3.5 out of 5 stars
When I first heard about Torchlight, a PC dungeon crawler from the team behind Diablo 2, I purposefully avoided it like the plague. That title is the closest I’ve ever come to full-fledged video game addiction, blacking out a few months of my life due to my insatiable desire to level, craft and spend entire months devoted to a character that was in reality nothing more than a few lines of code.
But Torchlight is different, as there’s no multiplayer, and with that far less temptation to keep playing indefinitely. I also I figure I’ve grown up quite a bit in the last five years, and I probably wouldn’t end up turning tricks on the street for enchantments in the next few weeks.
When the game made the jump to Xbox Live, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about, so I shelled out a confusing number of Microsoft Points, and booted it up. I’m happy to say I’ve come to a definitive end to the game after a few days, but for a reason that was actually a massive issue with the game, and not of my own free will. But more on that later, first, my actual game experience.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plot less relevant to a game. Due to a smaller staff and budget, there’s only one town the in the game, Torchlight, and it happens to be built on top of the world’s deepest dungeon. Some wizard has gone crazy and has gone down a million levels underground to do something with the magical element Ember. I assume the world is somehow in jeopardy, but that’s really not the point.
Does this look like it needs much of a plot to you?
So what is the point? Loot, bitches! The 30+ floors of the main dungeon are filled with monsters and chests, both full of magical items that can make your character…better equipped to kill monsters and find chests. It’s the old RPG circle of getting more powerful for no other reason than to keep making yourself more powerful. I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.
Players are given a choice of three classes, the warrior, the rogue and the mage, but with vaguely different names I can’t remember. Since I always pick the lumbering, sword-swinging brute class in any title like this, I went with the rogue, who is a part-time archer, part-time gunslinger. Thankfully there’s no need to buy finite quantities of arrows or bullets, so she’s a step up from Diablo‘s Amazon in that regard.
Let’s be clear, this game IS Diablo 2. The only reason it’s any different is because a few people from the Fable team have come in and made it look a bit more cartoon-ish, but everything else is straight from ex-Blizzard staff, so much so I think they could almost be sued.
What’s the same? Three sets of skill trees, randomly mapped dungeons, two orbs full of health and mana, socketed transmutable gems, item rarity classes, armor and weapon effects, even enemy types even carry over from Diablo 2. But what Torchlight does is take that wildly popular system and improve upon it, making a good thing even better.
It’s often minor changes that make the biggest impressions. There’s now a shared loot stash that allows you to transfer items across characters without mules. There’s no longer a puzzle block inventory system, allowing you to comfortably carry everything you need with you. And if you can’t? You have a pet that can take all your useless but valuable items back to town to sell. He can also be assigned spells, but my dog Chips seemed to be a bit brain damaged, shooting his fireballs into walls and using his healing spell on me only when I was at full life.
Dying has also taken on a new form, which is a godsend as I never understood the system in Diablo 2. Why would you make someone walk all the way back through a dungeon itemless into a lair of creatures that were so powerful you couldn’t even defeat them when fully equipped? This often led to a massive cycle of death and respawning with players losing mounds of gold and XP unable to retrieve their 12 corpses littered around a room of death.
Here, death gives you three choices. Respawn on the spot losing money and “fame” (a different form of XP), respawn at the level’s entrance losing only money, or respawn in town losing nothing. This would have been a welcome choice to make, IF I HAD EVER DIED.
“Bitches, you can’t touch me!”
Again I see where the Fable team comes in. This game is unreasonably easy. Between my massively damaging area of effect spells and my life and mana stealing weapons and armor, I swear I didn’t even USE a health potion until level 25. After that, currently at level 37, I have died a grand total of one time, and have just started to need to use health potions consistently, thankfully I have 150 to spare, and for every room I need to use one in, five more drop on the ground.
Yes, I could have played it on a harder setting, but the structure of the game itself needs to be changed. There are side-portals that you can choose to explore that usually offer enemies that are about your level. You quest through them, gaining XP and items, but when you come back to the main quest line? The enemies are still the same level as they were previously, meaning if you do all these side quests you’ll remain 4-6 levels higher than everything you fight in the main story line for the duration of the game, and subsequently you’ll never be posed a real challenge.
Difficulty curve aside, I have to give developer Runic credit for the masterful job porting this to a console. With all its hotkeys for skills, spells and potions, you would assume you’d have to have a keyboard to play a title like this, but not so. Potions are mapped to RB and LB, while spells can be assigned to the triggers, Y and B, while X is your main attack. It’s an incredibly fluid system, and really, you’ll never need to use more than four spells anyway. I barely needed to use more than one to waltz through the entire game.
Someone please tell me what the goddamn point of identifying items is? To make you wait two more seconds to figure out what you’ve picked up?
Torchlight is fun, but it gets repetitive quickly. There are side quests given to you in town, but they are literally the same three repeated no less than twenty times. All three NPCs will tell you to go to X floor, kill X baddie, retrieve X artifact and X gem. You do so, and repeat. Forever. This interspersed with the main quest line of killing a ridiculously easy boss every few floors down doesn’t make for a very diverse game.
After the main game finished, you’re offered access to a new dungeon, an endless one. You can descend forever, doing the same three fetch quests on each floor and trying to find new magic items to help you kill faster. Repetitive as it may be, it’s still addicting to see how far you can go, and I might still be doing it, had it not been for the game breaking bug left in the final product that abruptly ended my time with Torchlight.
In order to write a more balanced review, I was going to check out the other characters to see how they played. I created a new Alchemist, and started whacking demons with my staff and electrocuting them with lightning.
In my first game with my Rogue (or whatever she’s called), I would often find badass magical items I couldn’t use. Swords that require massive strength or helmets that needed a ton of magic. I put these in my shared stash so my later characters could use them. When I got to the right level, I’d have a whole host of a magical gear to choose from, and my efforts would not have been in vain.
Had to try out these other two boob-less blokes.
But when I went to check it with my Alchemist, it was gone. All of it. I loaded up my Rogue and no, still nothing. Frantically I loaded and reloaded and every item I’d just spent the last 15 hours amassing was gone. I took to Google and what I found angered me.
There is a known bug in the game where if you start a new character, and you DON’T exit out of the game completely, like all the way to the Xbox dashboard before doing so, your entire shared stash is deleted.
How the hell can you release the final product of a game with a bug that huge in it? All of that work was down the drain, and at that point, I didn’t have the heart to keep playing. It’s a bug that literally ended my time with the game, and it’s hard to believe that they could be that inept to overlook something like that.
What I imagine my new character COULD have looked like had this not happened.
So much like how I ended my Diablo 2 run when I was the victim of a disappearing dupe rune, I rage quit Torchlight for a similar reason. Ahh RPGs, how you never fail to infuriate me.
But that being said, for a mere $15, Torchlight is a hell of a game. It’s a masterful console port of a genre that you wouldn’t think could make that leap. It’s repetitive sure, but if leveling and loot drops is your thing, you can easily sink 10, 20, 30 hours into the title, which is far more than most $60 games you’ll find on the market these days. Avoid that evil bug I mentioned, and you’ll have a pretty good time with Torchlight.
3.5 out of 5 stars