Torchlight - Staff Review  

Diablo Called, He Wants His Game Back
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Xbox 360
Less than 20 Hours
+ Fast, fun combat...
- ...copied wholesale from Diablo.
+ Three character classes with lots of skill choices...
- ...copied wholesale from Diablo.
+ Refinement of a great formula...
- ...copied wholesale from Diablo.
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   One of the great things about being a gamer is that, no matter how long you've been playing games, no matter how many titles you lay to rest, there's always something new around the corner that can surprise and entertain you. Unfortunately, Torchlight is not one of those games. In fact, Torchlight, developed by Runic Games, a studio composed of several former members of Blizzard's Diablo and Diablo II teams, is quite possibly the single most uncreative, unoriginal title I've ever encountered. This isn't a game that mimics Diablo; it is Diablo.

   It's not merely cosmetic details that bare a resemblance to the famed PC role-playing games of the late 1990s, it's every facet of Torchlight's design. The game begins in the small mining hamlet of Torchlight, where strange creatures have started flowing up from the depths of the mine. As an adventurer, you're conscripted into helping stop the tide of monsters that threaten to consume the town, and delve deep into the mine through over thirty levels to find the source of the corruption. If this sounds familiar, it's essentially identical to the story of the original Diablo. Just change "mine" to "church," "Torchlight" to "Tristram," and voila. Torchlight has its own lore, revolving around a magical but highly corrupted material known as Ember, but the game's dialogue and plot are so razor-thin that it's difficult to care. Even after the final boss is conquered, the only reward awaiting players is a single line of dialogue from one of the game's NPCs, and a randomly generated bonus dungeon to delve into. There's no finishing cutscene or credit-roll, just a brief pat on the back and more combat.

Even the interface is taken from Diablo.  Look at those health orbs! Even the interface is taken from Diablo. Look at those health orbs!

   The combat is by far the most telling feature that Runic Games didn't even attempt to come up with a creative thought for this title. To say that it is similar to Diablo II is an enormous understatement. Players can select from three classes which, despite having unique names, are essentially the same warrior, rogue, and sorceror archetypes seen in the original Diablo. They even share the same forced genders. While exploring the mine, players will be assaulted by swarms of vicious critters which will be quickly mowed down by the wide variety of skills and spells available to each class. Levels will be gained, stat and skill points will be acquired, and of course there's plenty of loot to discover and equip.

   Almost immediately, players familiar with the Diablo series will notice similarities. Many of the skills available in the game are nearly carbon copies of ones available in Diablo and Diablo II. Likewise, the loot falls in the same categories of magical, rare, unique, and set. Many items can likewise be socketed with gems, another feature taken wholesale from Blizzard's flagship roleplaying game. Ultimately, only two features of Torchlight really stand out as breaking new ground, and even then, they're merely refinements of the existing Diablo formula. The first is the pet that all characters are granted, which has the very useful ability to carry unwanted loot back to town and sell it, saving players the trip. The other is the inclusion of "fame," a second experience bar that increases when powerful, named monsters are defeated or when quests are completed, and grants additional skill points whenever a new level is reached. Unfortunately, the quests in the game all fall into one of three categories: story quests, which must be completed and are finished automatically, retrieval quests, which simply ask the player to find an item somewhere on a specific floor or in a special dungeon, and monster killing quests, which likewise ask the player to find and kill a particular named monster.

   To be perfectly fair, despite being about as creative as a cheeseburger, Torchlight is still a lot of fun to play. It's a refinement of a terrific formula that's remained popular for over a decade, and the new Xbox 360 control scheme is put together perfectly. Unfortunately, the experience is dragged down by poor game balance and a lack of multiplayer. Though the game has four difficulty settings to choose from, the "hard" difficulty is roughly level with what one would find in Diablo II. The normal difficulty is exceptionally easy, and the "easy" difficulty is even more pathetic. This is true until the end of the game, at least, at which point things get a tad ridiculous. The final boss is a frustrating, tedious affair, with incredibly high health, armor, resistances, and strength. While the boss immediately preceding it (by which I mean immediately preceding it; quite literally the last enemy fought before the final boss) can be destroyed in twenty seconds and potentially without even needing a healing potion on hard difficulty, the final boss will likely take upwards of half an hour and involve several deaths. The lack of multiplayer is equally irritating, and significantly drags down the replay value of the title.

I think you missed one. I think you missed one.

   In the end, the upgraded experience Torchlight offers in certain areas over Diablo II doesn't offset the obvious balance problems, lack of multiplayer, and the fact that it's essentially a ten year old game masquerading as something new. Compared with other, similar games released in the same timeframe such as DeathSpank, Too Human, and Borderlands, it's lacking on every level. Even when compared to the game it mimics, Diablo II, it still comes up short.

   The visuals, at least, have their own unique style to them. Torchlight is much more colorful than Diablo, and naturally more detailed than the technically limited artwork of Blizzard's series. The character and equipment designs have something of a steampunk aesthetic to them, blended with a dash of medieval fantasy. While it can't compare to modern blockbusters, as an Xbox Live Arcade title, it's quite attractive. The same can't be said of the audio. The music in particular bears a startling resemblance to Diablo II's score, though this is likely a result of composer Matt Uelmen working on both titles. Though the game's paltry dialogue likewise bears minimal voicework, what's there is somewhat stilted. Though not the worst example in the industry, it doesn't stand out as particularly good either.

   Though Torchlight II might bring with it some refreshing gameplay ideas, Torchlight certainly does not. It is the epitome of lazy game design, copied almost wholesale from a series released over a decade ago. With Diablo III on the horizon, some people might be itching for a Diablo-esque experience to satisfy their craving, but unless you're looking for something on a console, breaking out your old copies of Diablo II will not only save you a few bucks, but it'll provide a better experience as well.

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