Oh dear lord. I remember when I was a young kid and Blizzard was the reason for why I played on my PC extensively when I had consoles to entertain me with. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other companies that made my computer well worth owning such as Sierra and Lucas Arts, but Blizzard was something that got my inner geek excited, with games such as Warcraft 3, Lost Vikings, and my personal favorite: Diablo 2.
As times went on, we eventually get World of Warcraft and, while the creators have had some time to make other projects, there was a time when WoW was the game that kept the company rich and not much else. For a time, it was unlikely that we would get anything else from Blizzard than expansions for this MMO, but that did not stop Max and Erich Schaefer (who were responsible for the Diablo-series), Travis Baldree, and Peter Hu to go their own way and create Runic Games. While they had the option to create something different, their first project was an overhead point and kill RPG titled Torchlight, similar to their previous project at Blizzard North.
We all need a hero
As the hero of the tale, you sense something unnerving is going on in the town of Torchlight. The town has become economically stronger and more powerful thanks to the rich vein of Embers beneath them, which are ores that can grant the user magical powers. Upon arriving in the town, you meet Brink and Syl as they fight of monsters by the entrance to the mines. They have received distress calls from their master Alric inside the mines, but upon finding him, they figure out that he has gone mad with power thanks to being corrupted by the Embers. It is up to our hero to stop him and venture deeper into the caves.
There is little to really talk about here, as the game is not heavy on the plot. We have a decent setup about corruption similar to a certain Tolkien-story, with likable characters that might not add much in personality, but are strong enough that you sense they care for their master and have a hard time facing that they might just have to end him. With each new dungeon you will visit throughout the game, you will get a journal from the alchemist that tells about his descent into madness, making it easier to relate and feel sorry for our antagonist. It is an odd way to tell this though, as these are loading-screens between chapters with texts and we are never shown how we come across these journals of his. They are still well written, but a reason for how we get to know his backstory more would be welcoming. I also wonder why Syl never fights alongside you, as she is a confident fighter, but rarely if ever adds any support.
Though the main-story is serviceable at best, the atmosphere in the town of Torchlight fares much better. This comes from the townspeople, such as the Scottish blacksmith who doesn’t wear a skirt and the steambot-bard Trill who sends you on quests to write the best song about your adventures. These minor characters add to the atmosphere of what kind of place Torchlight is and are amusing in their own right. The story might not be interesting and even something to be skipped over, but nothing feels shallow. Just limited.
Story Score: 6/10
Dungeon Crawling without a single torch at hand
Before starting the game, you are given the choice between three different characters that each represent a class. The destroyer focuses on melee-combat and strong defense, vanquisher focuses on traps and marksmanship, and, lastly, the alchemist for magic and minions. You might have already guessed these are the traditional fighter, rogue, and mage-classes, with different names accompanying them. You will also have a pet accompanying you, with it either being a wolf, bobcat or a ferret, but we will come back to these beasts later.
Set as an isometric, over-the-top, action RPG, Torchlight takes a lot of inspirations from the original Diablo, but also tries to distinguish itself in plenty of ways. From the start, you will be tasked to venture deeper into the caves till you reach the bottom, fight monsters and bosses on the way, and do quests for townspeople. These quests will both garner you experience-points for leveling up, fame, and equipment. Let us start with the leveling up, as we can get a quick look at the character-building as well.
With every character, you will have four stats to worry about: strength for melee-attacks, dexterity for ranged, magic for spells, and defense for how much your character can withstand. You will get five points to spend on the stats of your choosing each time you level up, as well as one skill-point that can be used on either passive or active skills, with most skills being exclusive for a class alone. Some can make you able to dual-wield, an active can create shield, devastating attacks, and so on, with every skill having a max of ten in rank. While the classes have ways to go about their approaches, you are free to make your character as focused or as varied as possible. Want the destroyer to be able to use shotguns and firearms effectively? You can! Want your mage to be more of a tank? Totally worthwhile! It is with this that you can create interesting characters and experiment with plenty of combinations.
While experience points are gained from killing general enemies and doing quests, fame comes only from quests and killing ginormous monsters. This only yields one skill-point, but is an important investment as it is with these points your character becomes more interesting in combat. Then, there is the equipment. Shoulderpads, shoes, breastplates, rings, and plenty more will not just add to the overall armor-stat, but can also add stat-boosts, give a chance to find better items, and give resistances to elemental attacks to name a few. Not to mention, the weapons range from staffs to plenty different ranged and melee-weapons all being either one-handed or two-handed. There is an incredible amount of weapons to choose from and they come with different abilities and identities depending on their rarity and specifications. Many weapons will demand a level and correct stat-build, so you can be unlucky and find a powerful tool you can’t use. Then there are the gems. You can input gems in certain equipment if they have a slot available to make them stronger, giving you even more ways to customize a character, such as making a weapon deal frost damage.
