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Reviewing: Runic Games Torchlight  |  Rating:
jjc1001 By jjc1001 on
Badge: Publisher | Level: 5 | Gaming Expertise:

Torchlight (2009) is an action RPG, much like Diablo 2 and Titan Quest, and takes place in the town of the same namesake. Without spoiling much of the narrative, Torchlight is under siege from various monsters that live in the town's mines below. You are drawn into the conflict and must quell the threat to the inhabitants of the small community.

The best parts of Torchlight may not be wholly original, but they have been refined from those of their predecessors. Much of the gameplay mechanics are similar to other games of the same type. Using a mouse and keyboard, the player journeys through the world of Torchlight to vanquish enemies that range from trolls to dragons. Simple design choices, such as being able to automatically pick up gold nearby or having single slot inventory, are deliberate ones that have been borrowed from other games and are meant to quicken the pace of gameplay. When I played Diablo 2 years ago, I had to pick up gold manually by clicking on it and rearrange items in my inventory constantly to maximize use of space. These tasks are not unbearable but eliminating them removes some of the tedium and allows the player to focus on more important things.

There are three character classes, accompanied by either a dog or cat, to choose from: the Destroyer, Vanquisher, and Alchemist. The Destroyer is a basic melee character that specializes in close combat. The Vanquisher is a ranged character that utilizes bows and guns to attack her enemies from afar. The Alchemist is a magic user, who can cast spells or summon minions to fight for him. While each class has its own niche, it is possible to alter their abilities to fight in unorthodox ways. In other words, a Destroyer can be augmented to fight with bows or an Alchemist to fight with a sword and shield if a player chooses to do so. The diversity of builds, or character skill usage templates, that a person can create make this game as fun as Diablo 2, where classes could be played outside of their traditional roles.

In relation to experimenting with classes, the game seems to be structured for anyone to engage in, whether they are new or old to the genre. With four difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard), there is bound to be difficulty appropriate for their experience. I played on Hard for my first character and found it to be the right choice. For comparison purposes, I also created a character for Easy mode and found it to be exactly that; it was impossible for me to die because the enemies were so weak.

If you decide that you do not want to play a character anymore, you can “retire” them. Retirement is basically deleting the character and barring their use forever, but in exchange, one can heirloom or pass down an item in your inventory to another character. The heirloomed item will be granted special qualities, and you will have a powerful piece of gear for your newly created persona. The game appears to encourage this device since the plot is short, and new builds can always be produced. Novices and experts can appreciate this casual approach because it does not punish players for deleting their old characters or starting new ones.

There is also a fishing minigame that serves as a break from the usual atmosphere of questing. You can cast a line at a fishing hole and receive fish and other magical items depending on your luck. The fish can be fed to your pet or yourself for special abilities, and the items found can range from rare boots to unique necklaces. Other activities, such as gambling for items or transmuting items to create different ones, add other ways to spend your time as well.

One of the biggest draws of Torchlight is its loot system, or rewards for advancing through the game. Killing an enemy causes them to drop items upon their death and opening a chest reveals unclaimed treasure. Sometimes it will be something as common as a potion or scroll, but powerful weapons, armor, and jewelry can be found too.

The graphics are polished and nicely done. While it is not the most detailed game, it has a colorful palette and a charming art design. Some may complain that it looks too much like a cartoon with body proportions, weapons, and enemies exaggerated in size, but I like the feel of the characters and the environments. The game even has a netbook mode, which allows a person to play Torchlight on said device. Despite the low strength of the netbook's processing and graphical power, the developers were generous enough to allow the game to be played on it. It shows foresight on their part and demonstrates their ability to create a product with the fewest requirements possible in an attempt to reach the widest range of computer users. According to Steam, it only takes up around 840MB of hard drive space on my computer, which is a fraction of the hard drive space I usually use when I install first person shooters.

The community has embraced Torchlight by supporting it with mods, or modifications, of the game and distributing it to others on various websites; the Torchlight Editor, or TorchED, allows anyone to make adjustments to the game to their liking. There are mods that are purely cosmetic, such as a gender mod that allows a character class to choose from both sexes, while others add new features, such as a playable Jedi class. Other mods insert items like a “respec” potion, which lets a person reset their skills in case they regret any decision they made earlier. There are many possibilities, and I look forward to what the community has to offer.

The major weaknesses of the game are its plot and audio work. The main storyline is very short and not particularly innovative, although I was intrigued by the theme of corruption. The sparse narrative subsequently affects the quests given to the player. Once the story is finished, the player is allowed the option to explore an endless dungeon known as the Shadow Vault. The player can fight through this area to advance their character to the highest level or search for the best gear they can find. While this is not a terrible concept, the levels are recycled versions of the previous levels you encountered. It becomes tiresome to see the same layouts after a time; I am currently on level 85 in the Shadow Vault on Very Hard difficulty, and the monotony caused me to hold off on advancing to level 100.

In addition to the revisited level designs, the missions that are associated with the Shadow Vault are given by different characters but are essentially the same ones that were given to you by other townsfolk. In fact, one character, Vasman, asks you to repeat the same tasks he required you to do for him in the main storyline. You basically collect the same items for him except that you do so in the Shadow Vault as opposed to the underground mine; this becomes repetitive and could hurt the replayability for some users. To be fair, the team behind Torchlight reportedly developed the game in under a year, which accounts for the minimal storyline and limited variety of locations and tasks. Given enough time, they would have likely been able to make additional places to explore and more inspired missions to complete.

The audio is also a minor negative aspect. The actors sound capable, but there is something lacking in their delivery. The voicework is not awful by any means, though it can diminish the ambiance for some players. Personally, I would have liked to hear more of the townspeople talk and share their stories as well. Again, I assume that the small timeframe in which the game was created is likely the cause.

From my own experience, I have encountered several bugs in-game, though none of them are major ones. For example, sometimes enemies spawn in odd places; in more than one instance, an enemy was trapped behind some environmental obstacle that prevented them from attacking me. Another strange incident, which has only occurred twice so far, had me being attacked by an invisible character. I was taking damage, but my attacker was not onscreen. Luckily, I blindly spammed my attack button and killed the perpetrator. Other glitches, such as visual icons of items being unchanged when switching between multiple characters, are easily solved be exiting and reentering Steam and not game-breaking. The game has already received a couple patches from the developers that fixed problems listed by gamers, so I expect that these will also be addressed in the future.

I bought the game for $9.99 from Steam in December 2009, although the game was on sale for even less at $4.99 a few days later from the same vendor. Even after considering these discounts, the base price is around $19.99 and is relatively cheap in comparison to other titles of similar quality; still, I would advise waiting for a price drop to $5.00 or $10.00 to receive the best for your money. While I purchased a digital version over the Internet, a retail version of the game was released on January 5, 2010 for those who desire a physical copy of the game. I usually buy retail discs in case I need to return it or if installation goes poorly, but I was unsure of when a retail price drop would occur and opted for the digital one instead.

Aside from a few disadvantages, I believe Torchlight's strengths, which include its mechanics and relative accessibility to novice and hardcore gamers, outweigh its drawbacks. If this is your first introduction to the action RPG genre, I would recommend picking up this title and seeing if it is your type of game.