Torchlight

8.0 Overall Score

Written by on March 7, 2011 in

My sister loved Diablo ever since I introduced her to the game in 1997. She visited me, but when she came over, it wasn’t  to see her dear little brother, but to lead her Rogue through the dungeons of Sanctuary. Of course, she eventually purchased Diablo II. She will never admit to taking days off from work to play. Nor will she cop to the notion that she eventually developed carpel tunnel because of the game. I just find it a curiosity that she wore a wrist brace for a few months.

Since 2009, PC gamers have had to limber up their wrists to play Torchlight, Runic’s take on the Blizzard dungeon-crawling classic. Here we are, two years later, and console gamers have the chance to experience what gained Torchlight such a following. The basic premise is the same. It’s a three quarter top down view, action role playing game. With plenty of dungeon levels to explore, defeated enemies will drop armor, weapons and other items that I can outfit my character with.

The setting is Torchlight, a steam-punk styled boomtown built around a vein of magically infused ore called Ember. The player, like many other adventurers, have gravitated to Torchlight in search of fame and the prospect of uncovering the secrets surrounding this mysterious mineral. On my arrival, someone named Syl recruits my character to search for her missing mentor in the town’s nearby mine. Action and excitement ensue as I fight my way through the dynamically generated levels.

There are one of three characters to choose from:

The Destroyer is the muscle-bound warrior type skilled in melee combat. He can call upon the Spectral powers of his ancestors to add some magic to his arsenal.

The Vanquisher is the female ranger character who’s specialty is ranged weapons which include bows and firearms. She can also set traps to damage her enemies.

The Alchemist is the magic user archetype who can fire blasts of magic and summon imps and steam-powered robots.

Next, I start with a basic weapon for my character’s class: a sword for the Destroyer, a bow for the Vanquisher, a simple wand for the Alchemist. As I progress through the game, I pick up better weapons as well as gems that can add extra powers or stat modifiers to weapons and armor. Although each class has their their own set of skill trees, they are not restricted from using any of the weapons and armor in the game. There were various occasions where I abandoned my Alchemist’s wand for a more powerful pistol. When foes got too close, I would equip him with a powerful sword.

There is also a choice of pet: dog, big cat and a lizard type creature. But don’t spend too much time deciding which one to choose since their differences are merely cosmetic. Their actual usefulness, on the other hand, is not merely cosmetic. First and foremost, they are capable of carrying loot which is explained later. After collecting items that I didn’t need, I send my pet to town to sell those unwanted items for gold.

To manage all the items, the inventory system has more than one component. A hero’s inventory is limited to fifty items. Next, my pet, who can also carry items, is limited to fifty inventory items as well. This comes in handy because the sheer amount of loot drops quickly fills all available slots. The last inventory component is presented in the form of storage chests located in the town. One chest is for the current character’s stash. Another chest, however, let me store items that can be shared amongst all my characters.

Also in the town are NPCs that trade with you. One sells magic items. Another, weapons and armor. Another will enchant items. All of this seems typical and functional if it weren’t for a game crashing bug with the vendor that removes gems that I installed on an item. If that item is in my pet’s inventory and not in mine, and I select it to have the gem removed, the game will freeze, forcing me to reboot my console.

There are also a few NPCs that will give you optional missions. The main, story-based missions are rather simple to the point of being forgettable. But in this type of genre, story is hardly a prerequisite for a good time. If anything, the paper thin plot offers just enough narrative structure to string the missions together logically.

The meat of the game is in battle.  While the main attack is a simple press of the X button, the remaining buttons and the triggers can be mapped for any spells or special abilities.   In this regard, combat is simple yet satisfying.

On the downside, when my hero is beset with upwards of ten or more enemies, swinging swords and throwing magic, the center of action becomes quickly cluttered. Consider that the in-game screen shows several things:

  • the characters themselves, mine, my minion and the enemies
  • the amount of damage appears above everyone’s heads
  • special statuses like blocked attacks and critical hits
  • special effects from magical attacks
  • loot dropped by foes and the text that identifies said loot

 

Imagine a crowded group of characters dropping loot with text identifiers popping up while other characters are still shooting arrows and fireball with special effects galore.  There are still damage stats popping up with each it, making it nearly impossible to see which direction my character is facing if I could see my character at all. A tactic I learned to use often was to occasionally back away from the fray just to so I could re-orient my hero. The situation would have been alleviated if I had a buddy with me to lend a hand in battle. Unfortunately, multiplayer, online and offline, is sorely missing. Torchlight would seem like the perfect fit for co-op. Alas, it’s not there. Torchlight is strictly a solo experience.

Luckily, the game packs in enough charm to offset its deficiencies. That action is painted with brush strokes that lend personality to the the people and backdrops of Torchlight. The character models themselves are cartoon-inspired caricatures that are a combination of high fantasy and steam punk. Players will see dragons and lizard men defeated by blunderbusses and clanking automatons. The game sports a colorful pallette that creates a more light-hearted mood compared to the dark and dire atmosphere of Diablo.

Sound effects are satisfying. The background music is surprisingly well done with mood-setting, orchestral sets and an acoustic guitar piece that tends to stick in my head in a good way. Voice acting is generally good when its actually done. However, there were times when I expected voice acting, but only got a wall of text. For example, after re-entering the mines after defeating a boss, there is usually a text crawl with voice-acted accompaniment. There were one or two of these segments where the voice acting was completely absent. Although it didn’t break the game, I found it slightly jarring which was a small blemish on Torchlight‘s overall level of polish.

Of course, Diablo wasn’t the last we’ve seen of this flavor of action RPG. The Bard’s Tale reboot with voicework from Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride,Psych), Champions of Norrath, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel being only a handful of them. Torchlight is no less competent, but has the benefit of having former Blizzard folks involved in the project which may be the special sauce that elevates Torchlight slightly above the rest. Although the game doesn’t evolve the genre in any meaningful way, it does do what most great games are known for: fun.

It shirks more realistic character models for brightly colored, cartoon-like avatars. The truly powerful loot is spaced far apart enough to keep me motivated from one dungeon level to the next. The action is smartly paced so that high action is separated by just enough lows to create a nice roller coaster effect from the start of a level until you get to the exit.

When all is said and done, Torchlight for Xbox Live Arcade is a flawed game that still manages to scratch an itch started with Diablo‘s formula.  All I know is that I expect more visits from my sister when she takes days off to play Torchlight on my Xbox 360.

A copy of Torchlight was provided to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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