Xbox Live Arcade
Review by Satchmo.
Dungeon crawlers are a strange type of game. You are not driven forwards by a desire to progress, by a desire to see out the story or even a desire to save the world. You are driven forward by a fervent lust for loot. While yes, on your way to getting that “Epic Blunderbuss Of Chaotic Destruction +1” you may incidentally save the world and be forced to witness a little story but this only serves to slow down the killing and the pillaging. Torchlight is one such game. Created by Runic Games, its pedigree truly shines. You see, Runic Games is a company made up primarily of ex Blizzard North employees, the very same employees who worked on both Diablo 1 and 2. Torchlight was originally released in 2009 for the PC, where it garnered a big (yet rather underground) following. Fast forward 2 years and it finally sees a release on the Xbox 360, but does the lust for loot work on a scaled back control system?
Yes. You should buy it.
More details? Ok….
You begin Torchlight by predictably creating a character. Don’t expect to be making any grand choices here, like an 8 foot maiden with a chest made of beach balls or a killer gnome with more muscle than 80s Arnie. You are given three characters to choose from. Do you want to be a warrior (The Destroyer), a mage (The Alchemist) or a ranger (The Vanquisher)? Each character can be given a name (Go, L00twhore!) and a choice of one of 3 pets to start with (A wolf, something that resembles a big cat and a lizard type…thing) and then its full steam ahead. Torchlight starts in the town of, um, Torchlight and doesn’t progress much beyond there. The town acts as the main hub, where you are given a handful of little quests to do and also serves as the main shopping area, where you can buy any items / weapons / enchants you may need. You are introduced to the story by being told that monsters are appearing near town and in the nearby mines and….you know what? It doesn’t matter. You are playing this game for one reason only, to kill things and become equipped to the eyeballs with all sorts of destructive weapons and armour. There is a story, but it is barebones. It functions well enough to give you something to aim for in the grand scheme but it isn’t prevalent or fleshed out enough to care about too much.
The meat of Torchlight takes place in the mines and the many, many rooms below it. Each room is a randomly generated dungeon that you must slay your way through, making sure to pick up anything shiny along the way. The prerequisites are there in terms of loot, armour for your head, shoulders, legs, chest and arms, along with the ability to equip 2 rings and a necklace. You will also find many enchantment stones along the way, which can be inserted (but not…deinserted?) into weapons or items that can boost stats in various ways, but only if said item has a slot in which to insert. Health and Mana potions will also be dropped thick and fast, so even the most careless of adventurer shouldn’t get into too much trouble on the lower levels. The meat of what you will be looking for however are weapons, and there are many to choose from. Depending on your choice of class, you have a choice of axes, swords, pole arms, wands, staves, guns, crossbows and more. Basically, anything you can think of killing a goblin with. Item names are randomly generated from a database, so it makes for some very interesting combinations. At one point I was charging in to battle armed with an “Epic Wobbly Hatchet”. I felt like I was armed with the singing sword from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. The last of the loots to look out for are scrolls. These are either town portal scrolls (which create a portal back to town…duh), identify scrolls (more on these in a moment) and spell scrolls, which can be assigned to your character (maximum of 5 at a time) and used regardless on class. These spell scrolls can also be assigned to your pet (a total of 2), so little “Fluffy” (yes, your pet can be renamed) can learn to hurl fireballs and summon skeletal archers if you so choose.
