Torchlight, torchbright, first torch… no, wait, that’s silly
Well, inspired by the wave of positive reviews buzzing about the blogosphere, I picked up Torchlight last night. It cost me $20 and I downloaded it directly from the website. Though others on the forums had complained about very slow download speeds (as I later learned), it went very quickly for me and there was no fuss or bother.
I played for about 2 hours and quite enjoyed it. I should say that I was quite fond of Nethack and Angband and Rogue back in the day, and later Diablo, Diablo II, and most recently TitanQuest. The action-RPG is a genre that I find quite enjoyable in a mindless sort of time-filling way. They aren’t terribly difficult to pick up, but there are always some good tactical choices to be made – easy to learn and hard to master is a fair assessment.
Torchlight is a sterling example of the genre. It reminded me very VERY heavily of Diablo, for good reason (sharing as it does devs from Diablo and Fate). The music was excellent and very evocative, and the graphics were colorful and cartoonish but appealing in a WoW sort of way. The art directors did a fabulous job in establishing a good look and feel for the game that doesn’t require massive video resources. I happen to have massive video resources (dual Radeon 4870s) but hey, it’s nice that hardware isn’t a barrier. There are even graphics settings for netbooks – which is kind of funny and sad but awesome at the same time.
The gameplay is, well, Diablo. It’s easier to mention the few ways it differs than it is to list the many ways it’s (not even based on but identical to) Diablo.
First, you get a pet, which can be a cat or dog. The pet is quite a scrapper and can take a lot of damage, and dish it out as well. You can teach your pet to cast up to two spells, which is fairly nifty. Your pet has an inventory as large as yours, from which it can equip two rings and a necklace (like you) but no armour or weapons. The pet can even run to town and sell stuff for you, which I found to be damned convenient. Finally, you can catch fish at fishing holes in the dungeons, and the only purpose fish serve that I’ve yet seen is to feed them to your pet, whereupon said pet will polymorph into whatever creature is written in the fish’s description. I’ve found fish to turn my kitty into a spider and a gelatinous blob (for a few minutes only)… but I haven’t spent a lot of time fishing yet. This is amusing and probably has uses I haven’t looked into yet, in terms of customizing one’s pet for specific encounters.
A wealth of randomized items drop like leaves, precisely as one would expect, with tiers of usefulness sorted by color. I’ve found a few uniques already and one set item, so even at low levels there’s some very nice loot to be found. Items must be identified with identify scrolls, as usual (and yes, there are town portal scrolls too). Some items have sockets for gems. Items can be combined at a Transmuter, which as far as I’ve seen thus far always yields various gems. I haven’t experimented with transmuting many nice items yet though, so perhaps there’s more to it than that.
Characters belong to one of three classes, and choosing your class, sex, name, pet type, and pet name is all the customizing you get to do initially. I made an Alchemist (male, mage) and it’s pretty much what I expected. There are stat points gained on each level up, as well as skill points one can spend on three skill trees per class, allowing for a moderate amount of customization.
Overall, Torchlight is not revolutionary in any way, shape, or form. It’s however a very solid action-RPG that feels very comfortable, with nice graphics and sound, engaging gameplay, and a lot of polish. I haven’t seen any bugs yet, and it’s generally played very smoothly for me. I didn’t go with Hardcore mode (i.e. permadeath) but did start out with Hard difficulty, having heard that Easy was silly and Normal was still too easy. Frankly, it’s still been pretty easy to me (lvl 8, no deaths, only 3 healing potions and no mana potions consumed), but then I’m playing to my strengths with the build I’ve chosen. I’ll play on and see if it gets harder; if not I might restart on Very Hard difficulty.
Initial verdict: if you like the genre, you’ll like this game. The price is right, there’s no barrier to entry, and it’s just good old dungeon-crawling goodness.