Some of you may have heard of a game called Diablo, which was released back in 1997. This dark, fantasy-themed action-RPG was released by some unknown company going by the name of "Blizzard", who we believe may have gone on to big things since (some little project called World of Warcraft, maybe?). One of the games on the horizon for the mega-developer, amongst the likes of World of Warcraft: Cataclysms and StarCraft II, is Diablo III, but how will the series' many fans cope until its projected release in 2011 or beyond? Enter Runic Games, a team primarily made up of people who used to work at Blizzard North on the original Diablo, ready to offer up something similar but different in the form of Torchlight.
Torchlight is a "dungeon-crawler", that classic genre that only seems to suit the PC. The primary reason is, of course, that you control your character using the mouse, clicking to move and attack, and doing so quite a lot. So much, in fact, that I'm sure the genre has claimed many mouse buttons over the years, and Torchlight will be no exception. It's addictive quality makes that clicking sound turn to background noise as you move the cursor over another set of ugly creatures to hack and slash your way through. These creatures range from skeletons to spiders to trolls, and you take them on as one of three classes. The first is the Alchemist, who is essentially a mage, that is, he wields magic and lacks brute force. Not lacking in brute force is the Destroyer who focuses on melee, while ranged attacks are the speciality of the Vanquisher.
The upgrade system in Torchlight prevents you from being too heavily restricted by your class choice. With each new level you gain points to spend on upgrading your attributes, like defence, and also points to spend on spells. You are able to obtain spells from across the classes, although as you might expect, it's easier to get powers that are meant for your class. This means you can create a hybrid hero, ready to take on foes in a whole manner of different ways. This levelling adds to the game's addictive quality, urging you on to kill more evil beings in return for even greater rewards.
In addition to spells and abilities is, as you might expect, the loot. Lots of loot. Many pretty, shiny items to pick up. And some rather dull ones too. Enemies do drop a lot of stuff, and you'll spend a while after raiding a room picking up everything they have dropped, so that's even more clicking, then. You have a limited inventory, and although you can buy and sell when you're in the towns, when you're underground it's all about holding on to the most valuable and useful items. One thing you do get to help with this issue is your pet. You get to choose between a cat and a dog, both of the attack-ready variety, who also have their own inventory. This means you have extra space for your wares, but you can also send your pet back to town to sell items for you, and thus minimise the amount of items that you need to leave behind. Not only are your pets good with loot, but these faithful friends can also hold their own, and fight back when you need them. You'll occasionally need to throw them a health potion, but generally they manage to stay alive by their own, and thus become more of a help than a hindrance on your travels. This is one area where Torchlight manages to break out from the Diablo mould, and it's particularly pleasing to see it has been pulled off so well.
It should be noted that the ugly creatures referred to earlier are deliberately ugly rather than the game being visually poor. In fact, Torchlight does feature a surprisingly pretty, stylised art style, tending to be a bit brighter and more cartoony than your average dungeon crawler. There's humour thrown in to lighten things up and the colour palette contributes to this feeling. There's a lot of detail in there if your hardware can cope with it, but it also scales very well, with a minimum specification that goes right down to a 800MHz processor, 512MB RAM and just 64MB or video memory - that's GeForce 2 era. It means that not only can people with rather old machines join in the fun, but that Torchlight is a perfect game for your netbook - provided you have a separate mouse, that is! Whatever your level of detail, the animation is impressive, with your character's attacks being a particular highlight. The audio in Torchlight rounds off an enjoyable experience. The sound effects are nothing special but compliment the action well, while the soundtrack is actually rather good, and helps keep you immersed in the game.
The most curious omission in the game is the lack of multiplayer. Torchlight is an entirely singleplayer experience, unusual these days, especially in a genre that lends itself well to co-op. In my short time with the upcoming Diablo III I enjoyed the 4-player action very much and it seems a strange step backwards for a title which does so much else right. The reasoning may be that Runic are working on an MMO set in the Torchlight universe which they describe as a "free upgrade" to this title. We'll have to see how that pans out, but for now you'll be playing by yourself, although admittedly having a lot of fun, and with a packed single player campaign, you won't get bored any time soon either.
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