Review: Torchlight

The story begins in the small mining village of Torchlight. Ember, a mineral of extraordinary power (and possible corruption) was found in a nearby mine. In fact, it is the largest vein of the mineral ever discovered and now everyone wants a piece of the action. Unfortunately for the would-be rich, evil monsters arose from the depths to attack the community and cease the operation. You, as one of three characters, will set off to find the source of this evil and destroy it.

Your choices for your character are the Destroyer, the Vanquisher and the Alchemist. That translates to using melee, ranged and magic weaponry, respectively. These archetypes give you a package to work within, but you are not pigeonholed into a particular path. Each class has three skill trees (read: specs) to offer a wide variety of abilities and tricks to put up your pixelated sleeve. Besides skills, you also have attributes that affect your damage output (per weapon type) and how much damage you can absorb.

And what would an RPG be without the ability to level up? Kill monsters or complete quests to attain higher and higher levels. Leveling up awards you attribute points and a skill point with which you may appoint to whatever you see fit. You also can earn skill points by attaining fame. Fame is earned by completing quests and killing bosses and champions scattered throughout the floors.

Of course, you can only get so excited about character stats and skills, when what you really care about is the LOOT! Being a dungeon-crawling, action RPG, it’s perfectly natural to think about all the treasure you are going to haul in on your adventure. Armor, gold, weapons, magic spells and ember all await your grubby, greedy little mitts beneath Torchlight. Armor and weapons are broken down into normal, magic, rare, unique, and set items. They are color-coded, have bonuses attached and crazy names like Warming Heavy Plate Plates of the Owl, just like you expect in any modern day loot system. What I was drawn to was the amount of customization you could have with these items. Some items have “sockets” with which to place ember to craft in even more bonuses. You can also get your items further enchanted or even combine items to form (possibly) stronger items. I even have a unique 2-handed bow that I made more powerful by getting another enchantment placed on it and by slotting a very powerful piece of ember.

Ember, the rich, powerful mineral found beneath Torchlight yields both power and corruption. As the hero, you find bits of ember that can be placed into certain weapons and armor to award more damage, more defensive resistance, health regeneration, etc., based on the type of ember you have and what state it’s in. There are positives and negatives to slotting your ember into your items. You see, two identical pieces of ember can be combined into a more powerful piece of ember, and if you slot the ember you can’t take it off without destroying the item holding the ember. On the flip side, you cannot slot a better piece of ember into an item without destroying the ember already placed. Unfortunately, this was a point of contention with me as I collected more and more and more bits of ember in vain attempts at creating the ultimate piece of ember. Half of my individual storage chest is just different types and sizes of ember. It has gotten a little crazy.

The graphics and sound in Torchlight are like a beautifully detailed, mint condition classic car. Timeless and inspiring, the ambiance and overall feel as you play is only shadowed by the details that make up the whole. The graphics are done in a brush stroke fashion, which gives the artists opportunities to focus on characters and set pieces rather than whether or not that chair is realistic looking enough. I did not appreciate the graphics of this game fully until I was temporarily called away around the tenth floor. I clicked the pause button and walked away. During the pause, the camera zooms way in on your character and your pet and rotates in a circle around you. I came back and before un-pausing, I simply marveled at how well-drawn the characters were. From the paws of my dog to the clothing I was wearing to the blades of grass around me, I was in awe for that brief moment. It was then that I realized the constant rotation of the camera was giving me motion sickness, but I digress. It was only after that I began to appreciate all Torchlight had to offer graphically. The lighting effects are superb. The light generated will vary depending on the tile set and what type of room you are occupying. The lighting, along with the animations and special effects, give the right amount of mood to the game. In short, Torchlight is pretty.

Matt Uelmen’s contribution to this game cannot be understated. The music is gives you everything you need as it accompanies you on your journey. It has the perfect blend of intensity and calmness that builds you up without breaking your concentration. I have two pet peeves when it comes to the music in a game: being annoying and jarring transitions. Torchlight does not fall prey to either count. The music feels so seamless, which is huge when you’re putting in this kind of time and effort into playing a game.

The gameplay is a click-fest. If you expected something different from an offering in this genre, you need to reassess your expectations. The controls and User Interface design are easy and intuitive. Click to walk and then click on a bad guy to fight. From the first moment you step into Torchlight, you can easily pick this up and begin your adventure. Runic Games has really gone all out on making this a player-focused experience, especially for the uninitiated to the genre. Unfortunately, this does mean that your control scheme is pretty well set. I would have liked an opportunity to map my buttons to a better layout for me, personally.

In Torchlight, you are never alone. You start the game with a dog or a cat at your side. The pet has a backpack to store items, can learn spells and can wear a necklace and two rings. With proper rings/necklace I have turned my pet into a fireball throwing machine. Another great feature of the pet is the ability to load up your pet’s backpack with items you don’t want and plan on selling. You can then send the pet into town to sell the items for you and return with the proceeds. What makes the pet in Torchlight unique is that there are fishing holes along the way on your journey. When you find a fishing hole, you can stop, play a small mini-game and collect fish. The fish can then be fed to your pet to transform them into another form. This can be a great boon in times of need or even just for fun. The fish types are varied, turning your best friend into one of the many monsters you have encountered along the way. But be wary, friend, because with the benefits of the new form come all the disadvantages attached with that mob.

As with any game, Torchlight is not without faults. The most grievous of these belongs to the pet’s pathfinding. It was unbelievably frustrating to be running along and all of a sudden, your pet is nowhere to be seen. Where did it go? Well, when you decided to go down the ramp/staircase to another room full of monsters, your pet decided to get to the place you clicked by going back into the previous room and run itself into the corner trying to run through the wall. This was especially frustrating in the goblin fortress / lava tile set because there are a lot of small and medium sized platforms connected by winding staircases. Having to continuously go back to collect my pet and coerce it to follow me properly broke up the gameplay enough for me to lose my sense of immersion and realize I’m playing a game. This also affects the pet’s trip back into town. If there is another platform that may not even be reachable, the game occasionally will place the pet in that space and the pet has no way of returning to you for you to continue your adventure. You must either send the pet back to town and wait the 90 to 120 seconds again or drop a town portal only to make an immediate trip back. The only other gripe I have would be that I wish there were more quest givers in town. I only had about 4 quests open at any given time, and with my experiences in MMORPGs, I am accustomed to juggling many quest requirements at one time.

Torchlight is a beautifully crafted, polished game with solid controls and addictive gameplay. It is also damn fun to play. Multiple times during my playthrough did I finally have to stop myself well past 3AM from continuing, just so that I could get enough sleep to survive work the next day. Runic Games has given this genre a great big shot in the arm, raising the bar for subsequent dungeon-crawling loot-based games (you know who you are). You can pick up the single-player version of Torchlight on Perfect World Entertainment’s website and Steam for $19.99 and unless you absolutely hate games like this, you will not be disappointed in making this purchase. It is the best bang for your buck in 2009.

Torchlight Launch Trailer

Various disclaimers and addendums:

  • I defeated the “end boss” in approximately 26 hours as the Vanquisher
  • I did not utilize the retirement and legacy features, so that is not in the review
  • There is an MMO planned for Torchlight, yes, but I reviewed only single player
  • I did receive a review copy from Runic Games but I also purchased my own copy on Steam where I finished my playthrough