This is actually what Torchlight and many similar A-RPG are about: character building. Finding the best combination of stat-building, skill-focuses, and items to wear is the key to success. I say this since the actual game is straightforward, with a click of the mouse making you walk, attack monsters, and talk to people. You right-click and press numbered keys to cast spells, do special attacks and drink potions, and can change between two sets of weapons with W. However, this simplistic gameplay, while addicting and demanding you manage active skills at the right time, is second to the aforementioned character-building. It is incredibly addicting to see your hero become stronger and how well you can manage his or her powers without letting it go to your head and die.
Besides the slaughter, there is also treasure hunting by going off the direct path to find gold, better items, and spells you can teach your character or your pet. These spells can be defensive, such as healing and calling upon minions, or aggressive with fireballs and frost-stream being a few of the plenty spells you can find. You can only learn four spells, so you must choose wisely on what you wish to have and which spell you want to forget.
Though you will be going alone through these dungeons, your pet will be a great company. Not only can they also learn two spells and equip jewelry for stronger attacks, but they can be set to aggressive, defensive, or passive command, and travel back to town to sell things you don’t want and make room in your inventory. Your creature will be gone for almost two minutes, so be careful whenever you send them back. Should the pet lose all health, he or she will run around trying to flee until you give it a health potion. The last part is that they can consume fish you can capture from ponds by doing a quick-time event. It might seem not important, but each fish will transform your pet into a vicious creature and the results can be absurd and incredibly helpful, such as a crab with devastating light-attacks. This, like with the character-build, is incredibly fun to experiment with.
Enemies are relentless and come in all shapes or forms, with some dealing faster attacks, have resurrection-spells, poison, and more, making each a threat and they always come in numbers. The boss fights as well will test your skills at handling plenty of creatures at once, with them being interesting fights such as casting illusion to multiply themselves. Should you die, you can choose where to respawn with a cost depending on how close you want to be to your resting place. Respawning where you died will make you lose fame and money, at the floor’s entrance will demand only gold, and in back in the town will make you lose nothing. This is also a thing to consider as gold is used for purchasing better equipment or spells if you can’t find any better in caves, and most importantly: scrolls and potions. Scrolls for identifying equipment makes it so you can find out what an item does and how good it is, scrolls for portals will make it so you can come back to the town, and the potions will heal either mana or health.
This leads me to one unfortunate criticism: part of the strategy with the combat comes from stacking up potions, which is shallow. You will still need other skills and abilities, but potion-clicking will be common and can often feel like a sad inclusion, since it is not very strategic. Also, while the combat is engaging and leveling up is satisfying, the game gets repetitive after 7-8 hours in, due to slow leveling and every combat encounter being more similar. This hurts this game a lot as character-upgrading is a huge part of the game. Surely you will explore these caves and might find treasures that will be important, but more could have been added for a less repetitive experience.
Saying this, this was only a couple of floors before the game ended, which was about two-three hours left. This comes also from the actual designs the areas had before, with plenty of traps, secret rooms, and locked doors that needed the correct lever to be pulled, without it ever feeling like padding. There are also three different side quests you can tackle from three townspeople, with one being finding an artifact, another has you fighting giant monsters, and the last will take you to a randomized dungeon. Because of the sheer amount of entertaining game-time I had in general, it is hard to be too critical towards this game. Exploring and building up your character is engaging and the amount of carnage and intensity that comes with the huge amount of enemies is always entertaining, even if repetition sets in late-game.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Dungeons of steamwonders
Set as a more fantasy-world mixed with steampunk technology, Torchlight shines with strong and beautiful colors, big character-models, and houses that spread the higher they go, similar to an old cartoon. The artstyle makes every character and area more memorable, but this also comes from the caves themselves with each floor having a stronger theme to them. The hall of dwarves are constant with technology and old ruins, the old forest is a green garden with critters jumping around, and the first cave shines in purple thanks to all the ore you can find there. Each floor conveys huge background and details, such as statues, equipment, fallen adventures, and a personal favorite: the big drops downward in certain areas convey a feeling of dread, like looking down from a tall building and being drawn to the ground. It is incredible how small these caverns can make you feel.