All of this wanton looting can take its toll on your characters pockets, and you are limited to carrying a maximum of 50 items at a time. This limit, however doesn’t apply to stacks, so it doesn’t matter how many health potions you have, they will only take up one bag space. This is good news. What is even better news is that little “Fluffy” is also somewhat of a pack mule, and also has a 50-slot bag just waiting to be filled with overspill loot. What is even better news than that? “Fluffy” can be sent back to town at any time to sell the overspill loot and after a short amount of time will return with cash monies, meaning you never have to leave the dungeon! The lazy adventurer is the happy one. One thing that may force you to leave however are identify scrolls. Certain items (read: most) require a scroll to unlock their stats, so you may be sitting on top of the worlds fiercest killing stick, but will never know until it is identified via a scroll. This can be a problem at the start of the game when you are a little hand to mouth for scrolls. When your bags fill up and you have none left, do you sell the potentially awesome items in lieu of a tiny amount of gold, or do you trudge on with full bags in the hope of finding a precious scroll? Later on in the game when you have money to burn, you can just buy an ass load of scrolls from town making the entire process redundant.
Another thing that comes rapidly from all the killings is levelling up. Each time you level up you are given a hand full of points to place on to your stats (mostly proficiencies with weapons or defence) and a stat to place in to your talent tree. Each class has 3 specific talent trees that you can spec in to, so a ranger can be made in to a rogue if you desire, or you can mix and match. Each talent unlocks either a new passive trait or an attack / spell, so your choice on tree will be dictated by your style of play. Fancy getting up close and personal with a ranger? Choose the Rogue tree. Fancy standing back from afar and systematically picking off enemies with increased firepower? Choose the Marksman tree. Its all standard stuff for the genre, but it is streamlined enough to not put “non RPG” types off. Each spell or attack is assigned to a button of your choice, with the exception of X, which is reserved for normal attacks, A which is your action buttons and the bumpers, which use potions. You have 2 separate action bars, if you will, which can be toggled using up and down on the D-Pad, so you shouldn’t run out of space for your favourite attacks (note, spells learned from scrolls are also assigned in this manner). The control lay out is not only functional but also user friendly, meaning the unacquainted to the genre shouldn’t get too lost. It also allows for rapid casting, meaning holding the button down will constantly cast the spell of your desire (mana permitting). I found this especially useful when assigning Haste (increased movement and attack speed) to the right trigger. Except for a tiny casting animation, you can permanently be Hastened! (Hasted?)
As I said earlier, the meat of the game takes place in the rooms that descend from the mines. Basically, you get from the mine door, to the steps leading down to the next level and continue ad infinum. While this may sound remarkably tedious, it strangely isn’t. The desire to find a new weapon or armour cuts away any shred of tedium I had. There is something amazingly addictive about finding “The best weapon in the world” only for it to be replaced 2 seconds later by “The next best weapon in the world!”. As also stated before, there are little quests that can be undertook from town, which usually involve finding an ember sample for an alchemist, killing a specific monster for a robotic bard (no, I didn’t make that up) or finding a specific item for someone else. These offer little distractions and give a reason to head back to town for some extra EXP, gold and fame. Yes, there is a fame system in Torchlight. Killing bosses (or named monsters, depending on your gaming pedigree) will not only get you a chunk of EXP, but will also get you fame. What exactly the fame system does though is a mystery to me, except bestowing you with a different title when you level up. There are also extra dungeons that can be accessed, either by special scrolls or through a portal opened by a certain townsman. These offer up much of the same: Go in, kill everything, come out with full bags, but happen outside of the main story so they don’t progress towards the end game.
Aesthetically, Torchlight is a pretty game, if not the most technically impressive. The music is simply gorgeous in places and truly shows its Diablo heritage. However, after a few hours of hearing the same track over and over I was forced to seek my own music from my PC (Epic looting to the sound of Slayer? Hell yeah!), but that was just a personal choice. The sound effects are passable, but nothing to write home about. The same monster effects are used verbatim, and there are some effects that are just odd, such as moths making the same dying noises as goblins and your pet wolf sounding like a scalded child when it gets attacked. There is also an issue I had with a redundant voice used in dungeons. Some barrels are rigged to blow up when attacked and when you do this a little voice says “You have sprung a trap!”. Why? I know I have as it nearly killed me. This little voice dumfounded me somewhat. He also appears when you level up too, just in case you missed “LEVEL UP!” emblazoned across the screen in massive gold letters. There are other occasions of voice acting, usually in story driven sections, and on the whole it is well done, even if it isn’t the most interesting of scripts.
