Torchlight - Review  

by Anna Marie Neufeld

10-60 Hours
+ Huge flexibility
+ Fantastic visuals and music
+ Replayability an understatement
- Set genders in classes
- Story? What story?
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A Phoenix rises from its own ashes and lives another life cycle. Though Flagship Studios crashed and burned, a new studio sprung up from Flagship Seattle, called Runic Games, and put out a title Torchlight. Though Action RPGs are common on the PC, most are compared to Diablo and found wanting for it. Torchlight manages to overcome the Diablo expectations by being a game that can stand on its own merits. With phenomenal music and great art direction, combined with an addictive combat system, it's hard to step away from the keyboard and mouse after the first floor.

   The battle system is easy to jump into, but has a lot of subtleties which master players can experiment with if they so choose. There are three classes -- Destroyer, Alchemist, and Vanquisher. The first two are male only, while the third is female only. Each follow, but are not limited to, a traditional archetype: The Destroyer is an in-your-face melee class wielding a weapon and shield or giant two handed weapons; the Alchemist is a spell-flinger with minions to boss around; the Vanquisher is an assassin, frequently relying on ranged weapons. This doesn't mean each are forced into only these roles. An alchemist can pick up a shield, and a Destroyer can wield a bow if they so choose, and all three classes get four spell slots where they may equip scrolls to bolster their offensive repertoires. Regardless of which class they select, players may choose a dog or cat sidekick at the start of their adventure. This pet is a wonder unto itself and has its own inventory, can equip rings and necklaces, can run to town to sell for the player, and can equip two spells of its own -- thus, an integral part of any adventurer's day.

   Once equipped with a good set of gear and with their HP and MP topped up, players then head into the mines under Torchlight and prepare to be mobbed. Torchlight doesn't break any new ground for an ARPG, so anyone familiar with the genre can safely skip this paragraph. Left click to move, the same to attack; right click to use a special move set ahead of time. If one special isn't enough, the player can tab to a second option and use the right mouse button again. There is also a number bar to add potions, spells, and other skills too. Pressing shift and a number will use the ability or item on a pet when possible, such as a potion. Picking up loot is also easy, as just running over gold will pick it up. Pick up any loot on the ground with a left click; shift clicking will send your pet scurrying to grab items off the floor instead. Holding alt will display what items are on the ground, so the player can sort through them. All magical gear will need to be identified by a scroll or spell before it can be worn.

Destroyer Skill Stompy Time!

   Heroes can gain a maximum level of 100 and a fame ranking of 55; experience is acquired by killing anything, while fame comes from killing specific mini-bosses, named monsters that are larger, tougher, and faster then their counterparts. At each level the player gains 5 stat points which can be used towards strength (melee damage), dexterity (range damage), magic (spell damage), and armour (damage mitigation) as well as a talent point, whereas each level of fame grants an extra talent point, but no stat boosts. Talents can be "always on" skills such as a bonus to experience and damage, or they can be offensive/defensive skills which aid in the slaughtering of countless creeps throughout the depths.

   The music leaves nothing to be desired. These are the sort of tunes every player will be humming in their sleep and loading into the MP3 player of choice long after their play time is completed. It's beautiful and fits every scene perfectly. Just make sure to turn down the initial volume, as the default is incredibly loud. Also done strikingly well are the visuals, which strike a perfect balance of looking good and being delightfully bloody. Creatures exploding into cute gooey messes sounds ridiculous, but really works in this setting. Armour sets look great, and even random pieces that the player picks up while grinding look very spiffy together without clashing terribly -- something more PC games could learn from. These two aspect of the game are clearly the strongest points Torchlight has to offer.

   At the start of the game, the player chooses their difficulty level - Easy, Normal, Hard, or Very Hard. Easy is ridiculously easy, and is not recommended for most players. In addition to these difficulty settings, there is also the challenging "Hardcore" option, which deletes any character in this mode upon death, so the faint of heart need not apply. On top of this, there is a chest in town that is shared between all characters on the account, so the player is capable of swapping items and gear, which can make levelling subsequent characters less arduous. Simply doing the storyline takes about ten hours, but truly exploring the game and all of its dungeons and options will take upwards of forty hours or longer -- time well spent.

   The interface is quick and easy to access, with half a dozen menus displaying all the information a player will need and only a single button press or mouse click away. Stats and Talents are displayed on opposite sides of the screen, as are pet and player inventory, allowing comparison and contrast to be done efficiently and simply. The game's originality is a mixed bag, but there may be some potential from the playerbase to spice things up, as Runic is providing a mod tool to allow fertile imaginations to run wild. The story isn't anything new nor is the interface and gameplay style, but the art and music allow the game to stand out from the crowd all trying desperately to look like each other.

Spot the Dog Hi Spot

   The one aspect of the Torchlight that falls completely flat on its face is the story. The main storyline is thin and shallow, essentially comprised of one woman giving unnecessary instructions to guide the player deeper into the main dungeon. All in all she gives less than a dozen quests -- ironically, there's more optional kill named boss quests then story quests. What little is there isn't bad, it just feels very tacked on. The good news is, the thrill of exploring the dungeons is motivation enough to delve further without any outside reasons. The voice acting is refreshingly good, without falling into the pit trap of stereotypical accents.

   In a sea of ambivalency, it's nice to see a life preserver in Torchlight floating by. While it certainly has a couple flaws, where the game stumbles isn't anywhere near enough to overcome what it does exceptionally well. In addition to being a great romp on its own, this title is also a lead-up to the Torchlight MMORPG, which will be available about two years after the launch of the single-player game. For those not interested in multiplayer this won't be a selling point, but it shouldn't detract from any enjoyment of the standalone adventure.

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