I have fond memories of late nights spent playing Diablo and Diablo II with the only light in my room being provided by my glowing computer screen. Throw in a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a giant cup of Dr. Pepper or Pepsi (none of that Coca-Cola crap, thank you very much) and I had myself one hell of a Friday night. Runic Games brought together the mad skillz of Travis Baldree (designer of Fate), Max and Erich Schaefer (co-founders of Blizzard North and co-designers of Diablo and Diablo II), and Flagship Studios (developers of Mythos), with a secret, but very specific goal: to return me, specifically, personally, to that state of hack-and-slash bliss I felt so long ago. Well, from me to you, Torchlight is a mission accomplished.
Torchlight is a single-player action-RPG developed developed by Runic Games and originally published on PC via digital download in October of 2009, followed by a retail box in January of 2010. The XBLA version sports some changes in gameplay and UI, with direct character control instead of the cursor based movement and gameplay of its PC predecessor. Published by Microsoft, Torchlight hits XBLA on Wednesday, March 9th as the fourth entry in the XBLA House Party event, for a criminally low price of 1200MSP ($15).
The game provides three options for character classes: Destroyer (melee), Alchemist (magic), and Vanquisher (ranged). I started the game with the Destroyer class character. The Destroyer is your basic warrior, with the character’s focus being on high health and high melee strength. This is generally my go-to type of character in RPG style games because it lets me get face to face with my enemies before I dispatch them violently. As you level up, you can add attribute points to increase your strength, dexterity, magic, and armor. Strength modifies your physical attack power, dexterity modifies your ranged attack power, magic modifies your magic attack power, and defense modifies your armor rating. As a Destroyer, you are able to increase your ranks in dexterity and magic, but your main focus will end up being on strength and armor to suit the character’s specific skills and abilities.
Movement in Torchlight is incredibly smooth. The camera moves with your character easily and without any lag or choppiness. While you can’t rotate the camera, you’ll only rarely get stuck behind a wall. How is that possible? Well, when your character is out of sight (like, behind a wall, for example), you see a bright blue outline of your character until you emerge from behind the visual obstruction. Interactive items placed in visually obstructed areas also become highlighted when you enter the range of interactivity, so you’ll never miss a chance to bust a barrel. Picking up items and activating portals, chats, etc is all handled with the A button.
By pushing in the right joystick, the mini-map can be expanded to show the full map overlaid on the game screen, with enough transparency to allow you to keep the overlay and progress through the game simultaneously. With maps that contain multiple paths, having the fully expanded overlay map makes it incredibly easy to know where you are, where you’ve been, and where you have yet to go. You don’t have to worry about potentially missing sections of the map anymore.
Combat is handled primarily with the X button, with eight custom slots available for skills, abilities, and spells (activated using Left Trigger, Right Trigger, Y, and B with two sets of four, cycled using the d-pad). This gives you your basic attack and up to eight additional attacks depending on how you load out your bonus slots. The left bumper handles health potions, and the right bumper handles mana potions, with the strength of the potion used determined by the game itself, meaning you don’t have to worry about equipping different types of potions. Every available button is used and used well.
Leveling is handled very well in Torchlight; experience is gained by obliterating your foes and completing quests, as one would expect. Once your experience reaches certain pre-defined benchmarks, you gain a rank. Each increase in rank provides you with 5 attribute points and 1 skill point. The attribute points, as mentioned above, can be applied to strength, dexterity, magic, and defense with different results. The skill points are applied separately to unique character skills and abilities. Some of these skills are passive while others are active, ranging from passive abilities like an increased chance of finding gold to active abilities like special high-power mana-depleting attacks. Each skill and ability can be upgraded with skill points until the skill has reached level 10, resulting in fewer available skills with higher levels of mastery, or the skill points can be spread around to multiple skills, resulting in more available skills with lower levels of mastery. The available skills and abilities are varied and numerous, allowing you to customize your character to your own particular style of play.
On top of your standard experienced based leveling system, however, lies another leveling system called Fame. Fame is, for the most part, develops asymmetrically to standard experience. Fame can only be earned with the completion of quests and the defeat of unique, properly named enemies (like “Frank the World-breaker” instead of “Fire Elemental”). As such, fame develops at a slower rate than standard experience, but with each increase in your fame rank, you earn an additional skill point to buff up your character. If you’re an achievement hunter, the Superstar achievement will most likely be the last achievement you earn. I got it just under the ten hour mark. The description is vague, requiring that you achieve the max fame level to unlock, but it doesn’t tell you what that max fame level is. And neither am I! (Kidding, it’s fame level 33.)
