Review: Torchlight (PC)
by Ashe Collins on February 18, 2010

Torchlight
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Encore Software, Inc.
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 01/05/2010

Diablo, Diablo II, FATE, Mythos, all great action RPGs. What, pray tell, do they have in common, you might ask? Why, they all have a connection to the game I’m reviewing here. The designers and leads on these games got together and Torchlight is the result. Will this conglomeration result in something spectacular or just another ho-hum action RPG to crowd our shelves? Let’s take a look.

Story/Modes

Torchlight starts off like many RPGs, with the traveler arriving in a distant town, where things aren’t quite done like they are anywhere else. In this case, you’re arriving in a town that mines a very important mineral, called Ember, which is used for just about everything from weapon enhancement to magical spells. And it seems the mine is not only infested, but that infestation has spread out into the town. After helping a few townspeople out, a woman asks you to go into the mines after her friend and help him out. You track her friend down who is looking for her mentor, who had written her several letters asking her to come to the town. Her mentor shows up, and apparently he’s lost his mind and sics her mutated friend on you, tainting you with the magic that transformed him as well.

The woman catches up to you and tells you about your infection and that a cure might possibly be found deeper in the bowels of the mines, and that you should really catch her mentor as he’s lost his mind and she doesn’t know what he’ll do. As per most RPGs, there are side-quests to take care of in town, and being an action RPG it’s mostly fetch quests, but one person in town can send you into other areas through a portal that lets you take on different threats in different areas and collect things for him, which helps you get better gear. The side quests help flesh out the town a bit as most of the people living there have side quests for you to do and those that don’t are vendors. Some have attitudes and some are quite nice to you.

Overall, the story component in this game is weaker than some RPGs I’ve played, but much stronger than some of the action RPGs I’ve played. It is geared a bit more towards adults than FATE was, and overall the storytelling experience is a bit more satisfying.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

Graphics

One thing with this game is it has a very specific visual style that really works with the game type and story as well. It reminds me of several steampunk styles, but more than that, visually it has the look of a medieval Team Fortress 2. The big chins, the flow of the art, and the look of the levels all have that overblown cartoonish look. While you might think it’ll end up being hokey and jarring at first, it just works here so well and is so fitting I spent a lot of time zooming in just to poke around and check things out. There’s a great style here that makes it stand out from the rest of the action RPG crowd and I really fell in love with the design.

The camera is generally good, but one feature I would have liked to have seen pop over from FATE is the disappearing walls. What we get instead is being able to see your character and your pet in glowing silhouette through the walls, which is ok, but you may still end up getting stuck and having to move out and around to get through an area. This really isn’t that big of an issue and only happened to me once or twice through the hours upon hours of playing. What is really well done besides the look is the lighting and the depth of field, especially when you’re on an upper level of a mine and can see the monsters of miners scurrying about below you. It really makes the world feel more alive than any of the others I’ve played this year. For people who are into tricking your character out, there is a bit of customization here. Your character will display whatever weapons they’re using, but the color and armor shapes change as well depending on what you’ve equipped them with. It’s not a ton of visual options per character, but it was a nice little touch.

Graphics Rating: Incredible

Sound

While there aren’t full voiceovers for every conversation you have, there are some for most of the story driven scenes, and most vendors and townspeople will at least say a greeting and good bye in between reading what they have to say. What is there is really well done. The music is also very appropriate and well done and fits the game very well. While there is some repetition, I wasn’t there trying to rip my ears off from hearing the same bit over again like I have with some games. The sound effects are pretty decent, and there were some new monster sounds to go along with them. Sometimes it’s all sounds I’ve heard before recycled in a new way, but these didn’t give off that vibe, which was very cool.

Sound Rating: Great

Control and Gameplay

Like most action RPGs, this is point and click with the mouse. There are some things you can key to the keyboard in your hot bar, and other things make selling easier, like holding down the shift key. Other than that, it is all mouse, baby. Clicking and holding in a direction moves you around that way, clicking and holding on an enemy will attack them until they’re dead. Same goes for destructibles, like barrels and such, but usually it only takes one hit for them. Clicking also picks up items that aren’t gold (merely walking over the gold will pick it up) and puts them in your inventory. Right clicking shoots off one of your special powers that you can assign to your mouse button. If you have a scroll wheel on your mouse, you can zoom in and out of the action at your leisure.

