Every so often a game comes along and gives people a nice pleasant tickle in the happy gland. Torchlight, which was originally released in 2009 on the PC, was one such game. A dungeon crawler by nature, the game comes from the designers of the almighty Diablo II and now it’s time for Xbox owners to see what all the fuss is about. Sorry ‘point and click’, but you’ve been given the heave-ho for an all new pad based control scheme.[boxout]The story revolves around the dark and dingy town of Torchlight, a fairly basic place that just happens to be on top of a mine full of a substance known as Ember. This stuff is powerful, and can imbue people or objects with untold amounts of power, so naturally many turn up and start mining the heck out of it. Unfortunately the ground beneath Torchlight plays host to all manner of evil beasties who have now been disturbed and aren’t particularly happy. Oh, and let’s not forget the big bad guy at the very bottom who has been awoken. Oops…
In all fairness Torchlight’s story is wafer thin, told through reams of text and the occasional in-game cutscene. It’s by no means awful though and it links sections together nicely; plus it’s certainly better than a big arrow that just says “go here; loot this; stab that”.
At the start of the game players must choose one of three characters to play as. The Destroyer is your He-man type – kill first, kill later, and if anyone’s left at the end then perhaps ask a question or two. The Alchemist is your Mage type, casting all sorts of spells whilst (probably) feeling like a total bad-ass. The Vanquisher is similar to the Destroyer, albeit with a penchant for ranged weapons. A word of advice; don’t dwell on this decision for too long as so many of the character’s skills overlap that at times you could be playing any one of the three.
Torchlight also gives you a choice of pet. Now I know what you’re thinking, “oh the Fable games gave us pets!” which is true, but the pets in this game are infinitely more helpful. First up they will help you in battle, chewing and scratching, and generally making the enemy’s life a misery. You can also equip them with spells, so a little bundle of bitey death becomes a little bundle of bitey death that can summon zombies. Another handy function is that when your inventory becomes full, and goodness me it will do, you can load up your pet with any unwanted stuff and send him into town to sell it for you, which saves you having to leave the mines. Don’t ask me how a pet manages to not only communicate with the shopkeeper, but actually barter a price as well – I’d rather not know. For information, my pet was a three foot tall lizard I named Joey Jo-Jo. Oh, and before I forget, try feeding your pet a fish and see what happens…
Once all of your choices have been made you can head into the mine beneath the town. It’s here where the meat of the game takes place, and essentially boils down to you going from arena to arena killing everything in sight and looting what’s left, before heading to the next section. It’s here where the biggest surprise occurs; the control scheme actually works! Movement is taken care of via the left stick, and you can map attacks to the controller’s face buttons. The game also has a semi lock-on function which means that your attacks will generally end up where you want them to. It’s really simple, and really intuitive.
To add an element of intrigue to proceedings, items in the mines are randomly generated, meaning that if you play through the game again you more than likely won’t find the same item in the same place. It can drive you mad though, as it did in my case where I found an absolute beast of a weapon with excellent stats, only to find I couldn’t use it as my level was far too low. You have not known longing until you have a shiny weapon of face pulverising death that you can’t use.
Defeating enemies will see you gain experience points, which will in turn see you level up and earn a skill point which you can use to upgrade your character. Those used to branching skill trees with dozens of different upgrades may feel disappointed at the fairly rudimentary upgrade system on offer, however in my opinion there was just enough here to maintain a player’s interest. Certain skills can also be upgraded.
Now it’s worth taking a moment to talk about loot. Oh the loot! It’s everywhere, to the point where sneezing will more than likely uncover a stash of gold. Killing enemies gets you loot; breaking barrels gets you loot; heck, sometimes even just walking into a room gets you loot. Weapons, armour, spells, gold, it’s a fan’s dream – and that’s without even mentioning the secret dungeons you can access. There are so many unique ways to kit out your character, with a plethora of weapons (be it melee, guns, bows) and armour, not to mention accessories such as rings. Stats can be modified on these bits of equipment by combining them with Ember.
This can get overwhelming though, as you are constantly required to access your inventory to check what’s what, and if items you’ve picked up supersedes anything you already have; it’s a time consuming process, and one that’s not helped by quite a clunky inventory screen. There is just so much to try and display that you have to constantly flick back and forth through menus and sub-menus to find what you want. The situation is exacerbated by the addition of your pet’s attributes and inventory list. Sometimes it’s easier to just not bother, although you’ll regret it.
If you get bored of just looting, heading back into Torchlight will see you gain access to side quests to help earn you various items and experience. Unfortunately these are void of any personality as they are just a line or two of text asking you for something. The chance for some interesting character interaction was squandered in my opinion.
Graphically it’s clear that Torchlight was never meant to raise the bar (the PC version could run on a netbook), but character models are detailed enough and on a par with other games you might find on LIVE. The mines themselves lack a bit of character though, and some variety would have been nice. Unfortunately there are some nasty framerate issues that arise when the screen gets busy, and this can prove frustrating.
What’s also frustrating is the lack of any sort of co-op mode. A game like this is begging to be played with friends, tackling enemies and bosses together and combining skills would have made for an epic experience.
- Good, solid gameplay mechanics
- Lots to collect and tinker with
- Awesome pets
- Lack of co-op
- Occasional framerate issues
- Clunky inventory screen
Overall Torchlight is an enjoyable game for fans, and also a good entry point for those curious about the genre as most of it isn’t particularly difficult. The lacklustre mine design is more than compensated by the sheer amount of loot and customisation that’s on offer, and you will find yourself sitting down for a quick session only to be glued to the screen two hours later. Bring on Torchlight II.