Now, if you’ve played any RPGs in the past, you understand the frustration of a limited inventory size, especially in a game where traveling to a vendor can be time consuming. Torchlight solves this problem by allowing you to load up to 50 inventory items into your pet’s inventory, then send them off to town while you continue hacking and slashing your way through the poor fools lining up to meet their demise. Depending on how deep you are in the dungeon, your pet may take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to return with your adventuring profits. No more deciding which items to keep in your inventory depending on greatest value! No more long and arduous trips back to town in the middle of a dungeon raid to unload inventory! Just shove all that crap into your pet’s…pockets?…and have them do the grunt work while you revel in destruction!
Speaking of inventory, your inventory screen is very well classified, with different categories for different types of items. Weapons, armor, jewelry, potions/scrolls, socketable Ember gems, and fish each have their own page within your inventory screen. Socketable Ember gems? Fish? What? Well, let’s start with the fish; there are fishing holes scattered throughout the game that provide a small fishing mini-game. There are various types of fish that you can catch, and each one, when fed to your pet, provides a different transformation. From enhancing your pet’s speed and attack power to physically transforming your pet into an elemental, the fish provide a temporary boost to your pet’s fighting abilities; a potential life-saver when in a tight spot.
Socketable Ember gems provide various bonuses depending on the style of gem and the type of item enhanced with the gem. Each gem has two possible effects; one effect when placed in a weapon socket, and another effect when placed in an armor or jewelry socket. These effects provide you with % resistance to certain effects, periodical health restoration, + damage, and more. On top of Ember socketing, the game features an item enchantment system that is fraught with risk and reward. Enchantments can be purchased in town from an…enchanter…guy. We’ll call him James. James will provide a random enchantment to an item of your choice, for a price. As an item gets more enchantments the price for each additional enchantment increases. As the price increases, however, the risk of complete disenchantment of the item increases as well. So while enchanting your weapons and armor can provide incredibly advantages in your dungeon adventures, there is an incredibly frustrating risk of losing all of your item enchantments, resulting in a massive waste of gold.
Now, multi-player is not included in Torchlight (that will be a feature included in the sequel, cleverly titled Torchlight II). How, then, is there sufficient replay value to justify the 1200MSP price tag? Torchlight has a system that, once you have defeated the main story villain, allows you to retire your current character and select one item to hand down as an heirloom to your next character. In addition to starting a new game with an incredibly powerful item, your new character starts with increased skill and the benefit of your previous character’s fame. With three different types of characters to play as, and the ability to hand down an item and your fame, there are at least two more unique playthroughs available with randomly generated dungeons to keep the mystery alive. As it is, ten hours into the game, I’ve completed the main campaign, and only a portion of the post-campaign questing, with much more to go, so with three full playthroughs available, I’ll end up with well over 40 hours of overall gameplay.
Character death can be somewhat punishing, depending on where you are when you die. There are three respawn options when you have ceased to draw breath: respawn where you died at a cost to your experience and fame, respawn at the start of the map at a cost to your funds, or restart in town at no cost but the time it takes you to return to your last location. With fame being so difficult and time consuming to accumulate, my one death saw me respawning at the start of the map. This is generally the easiest, as enemies take a very long time to respawn (you need to complete multiple levels of the dungeon before previous levels start respawning enemies).
There’s not a lot of story to bog you down, so you can get straight to smashing in heads. There are side-quests available in town that allow you to pick up extra fame, experience, and reward items as you progress. Generally, if you’re destroying everything in your path and playing through each map thoroughly, you’ll have no problem completing these side-quests, so be sure to take the extra minute to pick them up each time to get to a Waypoint gate. Graphically, the game looks great. You’re not going to get photo-realistic graphics or mind-blowing cutscenes, but you’ll get clean, crisp graphics that fit the style and feel of the game. Combined with the suitably epic sounding effects and music, you have a game that provides a welcome environment for dungeon genocide.
Torchlight is the most fun I’ve had gaming in 2011. Granted, it’s only the beginning of March, but I have no doubt that it will end up being high on my list of the best and most enjoyable games of 2011 when the year comes to a close. Do yourself a favor and drop the 1200 MSP for this game. You absolutely will not regret it. If you do end up regretting it, well it’s your own damn fault for trusting some random Internet individual you’ve never met for influencing your purchasing decisions. Also, you suck.
[review pros="Clean, crisp graphics; Subtle, appropriate music and sounds; Excellent gameplay and mechanics; Excellent camera implementation; Low price; More fun than a bag of monkeys (to someone who finds fun in a bag of monkeys); Very basic story (elaborate story isn't needed to enjoy this game)." cons="No multi-player (but that's coming in Torchlight II); The fact that I have to wait who-knows-how-long to get my hands on Torchlight II on XBLA. This is a serious problem." score=95]