|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Runic Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Runic Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 27, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating:Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Despite the lack of multiplayer, Runic has created a gameplay system that is immensely satisfying for two reasons. The first is that the main driving force behind the game is loot drops. Equipment, weapons, gold, and spells will all drop off of enemies you've just killed. That loot can then be used or sold for extra cash. Loot is inherently satisfying, and it serves as a great impetus to kill things.
The second reason is that the combat is so visceral and intense. Normally one would not expect a dungeon-crawler to have great combat, most people come for the loot and character progression. There's something satisfying about Torchlight's dull "whap" that echoes out when you bash a mace into a creature with just a normal attack. Critical strikes on the other hand are so violent-sounding that they're actually cringe-inducing. Runic combines a number of different audio and visual cues to make crits feel like a big event; the kind of thing that devastates an entire hoard horde of enemies and makes you want to shout "aw, snap!"
As mentioned, this is thanks mostly to the great audio work. Many people tend to gloss over the importance of excellent audio in a PC game, but the reality is that it's far more important than on the consoles. The reason being that there's no other form of feedback for the user. On PC there is no rumble controller to give depth to onscreen occurrences, so the developer has to flesh out the audio. Torchlight succeeds greatly here - not only with the aforementioned sound effects, but in the music department as well. Background music is generally ambient but manages to fully capture the mood of the level.
Audio is just one way in which the developers have crafted a great, convincing world. The more important aspect of Torchlight's success is the graphical aesthetic. While the worlds and effects are all detailed, colorful, and good looking, it's also obviously low budget. Despite the stigma that low budget graphics systems have, this is a good thing for you. This surely was one of the major factors in allowing Runic to charge only $20 for the game. Side-stepping this ultra-high polygon counts and texture mapping of many of today's high profile titles, Runic instead created a stylized, attractive look that is still satisfying, yet much less costly to produce. This way, gamers can appreciate a beautifully realized world without having to break the bank.
The only downside on the graphical end is that the levels lack diversity. The levels look unique, but it's essentially just wallpaper. Most levels play very similarly to one another. But there's a trade-off to that. Levels are procedurally generated, so even though they don't look all that unique, each level is actually all new.
Torchlight is part of a growing market of PC games finding success with budget prices. Runic hasn't dumbed down the experience, they've removed the fluff and distilled it down to the truly fun parts. Add in a few innovations and what you've got is Torchlight; a game that raises the expectations for dungeon-crawling action RPGs by being not just fine-tuned but affordable as well.
CCC Freelance Writer