This also goes for the combat, as there can be a huge amount of enemies and seeing your attacks shatter them into literal pools of blood is always satisfying and enjoyable. Even their simple animations for staggering and dying are impressive, with their bodies lying on the ground and not disappearing for a while. Every creature has some unique design to them while still paying tribute to traditional monsters, making them memorable and intriguing. Tree-monsters have a cute angry face, some goblins will explode upon your arrival, and the spiders are actually adorable furry creatures, to name a few examples. I love how these monsters pop up from backgrounds, like spiders crawling out from the sewers or the dwarven machines coming from hidden rooms, making the world feel more alive and dangerous. The enormous boss fights are also a fantastic treat with plenty of devastating attacks and countless monsters appearing.
Your character as well conveys great animations for attacks, with visual-effects always making you feel powerful and deadly. The vast amount of equipment will also be shown on your character, which can make you easily choose an armor based on looks over stats itself. To give you another idea of how well this game looks, you can have a 360 view of your character at any time and it looks so cool even if you are not doing anything specific thanks to the designs alone
Though this is a fantastic looking game, the caves are guilty of copy-pasting areas thanks to its randomization of level-design, but are set up as believable constructions despite this, such as altars or tombs. Also, while this is not a big issue, I wonder why we can’t customize our main-characters more than just naming them, they have little significance to the story themselves, and the game is about the vast amount of customization both to the gameplay and equipment. These are minor issues that only make me wonder than really complain though.
Then there is the soundtrack and we return with the same composer from the Diablo-games: Matt Uelmen. Matt conveys a similar mood he created for Diablo 1 and 2 with more focus on lonely atmosphere and distance to the world, but instead of creating fear similar to Diablo with fewer notes, Matt adds more to showcase more a heartwarming approach and focus on wonders. The calm guitar and sounds of trumpets give each dungeon its own feel, all adding to the loneliness, but not necessarily dread. Even the town is more peaceful, but still keeps an eerie vibe to it, showing clear inspiration and also wishing to differentiate itself, and it works great with the game’s artstyle and dungeon crawling.
The caves themselves also contain sound effects from water-flowing, creatures growling, lava, and many more to provide a sense of imagination and danger. I also love how much the developers realized the importance of sound effects, with picking up items having different sounds depending on if they are potions or equipment, attacks sounds powerful and diverse, and even small nods such as the Scottish blacksmith referencing Diablo. Voice Acting in general is decent, but not present much, adding to the lonely aspects of this game. It is a wonderful, imaginative, and detailed game.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Going down to the Middle-Earth
After venturing through the caves and beating the last boss, you can still continue on through a limitless dungeon run and see how strong your character becomes with more randomized dungeons and stronger monsters to encounter, with more side-quests to tackle. It is a decent way to venture onwards with your character and see him/her become stronger, but the real replay value comes from starting with a new character. As mentioned above, going for different playstyle and experimenting is always fun, especially after you had your first take on the adventure, but there are two other elements that help this.
First is the ever-popular hardcore-mode where, if a character dies, they stay dead for good. Staying alive for as long as possible is far from an easy task, but a fun one to tackle thanks to the sense of danger. Though the best part is the retirement system, where you will start with a new character and pass down a weapon from one character you beat the game with, which becomes stronger when it happens. It is a nice way to get more connected to your character and make earlier parts a breeze so you can quickly experiment with the game.
Each time you start a new game, the dungeons will have random designs making repetition less of an issue, despite the game not being much about the dungeon-design themselves. Cheat codes are also a fun way to extend replay-value and easy to add. Not to mention modding and creating levels for the game is also a nice and easy bonus, despite the creativity being limited thanks to the game’s straightforward approach. Unfortunately, due to the game’s length and repetitive endgame, you might be tuckered out and rather go play something else. Still, with so much extra, you will have a nice reason to come back a later time, even if there are no multiplayer-options.
Extra Score: 7/10
Torchlight is like high-class junk food. It is addictive, makes you feel good, and while it can seem simple on the outside, there is a lot to this game with character building and customization. Taking more inspirations from the original Diablo and establishing something unique rather than building on Diablo 2 is an interesting approach, but one that worked incredibly well. It can get repetitive, both in main campaign and post-game, and the story is hard to brag about, but it has a great amount of entertaining content, wonderful style, and always makes you satisfied from devastating attacks and character-customization, making it engaging and fun from start to finish. Just don’t binge-game this.