The Call of Loot
As a single-player, dungeon-crawling experience, Torchlight has substantially raised the bar for what we can and should expect from future entries in the genre. Even the long-awaited Diablo 3 will have a lot to answer for now that we have such an excellent precedent for the modern era.
The Torchlight team is comprised of years of experience working on some of the greatest dungeon-crawlers of all time, including Diablo and Diablo 2. This wealth of experience has combined to create a game whose many elements tie together wonderfully to create a cohesive, though perhaps heavily derivative, RPG. And here’s the kicker: it only costs $20.
Torchlight plays like I imagine Diablo 2 would play if all of the fluff and annoying parts were stripped out. While this means that the game has great influences, sometimes those influences are a bit too prevalent. If you’re a Blizzard fan, you’ll instantly recognize the “squad-like” behavior of many enemies – a group of weaker enemies will often have a commander of some kind, such as a Shaman that can resurrect the weak enemies. And I could swear that I once saw the spitting image of the giant dwarf statue from outside World of Warcraft’s Ironforge inside one of Torchlight’s fortresses. Warcraft obviously played a big role in inspiring the art and architectural style of Torchlight.
Though it has very visible influences, Torchlight is not without its own innovations. Chief among these is the pet companion that players bring with them on their adventures. This pet is incredibly useful and represents something that should be included in every dungeon-crawler from this day forth. The pet is not just helpful in combat, but it also serves as a second inventory bag. The very best part about this is that your pet can be loaded with loot you don’t need and sent back to town to deliver the goods to the merchant for gold.
The other unique aspect to this game is the fishing mini-game that is interspersed throughout the world. In certain places you’ll find fishing spots, and clicking on them will bring you to a fishing mini-game which requires you to time your clicks in order to catch fish. These fish can then be fed to your pet in order to heal them, and also to change them into different creatures with special powers and abilities for a limited time. It’s a unique feature that adds depth to an already deep game.
It’s not all good news though. Torchlight lacks multiplayer support of any kind, which I can’t help but feel is a pretty big omission for this type of game. Especially in a genre where online and LAN games have been a staple for years. Despite not having a multiplayer component, Torchlight includes a full modding set with the retail package, providing the possibility for tons of user-generated levels to be added to the mix.
That said, the game does seem to be designed more as a single-player experience, so there won’t be too many times when you’re wishing you had friends around. In general, environments tend to be narrow passages that would cause a lot of crowding if more players were involved.
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.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
They’re not the most flashy or spectacular graphics on the market, but they’re highly stylized and help create a wholly unique atmosphere. 3.8 Control
The controls for Torchlight are pretty standard for the dungeon-crawler genre. Learning hotkeys takes some getting used to, but the ability to map an attack to the right mouse button is a nice touch. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Torchlight has a great soundtrack with some awesome ambient tracks that really set the mood. The sound effects are also particularly awesome. 4.7 Play Value
In terms of bang for your buck, Torchlight is absolutely excellent. For only $20 it delivers a main quest approximately 15 hours long plus many hours of side-quests, and the ability to continue questing after the main story. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.