The graphics on the whole are a mixed bag. There are some wonderful lighting effects and on the graphical style is pleasing to the eye however it is behind the times from a technical stand point. Increasing amounts of lag later on in the game compounds this further when the screen is filling with enemies and spells are flying right left and centre. While it doesn’t detract from the game from a playability standpoint, it is a little saddening to see it chug. Every 5 levels down the artistic style of the dungeons changes, so one level you may be fighting surrounded with pools of lava then suddenly be fighting in what looks like a desolate church. As said, the artistic style of the graphics is wonderful on the whole, it’s just a shame that they come across as looking dated. The camera is also an annoyance as except for zoom, it is fixed. While it doesn’t pose any great problems (characters and enemies will show through walls when behind them) it is a baffling little design choice. Zoom is also useless, unless you want to admire the fact that your rangers new boots make her look like a dominatrix. Not that I do that. Not at all.
Now, there is somewhat of an elephant in the room here. While sending “L00twhore” through dungeon after dungeon killing wave after wave of enemy soldiers is fun, it sure would be nice to be joined by a fellow adventurer. Sadly, this is a no go area. Rather shamefully, Torchlight is a single player only experience, meaning “Fluffy” will be your only companion. These types of games cry out for multiplayer, whether it be local co-op or over XBL. Being able to clear a room of loot before the other player even gets there is such a sweet little inner victory, that and its just plain fun playing with another player. Sadly though, no, you cannot. However, “Fluffy” does make for a good companion. As said before, he has the added bonus of being another inventory of sorts and he can certainly hold his own in a fight. The ability to give him spells is a welcome one, and if playing as either a ranger or a mage he can be used as a tank of sorts, holding back enemies while you pummel with DPS from afar. While the only control you have over him is to set his mood (either aggressive (meaning he will attack anything in sight), defensive (he will attack to protect him or you) or passive (he will bumble behind, looking at the flowers) he does a good job of getting in to the fray and assisting. His path finding can leave a little to be desired at times, however he will teleport to you if you get a little in front meaning that you don’t have to go back and retrieve him. One other thing to note with your pet, he can be fed fish to change his form for a short amount of time. These can range from a blob to an elemental, each with different stats and abilities, which can aid in battle against certain elemental creatures. It’s a nice little addition, and there are even fish that can permanently change his appearance (you start off with one to change him in to a troll).
All in all, Torchlight is well worth your time and money. It is a fine entry into a genre that doesn’t have much representation on the Xbox, and while the “story” can be played through relatively quickly (about 4 hours if you burn through) it has almost infinite replayability as you search for ever better loot. There are 4 difficulty levels to play through and once you reach the end of the story you are given the option to begin a New Game + of sorts, where you can retire your character and send an item to a new one as an heirloom. If you have a particularly nice weapon and want to try a harder setting, this is perfect. Its streamlined approach is a joy (Here is your town, here are your dungeons, GO GO GO). It is a must play for fans of the genre and well worth a shot for even those unacquainted with the joys of loot hunting. Torchlight 2 is in the works for the PC as I write this, which promises to add in multiplayer, fix the camera and expand the game on the whole. I greatly look forward to its release, however I could still be playing the first instalment when it does make its way on to XBL. I am that addicted at the moment.
Graphics - 7/10 - Its pretty, but technologically behind the times.
Sound - 7/10 - There are some fantastic pieces of music but the general effects are quite bland.
Gameplay - 9/10 - Everything you would expect from the genre. Wonderful.
Longevity - 9/10 - Once addicted, you can pump some serious hours in to Torchlight.
Overall - 9/10 (Note, Score is not an average)
Any questions regarding opinions within or the game in general? Contact Satchmo via Tumblr (satchmo_jones) or XBL (s4tchm0)