of all discrimination against women,” it said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, the first Arab nation to host the G20 summit, had planned for a grand meeting that would showcase the ambitious modernisation drive of MBS.

But the novel coronavirus pandemic has dampened those hopes, making a physical summit impossible, as the kingdom faces international backlash over human rights.

Earlier this month marked two years since Khashoggi, the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after he entered the premises to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage.

His body, which Turkish officials say was dismembered by Saudi officers, could not be found.

Activists and human rights groups have said the murder was premeditated and carried out under the directive of MBS, a charge Riyadh denies.

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Two women stabbed at Eiffel Tower in apparent racist attack

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No information about the incident was initially released by authorities, leading to criticism from online users.

French police have launched an investigation after two women were stabbed near the Eiffel Tower in an apparent racist incident.

The victims were injured with a knife near the famous Paris monument on Sunday, after an altercation involving “an unleashed dog”.

Police confirmed in a statement that they had intervened “following a police call for help for two women with stab wounds at the Champ-de-Mars” at approximately 8pm (18:00 GMT).

Two other women were in police custody on Tuesday, according to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, and an investigation for attempted intentional homicide has been opened.

Paris firefighters confirmed on Tuesday to AFP that they intervened about 8:50pm in Paris on Sunday to rescue two women.

No information about the incident was initially released by authorities, which led to criticism from online users.

People on social media have identified the two victims as Muslim women who were wearing the hijab. Al Jazeera is attempting to verify the information.

The incident follows rising tensions in France over the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty in the Paris suburbs last Friday.

Members of the country’s Muslim community have complained of increased Islamophobia caused by a government clampdown on mosques and Muslim organisations.

More than 50 Muslim organisations are being scrutinised.

The “Cheikh Yassine Collective” has already been banned in the wake of the killing; its founder had published a video on YouTube insulting Paty.

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