Much like FATE, you have a pet you can take with you. I chose the ferret, mainly because I’ve always wanted one as a pet in real life. Anyway, the pet has an inventory at least as big as yours, so you can dump stuff over to your pet, and in most dungeons you can send your pet back to town to sell everything it’s carrying, which is a great mechanic and can save you on your town portal scrolls. The pets in Torchlight also have a mean streak and can attack for you. Something else from FATE pops in here with the fishing options. You can fish in different points in the dungeons and in town and feed the fish to your pet to get different effects, usually turning them into different monsters that are stronger then their normal forms.

Each of the characters plays differently, one being ranged (but you could do up as a two-weapon melee fighter), one being melee, and the other a more magical attack kind of guy. Each has three paths you can take them down as far as leveling them up or you can mix and match. You get stat points you can assign based off your exp, as well as a point you can put into the paths when you level, but they also have a fame system. You get fame for killing named monsters and for doing quests for the townspeople, and each level of fame gives you another point you can dump into your path line.

Aside from several pieces of armor and weapons, there is another level of customization. Most items are pretty set as far as stats go, but you can find and buy pieces of Ember for different armor and weapons that let you add more stats and item effects to them. Some armor pieces are parts of a set, so they’ll have stat bumps on top of what you’re already getting if you get the whole set, which might take awhile. In town there’s storage for your character so you don’t have to cart around items you can’t use just yet, or if they’re part of the set you’re still assembling. One thing I thought was very cool was the shared chest that lets you put items in for all of your characters to grab from. So if you find a sword or armor piece that you can’t use, but would be great on another one, drop it in there and pick it up the next time you’re playing that other character.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability

While the game does have an ongoing storyline, it boasts a random dungeon layout every time you head into a dungeon. Not only that, but the monsters, loot, puzzles, and treasure are all generated randomly when you set off. So each time you head in somewhere it’s going to be different than the last time you went in with the last character. Add in a nice retirement system that lets you gift perks and benefits to new characters when you hit a certain level with your old characters and you’ve got some nice replayability going on here. Then of course there’s the pet and class combinations as well.

One thing the DVD version has on the disc is the Torchlight Editor that will let you make and share content. So not only do you have access to randomly created levels, but you can add in your own flair for next time if you choose to. From what I hear, the developers are also working on a multi-player mechanic for the game, but for the moment Torchlight offers quite a bit for someone coming back to the game even without it.

Replayability Rating: Very Good

Balance

The game itself is designed so you can jump in and play no matter what your level of experience with games and it shows. The controls are easy to learn, and the in-game help and tutorial gets you through your first leg of the adventure pretty quickly before unleashing you on the dungeons below the town on your own. That’s not to say it’s ridiculously easy to play either; there is a bit of strategy to it, and running in without knowing what you’re doing will get you killed. There’s a nice lead in to the game though and the boss fights won’t disappoint.

Then there’s the price. This game is amazingly done, especially at the $20 they’re asking for in stores. I’d plunk that down in a heartbeat for this game. Very well done, few glitches, plays amazingly, and you don’t even need the disc in once you’ve got it installed. Those are some of my favorite kinds of games.

Balance Rating: Classic

Originality

While fantasy RPGs aren’t exactly new, the way Torchlight does it with just a touch of steampunk and the art style and feel of the game give it that fresh feeling that doesn’t make it feel like a game you’ve played a hundred times before. Even with the idea that the miners had dug too far and too fast into the ground after the Ember has been touched on, probably most famously in Lord of the Rings in the first book or film with the Dwarves, but again, the way they’ve done it here feels different enough that you’re not screaming rip-off when you get to that point in the game. There’s enough here that I think they could really expand on this world and keep going with what they have here really well and flesh out the world a bit and maybe show us some more.

