Game Review: Torchlight
“Torchlight” is an excellent action RPG that offers one of the most inexplicably compulsive and cathartic experiences to grace PC gaming since the “Diablo” series. This should be no surprise, given that developer Runic Games is home to the co-designers and composer of the original Blizzard franchise. Unabashed in its ambitions, “Torchlight” both riffs off and rips off the classic dungeon crawler formula but streamlines the experience to the point where all other games in the genre seem archaic. In its rush to make the game eminently Playable, with a capital P, Runic has let the story fall by the wayside. The town of
Tristram Torchlight, or rather its mine, is filled a terribly evil substance called Phazon Ember that both empowers and corrupts those around it. You play as a Barbarian Destroyer, Amazon Vanquisher or Sorceress Alchemist who is recruited to dive into the mine and cleanse it of corruption. It’s very standard fare, with no twists at all, but it provides the player with enough reason to fight his or her way to the final floor of the mine.
Even with a story, there’s no hiding the fact that “Torchlight” is a game about left clicking interspersed with right clicking for 20-odd hours. Thankfully, Runic has crafted a game that makes almost every click feel like an assault on the senses. Enemies explode in bursts of colorful, cartoony gore when hit with a critical strike. Almost every skill shoots ridiculously bright tendrils of lightning or wreaths of fire, and each area-of-effect attack shakes the screen so much you’ll swear the mine is caving in. A large part of the reason “Torchlight” is so enjoyable throughout its entirety—probably millions of clicks—is because clicking away always feels indescribably right.
Another area that “Torchlight” absolutely nails is streamlining the inventory haggling associated with all dungeon crawlers. Its best feature, by far, is the pet system. The player has a choice between an adorable dog and a, er, less than adorable cat for a companion while dungeon crawling. Not only does the pet attack and cast spells on its own, but it also has its own inventory that can be filled with rubbish not worth keeping. Best of all, one click and my doggie Optimus scurries to town to sell all the crap I’ve stuffed into his cute lil’ backpack, returning a minute later with cold, hard cash. While it may sound like a small addition, having a pet cuts down on inventory management and trips to town; meanwhile, the player can focus on exploding minions.
Polished as it may be, “Torchlight” still falls short in several areas compared to its peers in its genre, including the red, devil-horned elephant in the room. The hit detection is sometimes spotty, meaning your character will sometimes run to your cursor instead of attack. The game unfortunately falls prey to the sense of repetition that comes from clicking for hours at a time, and this problem is exacerbated due to the entire game taking place in a single deep mine. Though the tile-sets and scenery change every few floors, I still felt that the mine was an overly claustrophobic location in which to set an entire game.
And now we come to the deal breaker for many people: “Torchlight” is single player only. There are no online features or local network play. While a vast number will stick to their Battle.net guns and cry for co-op support, Runic made the decision not to include multiplayer so that it could ship the game in under a year. For now, take solace in the fact that the developers released a powerful editor for their game, meaning that there are hundreds of mods out there. From balance tweaks to new classes to entire campaigns, taking advantage of the community’s efforts means you’ll get plenty of mileage out of “Torchlight,” regardless of multiplayer.
Despite its flaws, “Torchlight” is streamlined in a way that other games can only dream of (see: “Borderlands”), and it’s simply fun to play. Its stylized, exaggerated graphics are easy on the eyes, and it has such low-enough system requirements that it’ll probably run on a can of beans provided it has enough beans. Though it has been available through digital distribution services since late October, “Torchlight” was released to retail in January and should be sitting on store shelves now. Whether you’re beaming it down or snatching it up, at $20, “Torchlight” is well worth your time and money.