Torchlight, the time-devouring new roguelike action RPG from Runic Games, is good. Like, really, really good. Ideally, you would take me at my word, and I could go back to tracking down Earthreaper the Cruel on the nineteenth floor of the Tuatara Ruins. But apparently people will start making noises about "journalistic integrity". (*snort!*) So this review is going to talk about stabbing, monsters, treasure, fireballs, all the rest of the addictive awesome inside Torchlight, and why you should be playing it now.
As it happens, Torchlight is the name of the town the game is set in. A tiny little village with a rather robust mining community, all built upon the discovery of Ember, a mystical ore with rather... unique properties. When monsters begin swarming out of the mine, it seems like the perfect opportunity for an adventurer such as yourself to make an appearance. At least, that is, until you discover that it might be unhealthy for you to leave even if you wanted to. Luckily for you, with the randomised dungeons, endless monsters, and tons of treasure, why would you want to?
There are three characters to choose from when you start the game, but nobody really has an advantage over another, so feel free to pick whichever strikes your fancy. Sink enough strength points into the agile Vanquisher class, and she'll be able to swing for the fences as well as the Destroyer. You'll navigate your way through the world with the mouse; clicking on a location makes you run there, and holding the button down will keep your character moving in the direction of the cursor. People, items, and, yes, monsters, can be interacted with simply by clicking on them.
Those of you looking for a game with deep, tactical combat are probably going to have to keep looking. Despite making up the lion's share of the gameplay, combat in Torchlight consists of clicking once on a monster to hit, or holding down the button until the monster is dead, or you need to run away. You'll be able to get various spells and special abilities you can bind to hot keys, and upon death monsters drop not only items and gold, but experience and fame. With enough experience you can level up to allocate new skill and stat points, and with enough fame your renown spreads and you'll be able to get more skills. Which you'll need, since the game's randomised dungeons and monsters means it's hard to be prepared. Luckily for you, you've got a kitty cat!
Or a puppy dog. After all, what hero-in-training doesn't go everywhere with his or her fluffy companion? You can choose between a cat or a dog upon starting the game, and while the choice is largely a cosmetic one, you're probably going to become pretty attached to your four-legged friend. Not only can your pet be a valuable ally in battle, you can equip it with rings, teach it spells, use it to carry items when you run out of room in your own inventory, and — are you ready? — send it back to town to sell off whatever you don't need while you keep adventuring. In a short time, your pet will be back by your side, returning with the gold value of the items it was carrying. Sort of makes you wonder why you can't send it off with a shopping list and a sack full of gold when you get low on healing potions, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? Uh. Cat. Dog. Whatever! Love him and pet him, or fish up some strange sea creature to feed to him and watch him change into something else temporarily.
While the visuals in Torchlight are bright and colourful, not everyone is going to appreciate how cartoonish they are. The exaggerated designs for characters and enemies are actually very well done, but zooming in makes them look a little square and blocky. Of course, this does mean the system requirements for Torchlight are pretty low, and you'll spend enough time admiring the vibrant surroundings and extravagant spell effects that you probably won't care about the very minor graphical downgrade compared to other titles. Besides, you know what Torchlight has that they don't have? Tons and tons of fun.
Analysis: While I love rich, compelling stories and intricate gameplay as much as the next person, every once in a while all I really want to do is play a nice roguelike/action RPG game for a few (million, billion) hours. If you too share this feverish compulsion, you'll be happy to know that not only does Torchlight fulfill it, it does so well enough that it was only with genuine reluctance that I pulled myself from my dim den, squinting resentfully into the monitor to type this review.
It's not because I wound up deeply invested in the story. Sure, you're given a reason to be descending deeper into the dungeon, and they do try to impart a sense of urgency, but it just doesn't hold up. You spend so much time rampaging through hordes of beasts that your occasional interactions with characters when you come up for air to sell items almost wind up feeling out of place alongside the rest of the gameplay. Sure there are a few other sidequests you can take on, but they involve getting more treasure, or slaying bigger monsters. If that sounds like fun to you, (and it is) then you'll probably have a blast with Torchlight. But if you demand a more potent sense of fantasy and deep story to drive you along, you may be disappointed.
Speaking of disappointment, while we're here, let's lament the lack of multiplayer. Join me in my plaintive chorus, won't you? Yeah, I know, Runic Games is planning an MMO set in the Torchlight universe, but, well, that's not what I want. This game is begging to be played with a buddy. Why can't we have two or even three person co-op play for the campaign? Why can't I have someone to pound fists with over the fallen remains of our foes? Sure, the single-player campaign will probably keep you busy for a good long while, but there is going to come a time where you'll stumble across some treasure you won't use. You know, a wand, or maybe a bow. And you'll think about how your friend, Bob? How Bob loved bows. And a single lonely tear will trickle down your cheek.
But even lacking buddy capabilities, Torchlight is still easily worth the price tag, offering up hours upon hours of playtime, and a lot of replayability. Once you've got the hang of things, try out the punishing Hardcore difficulty, which represents a whole new challenge. Or just keep going deeper into the infinite dungeon available until you become an unstoppable war machine, like dear old ma would have wanted. It's incredibly satisfying to see a mob of enemies go zinging across the room from a fireball, or to see one explode into messy chunks from a critical hit. There are unique items to track down, entire sets of armor to assemble, and much more.
So, is Torchlight Diablo? Only in the sense that Diablo has almost become a genre in itself. Calling something a "clone" to me implies that you might as well be playing the original because they're identical, and I feel Torchlight manages to stand on its own nicely. The influences are obviously there, and you'll probably also recognise a little Divine Divinity in Torchlight's gameplay, but the game itself is just pure fun and a wonderful homage to those that have come before.
If you enjoy action, adventure, and, oh yes, treasure, then Torchlight probably has a lot to offer you. With addictive gameplay, a dedicated development team, and the upcoming editor that will allow you to make your own modifications to the game, Torchlight offers a lot of bang for its respectable buck.