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Monday, August 9, 2010

PC Game Review - Torchlight

I finished playing Torchlight last night, yeah that hot new release of 2009 but hey I'm a little behind!

Torchlight for those who may not know is from Runic Games. The Schaefer brothers who helped design Diablo 1 and 2 and Travis Baldree who worked on Fate along with the team who worked on Mythos make up Runic games and the games from their past show through in Torchlight in a big way. Taking aspects from Diablo and Fate you get a very enjoyable dungeon crawler at a budget price but it does have issues that keep it from being a perfect game.

At the outset of Torchlight you choose a character class. The Destroyer which is basically a warrior, the Alchemist who is the games magic user and then the Vanquisher who is a ranged archer type class. Each class has the standard RPG like skill trees for developing your character and like WOW you have three to choose from. At the start of the game each character is better than the others in a certain ability like the Alchemist being better at magic. But depending on how you spend your skill points you can have a Vanquisher swinging big swords instead of using bow or a Destroyer with a big mana pool casting all kinds of spells. It isn't really in your best interest to play like this but to each his own.

The game controls like any other Diablo clone. You move a mouse cursor on the screen and click where you want to go then click on an enemy to attack. The left button handles your movement and one attack while the right button is set to another skill and can be swapped with the TAB key to be something else. In my playthrough I found I only needed my basic attack on the left button and the Destroyer's first special attack on the right. You also have the standard 1-0 number keys for some hot hotkey action. Potions, spells and other skills can go here, I used the 1 and 2 keys for health and mana potions with some random skills on the 3, 4 and 5 keys. Overall the controls work well having come from people that made Diablo I'd expect nothing less than perfection in this type of game from a control stand point and we have it here.

The game starts you out in the town of Torchlight. You've arrived to find a battle going on near a mine, you help out then you get sucked into the overall conflict. Some demon is coming up from the dungeon and you've tasked with going down the various floors to stop it. It's a very basic story very reminiscent of the first Diablo but instead of Diablo it's Ordrak. It isn't really anything special but it does the job.

Once in Torchlight you have various vendors to trade with. Weapons, items and magic vendors we've all seen before. You have am enchanter seller who will enchant any piece of equipment for a price, a gambler who sells unidentified mystery equipment which will be revealed to you when you make the purchase. Transmuter guy will combine various items to make them more powerful and finally you have the gem recovering vendors. One will destroy the gems in a socked weapon and the other will destroy the weapon to get your gems back. In the middle of the town you have your stash and then north of town you have a shared stash. The shared stash is interesting. You can place items in it for other characters. Since Torchlight is only a single player game this seems to be a way for characters to trade rarer items with each other even though you're just trading with yourself. I don't think characters playing on different difficulties can trade with each other so make a point of that before you decided to give a bunch of Very Hard loot to an Easy playththrough character.

Speaking of difficulty this game isn't very hard but can destroy you, I'll explain. If you've ever played a game like this do not play on easy or normal play on hard as it goes to the easier side. You will have some trouble at first but a couple levels and some loot you'll forget you're playing on hard. That is until the last set of floors. The game gets down right masochistic near the end. I was so shocked by the jump in difficulty I didn't know how to handle it. I'm not sure if I wasn't specced right or if my gear was bad, I died about 5 times earlier in the game and about 20 times on the last set of floors. The last boss is a good challenge and in the age of gaming where bosses do not exist it's good to see a nice long final boss fight. You also have a very hard mode to play on and you can check the Hardcore option for any difficulty level. Hardcore is like Nightmare mode in Diablo, when you die you can't resurrect and you see you character as a ghost on the character select screen for all eternity. I'm planning on doing a hardcore run in the future so I'm looking forward to the new challenge of that, I may even do it on Very Hard to really test myself.

As with any game of this kind of any RPG in general what you care about is the loot and this game has tons of it. Weapons and items drop all over the place with many being unidentified for which you will need a Identify Scroll (game has Town Portal Scolls too, yay Diablo!) or the spell that does the same thing. With all this loot my only complaint was I wasn't really getting better stuff at a good pace. I'd find a very good weapon or piece of armor every now and then, then I'd get a ton of things that were just crap. This is a major gripe for me but a lot of times the quest rewards are things you can't use. I played as a Destroyer and most of my quest rewards were for Alchemists and the Vanquisher. I may test another class to see if it's like this for all of them but it was kind of crap. Cater at least the quest rewards to me class. In a game without multiplayer that way they do it makes no sense, hell even if it had online it wouldn't make sense.

As you adventure in Diablo your pack gets full with all this loot and you need to drop a Town Portal and head back to sell it all, but not in Torchlight. You have a pet, either a dog or cat you choose at the outset. Your pet has an inventory and when you need to sell stuff give it to said pet and you can order them to go back to town. After a few minutes they'll come back with your money. It's a great feature in a game like this. I wish someone had thought of it a long time ago. Your pet also fights along side you. The pet can be equipped with two rings and a necklace for stat boosts as well as two spells. I had my pet dog casting fireballs and summoning flaming swords for most of my adventure. Near the end I swapped the fire sword with a summoning of Skeleton Warriors and it was really cool.

Torchlight is also a pretty good length another thing we don't see in todays games. I played through on hard and exploring every part of the main dungeon and doing a few side dungeon floors I spent about 20 hours playing it. It has achievements for beating the game in under 8 and 5 hours so I imagine if you rush you could blow through it on easy in this time. After you beat the main quest you're taken back to Torchlight and you can continue the adventure. After killing Ordrak you open the Shadow Vault which is an endless series of random floors. New quest become available and it's pretty cool to be able to keep going with your leveled up guy. The new floors were not as hard as the end game while having similarly leveled enemies leading me to think it's a balancing thing near the end of the main quest and not a lack of skill or gear on my part. Once the Vault is open on one character it's open from the start for any others you make so leveling and new gear opportunities are there for any new guys you start. I wasn't sure I'd go far into the Shadow Vault when I was done with the game but I'm still having fun with it and I've found some really good gear in the first few floors. If you do not want to keep adventuring with your seasoned character you have the chance to retire them at the end also. When you retire a character you can give one item to a new character which will increase some of it's stats but it's up to you if it's worth it. If you're looking to get all the Steam achievements in this game it mandatory as you'll need to do it a few times to get all the achievements associated with retirement.

Diablo 1 was such a new experience to me I loved it, Diablo 2 was the first game I ever stayed up all night playing and didn't get any sleep from. The last game of this type I just fell in love with was Dungeon Siege. Torchlight is a good game at a good price, you can get it from Steam or the official site for 20 bucks. There is a retail release and I think it's also 20 but I'm not sure. The good things about this game make overlooking the negatives very easy to do. As a first release from a studio and a budget game at that Torchlight is well worth the money, if you like adventuring alone. Those looking for multiplayer need to look somewhere else, but anyone looking for a fun to play dungeon crawler need to stop here and play some Torchlight.

Torchlight, available on the PC and Mac 8 out of 10

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