Originality Rating: Great

Addictiveness

The ease of getting into this game and figuring out how it all works within the first half hour or so of playing was great. Mastering it and figuring out where I wanted to go with my characters and delving deeper to level up and find more loot and gear and help the people of the town added even more hours of fun. Even being an action RPG where kill-loot-rinse-repeat is the name of the game didn’t dissuade me from getting involved in what was going on in my screen. The grind isn’t really a grind, and you want to know what’s around that next bend in the dungeon or what’s in the next room of this long forgotten fortress. They’ve made the action RPG fun, which can easily get mucked up and make playing be a chore, but Torchlight has the right balance to keep it interesting and not bore the player.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

A fantastic looking and very well polished and easy to play game that won’t need a game disc after install with lots of replay value for only $20? Yeah, I can already see the popularity. This game already has a pretty decent following for it, and by word of mouth it’s been spreading. I’ve already had a bunch of people ask me about it when they heard I was doing a review for it and wanted to see it. A number of them went out and bought it just after a few minutes of watching me play it. The game has a lot of charm and fun built into it and I can see it lasting for awhile.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

Miscellaneous

I’ve already made the comment about not needing the CD to play, but one other thing I’ve liked about this game is that it auto-saves. No need to juggle saves around. Leaving the game? No big deal, already saved, just jump in again where you were! I’ve yet to have a problem with this system at all. The game doesn’t crash at all, and I haven’t had any errors in it at all. Which is awesome. Love games I don’t have to fight with to get them to run on my PC and even better when they don’t crash in the middle of a boss fight.

Then there’s the satisfying splat sound and visual upon killing a monster with a critical hit and walking over the blood spot on the ground that used to be the creature attacking you.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Great
Graphics Rating: Incredible
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Very Good
Balance Rating: Classic
Originality Rating: Great
Addictiveness Rating: Great
Appeal Factor Rating: Classic
Miscellaneous Rating: Classic
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize Torchlight is another in a line of action RPGs I’ve had the pleasure of playing this year, but by far this has been the most enjoyable of the set. The visuals are very appealing and have a great style to them, the mechanics are simple but deep at the same time, the story plays out over the course of gameplay and not through scenes at the beginning of the game, which just goes to suck you in more. For what you’re getting, a highly polished in-depth stable and fun game, the price can’t get any better. I’d recommend this game to Diablo and FATE fans alike and I personally prefer this game to either of the ones I’ve mentioned.



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Ashe Collins

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  • Josh T

    A couple of things that I feel could have been expanded upon:

    1) Torchlight is also available via digital distribution (Steam, etc.), so the boxed version is not required. Also, the ferret can only be found in the boxed version (well, by default).

    2) You briefly touched upon it, but simply picking one of the three classes does not force your character to go down a locked path of using Bows (for the ranged character). The passive skills and the separate skill trees allow you to make a build however you want to.

    3) Under the customization, you forgot to mention item enchanting. It plays a very big role in upgrading your equipment at higher levels.

    4) The biggest appeal factor that you forgot to mention: the modding community. Torchlight was built by design to be able to be modded by any player and have their mods shared around the community. Heck, Runic Games has a Mod Showcase board for the game just for that purpose. As such, TorchED (the editor) is not merely for making changes to your own game, but for producing mods that anyone can use. I personally think that’s an even bigger draw for replayability than random dungeon generation.

    5) Also, TorchED is, at the very least, free to download on Steam as well if you purchase Torchlight through it.

    6) As for the multiplayer component, that rumor is false. Runic Games are working on a Torchlight MMO which will be set in the same world, but isn’t coming out for a few years and is a standalone product. If you want multiplayer co-op like in Diablo 2, you’ll have to wait and see if the modding community finds a way to make it happen.

  • Ashe Collins

    Thanks for clarifying a few things. I’d actually reviewed the boxed version, hence the ferret and publisher details. Yes, the digital version has been available on Steam, but I was trying to focus my efforts on the version I had in hand.

    I covered customizing as far as the review goes. I really wasn’t going for an in-depth how-to with the review, but thanks for taking the time to add that in on the comments end of things. I did mention sharing mods with others, however.

    I’ll have to look into the multi-player rumor. I could not confirm or deny as of the writing of the review, and will look further into it as I personally would love to play this with friends.

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