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CONSOLE: PC/MAC DEVELOPER: Runic Games PUBLISHER: Perfect World / Encore Inc.
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 27, 2009 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Light the way into a world of familiar hacking and slashing.

If you've ever played Diablo, Blizzard's short but beloved dungeon-crawling franchise that has been elevated by fans to a seemingly god-like status, then you've played Torchlight. After some of the key designers behind the Diablo series left Blizzard to form Runic Games later on, development began on a supposedly unique game that eventually became Torchlight. The end result turned out to be, essentially, a carbon copy of Diablo with a few extra frills thrown in to enhance the experience. So, to sum it all up, if you liked Diablo, you'll like Torchlight.

The game's title is pulled from the name of the solitary town you encounter. Assuming the role of a destroyer (if you just want to beat stuff and move on), vanquisher (privy to awesome archery skills), or alchemist (for roasting your enemies with fire), you and a companion pet of choice stumble upon this low-key mining community at an inopportune moment. It seems that horrid fiends have overrun the many mining floors below, and perhaps worse yet, the wizard Alric has been researching arcade knowledge deep below the town and wishes to resurrect the beast, Ordrak! This vacation you're taking is slowly turning into quite an unwanted ruckus. Expect pay for your troubles. The story is very, VERY standard... but take it at face value, I suppose.

Torchlight follows a very linear progression: your basic (and ultimate) goal is to snake your way through each maze-like floor beneath the town to find the stairs leading downward to -- alas! -- the next floor! But, as you might have guessed, it's not as simple as just walking from Point A to Point B. Nope -- hordes of bloodthirsty creatures will do their best to annihilate both your health AND your fighting spirit. Would you have expected any less? So brawl your way through them and, also as expected, the more you kill, the more experience you gain, and the stronger you become. Boost your strength, defensive, and other stats, and as well, earn points to put towards learning over 30 potential skills that can be useful (though many of them prove to be a waste of accumulated points if you're not a major magic user). Yet all characters have the ability to use magic spells, though perhaps not to the same extent as the alchemist class, though spell scrolls are either dropped by enemies or purchased by your main character and subsequently equipped. You can have up to 4 equipped at a time, though, so choose wisely, as once you unequip a spell, it disappears permanently.

As I mentioned earlier, you get to bring a pet with you on your travels, something that separates Torchlight from Diablo. Your pet serves two functions. One is to help take down enemies and cast both offensive and defensive spells, depending on which ones you equip. The other function is to take unwanted goods back to town and sell them so that you don't have to leave the action (which is good, considering the limited -- though realistic -- available inventory space). I am very thankful for this time-saving operation, as it keeps the game flowing smoothly and not jaggedly with a mix of adventuring and... uh... shopping. As an added bonus, his stats raise when yours do! AND you get to choose from a cat, dog, or ferret! Who wouldn't want a brawling ferret? Unfortunately, the pet is far weaker in most respects, and it tends to become gravely injured and run off a fair bit, especially in the lower levels. Make sure you rely on your own skills first and foremost.

Death is an unpleasant experience -- not just in real life, but in Torchlight as well. Upon meeting your eventual demise, you are provided with three options, all of which require sacrifice. 1) Pay out a significant amount of your gold to restart at the beginning of that floor. This feels like the best option, because you can just walk through it without encountering any enemies where you've already been. 2) Lose both gold AND experience to start exactly where you perished. I personally like to keep my experience. It helps me SURVIVE. 3) Start back at the town, but keep all of your prized gold and experience. That's fine if you were only on the first floor, but having to grumble through many floors to re-establish how far you were (and the enemies DO respawn in this instance) is a chore. Take the first option. You can get more gold later; being poor is not a frequent occurrence.

Come to think of it, experience is easily gained as well because you essentially have an infinite supply of enemies to kill, both via the visiting/revisiting of dungeon floors and through portals. By using a portal scroll (or, more rarely, encountering a special enemy), you can be transported to a semi-unique area where you can brawl against some gruff adversaries. Granted, you can't really escape that area until you finish it (or lose your life), but it's a way to build up experience and gold on the side before delving deeper into the primary dungeon floors. Plus, an indeterminate number of portal scrolls can be purchased in town, so why not keep building up your stats until you are strong? Then no one will be able to stop you! Mwa ha ha! As well, after the main quest is completed, the Shadow Vault opens, where you can continue to hone your skills, gain experience, and earn some sweet gold... infinitely. That's right. The last dungeon never ends. It's pretty much a place to prove just how much time you're willing to waste achieving a goal that doesn't matter in the end. Make of that what you will. Of course, your success is also dependent on quality armor and weaponry, which can be purchased or picked up from fallen enemies, the latter being more convenient and frequent. Plus you can enchant these items to improve them or attach gems with unique properties as well. But really, it's all about hacking through bone and flesh...


Welcome to Torchlight, where the fires of passion burn all night long!

All the environments (and characters alike) have been fully rendered with a nice candy-coated 3D look. The designers aimed for lighter fare, as opposed to the darker style of Diablo, allowing for more casual gamers to be lured in without fear of being overwhelmed by a "hardcore" style. On the flipside, though, all the environs are used many, many times over, so the developer got its money's worth out of the possibly six or seven different areas they concocted. What surprised me (and I'm not the only one who has experienced this) is that unlike many other PC games out there, Torchlight somehow manages to seriously try and toast your GPU. My computer's GPU became amazingly toasty, far moreso than with any other game I've encountered. When its temperature reaches 100°C, you know something's going wrong. There doesn't seem to be any patch for this flaw, so I just had to set my graphics settings as low as possible. It's a shame because I'm probably missing out on some nice details. Audio-wise, Torchlight is what it is. Most of the background sound you hear will be ambient, with the exception of when you visit the town itself, whose theme sounds rather strongly inspired by that of Diablo.

Also on the plus side was the addition of TorchED, an auxiliary program designed to allow you to create your own levels, featuring the ability to fiddle around with layouts, monsters, items, and even your own character. It is meant to be intuitive and inclusive, allowing for even external visuals to be imported and used. It's a nice feature, similar to that of the editor provided with Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness 13 years earlier, giving the mod community more reason to salivate.

One of the big downfalls for me, unfortunately, was the game's repetitive nature. There is very little variation in the gameplay overall -- in fact, the only major shift came when I visited Torchlight (the town). Though it was a haplessly addicting experience at first, bouts of boredom eventually set in and I found myself yearning for the end. Though dungeon crawlers are often fun, there seemed to be little reward to meandering through yet another floor, except for the opportunity to complete yet another floor afterward. Layouts tended to become repetitive as well: although they are supposed to be generated dynamically, they are actually pre-designed in large chunks which are fitted together in a few different ways. Boss fights, though a nice break from the usual "hack-and-slash-through-everything-you-encounter" mentality, are few and far between. Add to this the aforementioned Shadow Vault, which never ends, and you have to wonder just how many people will actually come back for a second round of this later. You can actually transfer your stats to a new character, as well as save your treasured items for a second quest courtesy of an in-town special chest, but I think one journey is enough.

Torchlight won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who love dungeon crawlers and ravished Diablo and Diablo II, they will find this to be another gaming haven. Though it lacks significant variety for those of us with the attention spans of hummingbirds, there's certainly plenty ofe fun to be had here if you like striking down everything in your path. And if you can't get enough of that sweet, sweet action, keep a watchful eye out for Torchlight II, expected to drop sometime in 2011.


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