In every genre there’s typically either a handful of titles or, in the case of the action-RPG a single title, that define the genre at it’s finest point. In this case, the Diablo series will forever cast an immense shadow over any game that that labels itself in a similar fashion and Torchlight essentially realizes this and runs with it as opposed to trying to outrun it. The most interesting aspect of Torchlight is that it doesn’t quite stress over attempting to outdo Diablo or establish itself as a competitor. Instead you have a product that flaunts the fact that some of its key team members were involved in creating the father of the genre and then combines the ideologies of the rest of the team to create a fusion that will satisfy those who want to tread familiar territory and those who yearn for a fresh undertaking.
Torchlight is a beautiful game, it utilizes excellent art direction and style to paint a vividly attractive world that is a treat to explore all the while running without a hitch on nearly any modern PC. There’s even a netbook mode for those who need their fix while pretending to feverishly take notes in the back of the classroom. As you progress deeper into the game’s primary dungeon, you’ll be treated to a variety of unique environments which signify the existence of a series of ancient civilizations that have since met their end. Some areas are more poignant and alluring than other’s but for the most part I found myself delighted to be back in Torchlight’s world each time I came back to it. What inevitably drags down the integrity of the level design is the claustrophobic and convoluted feeling that crept its way into the experience after the hours of play time stacked up. Since the game basically takes place entirely underground with the exception of sporadic trips back to town, I began to wish there could have been some outdoor areas to hack through which I believe would have assisted the pacing.
The core gameplay consists of your run-of-the-mill action-RPG mechanics. If you played Diablo (of course you have) and the niche title Fate you’ll know almost exactly what to expect. You choose from three different classes depending on your desired style of delivering destruction and gain experience through killing enemies which translates to skill points you spend towards strengthening your character. There’s actually a fair amount of flexibility in designing your character, it’s not as strict as you might imagine. Even if you choose the Destroyer, which is at first glance the game’s primary melee class, you can assign points in ways that make him adept at ranged attacks and spell-casting as well. What it comes down to basically is that each class is really a hybrid class, such as the Druid or Shaman in World of Warcraft (I know you’ve played that one too). In addition to your main set of skills there are spells that can be collected and learned which add a whole new dimension to how you play your character. If you so wish, you could assign skill points in a way that enhances your use of these learned spells again altering the type of character you are . This level of variety in the sculpting of your character is one of Torchlight’s strongest features as it almost guarantees a level of uniqueness to each character you create, even if it is technically the same class.
There’s a loot whore in most of us who plays these type of games, and the high you get from acquiring a new item that increases your stats as well as making your character look that much more badass is hard to compare. The good news is Torchlight recognizes this and throws thousands of pieces of loot at you. You’re constantly filling up your inventories with new items to sift through in the hopes of coming across an upgrade. The bad news is I couldn’t help but feel like I was browsing items at a garage sale, never quite coming across anything truly epic. It’s far and few in between that you actually pick up an item off the ground that constitutes an upgrade, an overwhelmingly vast majority of the time the items are nothing more than vendor trash that require you spend time making vendor trips. It helps that in the game you are accompanied by a pet which both attacks enemies and acts as a mule for your items, you can even send your pet into town on its own to sell the items and return with the proceeds. Still, the task of identifying a constant stream of new items in hopes of discovering an upgrade became an arduous task the longer I played. A contributor to my disdain for being a loot processor in Torchlight is the fact that the items simply don’t look that cool. There isn’t a large variety of armor or weapon types, and in completing the main dungeon and storyline I didn’t experience many satisfying upgrade moments.
Torchlight succeeds in being a good action-RPG on many levels, subtle and broad. The interface is intuitive so you won’t often find yourself wrestling with the controls or slogging through cumbersome inventories and menus. The music and sound effects are another one of the game’s highlights, as well as the most obvious reference to Diablo, which features the same musical composer as well as from what I can tell some of the same exact sound effects. You would imagine ripping off Diablo so candidly would be a turn-off but in reality it meshes perfectly with the visuals and the atmosphere is so well done that you can’t help but forgive the fact and enjoy it instead.
Although Torchlight does not offer any multiplayer component, it does offer an expansive level of modding opportunities with the inclusion of the same editor tools the developers used to build the game. Obviously, getting into the meat of the tools would require way more hours than one would spend simply playing the game so I didn’t do much more than some basic tooling around. However, if you watch the tutorials available online and even dabble in the editor yourself, it’s obvious that within a reasonable amount of time you could learn the tools and be on the way to creating your own version of the game. It’s exciting to think of what the mod community will come up with and how much the mods will extend your time with the game.