One interesting sidenote: I had been planning to finish my review of Trine before digging into Torchlight, and yet found that when I went to play Trine I couldn’t manage to connect to Steam to authenticate the game (though my internet connection was definitely working). Say what you will about the convenience of digital distribution or the possibility of frequent micro-expansion packs pushed down the wire cheaply and easily in the future, but when I can’t play a game that I paid for (or in this case was given to review) because of either a problem on their end or the wire between me and them, that’s entirely unacceptable.
So, Torchlight. Much of the same crew that brought you Diablo brings you wait for it Diablo. From a gameplay perspective, there’s more in Torchlight that is like Diablo than unlike it. Both games are isometric action-oriented, click-heavy adventures in dungeon hacking and slashing. You score loot, gain experience, divvy up skill points, meet boss monsters, yadda , yadda, yadda. And yet somehow, years after the original, the magic that is the incredible addictiveness of Diablo persists; the drive to gain just one more level of experience, solve one more quest, or clear out one more level of the dungeon. Planning to just give the game a quick touchy-feely this past Sunday I “just one more leveled” myself into nearly four hours of carpel-tunneling, claw-inducing combat.
For those who somehow never played Diablo (or Diablo II, or Titan Quest, or Dungeon Siege I or II, or Hellgate: London, or many others that have come along that I’m sure I’ve forgotten about), play goes like this: you begin by choosing one of three stock characters. They have catchy names, but pretty much it comes down to a tank, a paladin, or a magic user. There is ample opportunity to subtly change the role of the character you pick to suit your playing style (for example, if you spend experience points in the right directions a brick can learn and cast spells, and everyone can fire ranged weapon with differing degrees of skill), but each character class also has access to different skill trees, so they are significantly different. You begin in the town of Torchlight, a sort of frontier town built over the site of an enormous Ember mine (Ember being a material with magical properties). The mining activities have stirred up creatures living in the mines and being the adventurer type you take on the task of seeing what can be done about it. It’s a thin if serviceable plot.
The game is driven by a quest system in which townspeople will ask you to go down into the mine to find this item or that person or to kill some monster. All shown in isometric view, you interact with anything you left click upon open a chest, attack a monster, talk to someone, pick up an object. The right click can be assigned to any number of secondary attacks or spells and, as will be instantly familiar to the Diablo crowd, ten slots along the bottom of the screen are quick keyed to anything you’d like them to be drinking potions, reading scrolls, etc. Also in the HUD are a health globe and a mana globe as well as an experience bar to keep track of those stats. Barrels and such in the mines are filled with loot (gold, weapons, armor, gems, scrolls, potions), and monsters drop loot when they die. You collect it all, sift through it for what you can use, sell the rest, and use the money to buy still more stuff that you can use the goal of it all is to find the best stuff you can so you can go back into the mines and kill more monsters and collect more stuff. Capish? Wash, rinse, repeat. Trust me, it is all way more addictive than it sounds. The game generates the dungeons on the fly so they’re different each time you play it. On the one hand that gives you a nearly endless supply of new dungeons to explore, and yet on the other when you’ve seen one mineshaft you’ve seen them all, regardless of the actual specific arrangement of the individual caverns. There is, BTW, supposed to be a cooperative mode at some point in the future, but as yet the game has no multiplayer at all.
So what exactly did they change from way back in the Diablo days? Not a great deal, but on the whole I do like the little changes that they have made. You now have a permanent companion (either a dog or cat) who attacks with you and gives you more inventory slots. Companions can wear rings and necklaces and cast some spells that you give to them. Oddly you can feed fish that you catch in the dungeon to your companion to give them special skills that last for a short time. Breaking from the action to sit at a fishing hole is peculiar and I don’t understand the motivation for including it. Most conveniently you can send your companion laden with stuff to town to sell it all and return with the money. That is clearly a modification created by someone who, like anyone who had played Diablo, found themselves deep in an interesting piece of dungeon and would have liked to keep exploring but had a full inventory. That’s just a great solution. There are little chips of enchanted gems around that can be set into pieces of weaponry and armor to enhance their skills. I don’t recall Diablo doing that, though Titan Quest did, and it was definitely present in the ill-fated Hellgate: London. Given the large assortment of weapons, both melee and ranged, and the sort of mixing and matching you can do with the gem chips, the overall collection of weapons is truly vast. Finally there is a slight change to the control scheme in that the right mouse button can be reassigned easily to activate many different skills using the F1-F12 keys and that works very well.
The game has an animation style that to me looks like World of Warcraft (though I haven’t touched WoW in years, and am perhaps misremembering). The many, many types of monsters are intricately animated, spell effects are massive and colorful, the torchlight from the wall sconces is warm and pooling the artwork throughout is grand. The music is strongly reminiscent of Diablo, which is what you might expect given that the two games had the same music director. There’s very little dialog in the game, but what there is of it is adequate.
As a guy who mostly gravitates towards the more involved RPGs (NWN, KOTOR, and I’m seriously looking forward to the upcoming Dragon Age Origins, etc), I still enjoy the sort of low-brain-impact action presented by Torchlight. Pick it up, click your way through a few quests leaving a literal trail of dead creatures in your wake, spread out some skill points, quit and go on with your day. Or get hooked by it until the sun comes up, which is really the more likely result. Torchlight is proof positive that it’s often the simplest games that can be the most addictive.