Torchlight is one of those games that you're a little apprehensive about at first. The dungeon-crawling genre has been hacked and rehashed so many times that it can be difficult to distinguish the diamonds from the dirt. Luckily, the same creative masterminds behind Diablo I and II aren't content with resting on their laurels, as they reinvigorate the isometric click-fest extravaganza that gamers have grown to love - thus giving birth to Torchlight.
Gamers are welcomed to a charming and enchanting action-RPG experience that will leave you hooked and itching for more. Slashing and burning enemies is an absolute joy, and at a bargain-bin price of only $20, you really can't go wrong.
Set in the mining town of Torchlight itself, players are first tasked to select from one of three preset character classes, which encompass amalgamations of prototypical RPG fare. First is the Destroyer, who specializes in melee attacks but can also use magical powers. Second is the Vanquisher, who uses ranged weaponry but moonlights as a thief, sneaking about and setting traps. Finally, we have the Alchemist, who is more or less indistinguishable from your run-of-the-mill mage. Despite the apparent simplicity and superficiality of the classes, there is enormous depth to each, and you still get a sidekick to boot.
After selecting the main character, you choose between a canine companion and a feline friend who will accompany you on your journey, aiding in attacks, scavenging loot, and even lugging your undesirables back to town to sell for a quick buck. Your pet will have its own inventory, complete with the ability to don amulets and carry your stuff when you're feeling lazy (or your slots are full). You can also teach it spells to be auto-cast during combat, and even pimp out your pet by harvesting fish throughout the dungeons and transforming it into something a little scarier. The designers did a good job of implementing what is essentially a second playable character, without making the gamer feel worried that either is being neglected. Your pet will fare well on its own, but you'll still need to occasionally drop a potion into its inventory to make sure it doesn't meet a premature death.
Unless you've spent the better part of the last decade and a half living on Easter Island and wondering why the inhabitants built those nifty statues, you're probably familiar with how the game plays, as it follows the lead from its predecessors. It truly is gaming at its simplest: left-click to move your character or attack an enemy (hold it down to keep moving) and right click to cast spells. To keep the high-octane action flowing freely, the interface is appropriately streamlined to allow quick health and mana recharges (you can select shortcuts to appear at the bottom of the screen), as well as balancing your attention between the primary character and the pet.
Gamers may be skeptical about yet another dungeon crawler (and rightfully so, there have been a few stinkers over the years), but this game is just so damn addictive. Click, click, and click some more, the game is the height of simplicity yet also the zenith of fun gaming. Everything that's great about the genre is here, allowing for a refined and enjoyable experience. You can even create your own items by combining gems with weapons or spells, allowing for some unique
Game designers have long since understood the very basic formula that keeps gamers hooked: if you give it, they will come. By constantly rewarding the players with loot -- scrolls with learnable magic, gold coins, and new weapons, to name a few -- players are consistently made to feel that they're always getting just the right amount of stuff to keep things interesting. Torchlight is an excellent example of just the right balance of distributing both the rarities and the essentials.
The areas where some gamers may take the greatest exception lie in stat building and leveling up. The game's ease of approach is both a blessing and a curse. At every new level, the player is awarded experience points that may be used towards four preset categories: strength, dexterity, magic, and defense. Further, the player is given attribute points, which may be used to garner special abilities that are not unique to any particular class. This creates a framework for no class-specific skill tree, essentially allowing players to create a Frankenstein's Monster if they so desire. Some action-RPG veterans may feel shortchanged by the level advancement's simplicity. However, while most cool spells or status bonuses are available to all three classes, each class demands a different level requisite to use them. So don't expect your barbarian to be casting Armageddon-inspired spells before his magic-casting brethren may do so.
The levels are wondrously constructed and feature a multitude of traps and secret passageways. While boasting the appearance of design, the dungeons are in fact randomly generated, making for a unique experience on each play-through. Any prior misgivings about random generation will quickly be forgotten as the game is relatively glitch-free, and an absolute pleasure to visually digest. The action is relentless as swarms of enemies will attack from all sides, ambushing you if possible, or just overwhelming with brute force if necessary. It's rare to be entirely backed into a corner, as the game code creates multiple paths to the same destinations, allowing you to backtrack and reassess your approach if taking on 20 enemies at once seems a little daunting.
While the entire game takes place in the subterranean depths below the town of Torchlight, the environments still manage to vary wondrously in appearance and theme. From your typical murky dungeons, to luscious forests, to fiery pits of torment, the gamer is always treated to unique locales drawn on the aforementioned tile sets.
This is one area where the game particularly shines, as the graphics and character/enemy design range from breathtaking to downright ludicrously silly. Torchlight boasts a highly stylized graphical style where super-deformed characters and lavish baddies roam about confidently and content with the way God made them. This isn't your typical dark and dreary dungeon-crawler, as enemies will sometimes look more humorous than scary, but they will still tear your head off should they get the chance. The cartoon style implements a rich and exceptionally bright color palette, and due to the nature of the beast, will run across an array of gaming rigs. The game obviously looks better if you've got a relatively updated graphics card, but there is even a special netbook mode to allow for carefully crafted compatibility across all configurations. The bare minimum requirements call for an 800 MHz CPU and a GeForce 2(!) video card.
The sound effects are appropriate and not entirely groundbreaking, but the musical score is truly enchanting. Reprising his role as composer of the soundtracks from the Diablo series, musical genius Matt Uelman seamlessly integrates medieval tunes into the Torchlight universe. Never overbearing but sometimes epic, the music, combined with the wonderful graphics, truly immerses the player in the experience. The voice work is also well done and never feels contrived or labored.
A seemingly odd omission (especially for a game in 2009) is a multiplayer mode. This is a single-player exclusive, which may dissuade some from downloading the game from Steam (the boxed version has yet to arrive on shelves). Gamers will have to wait a while before Runic releases the planned MMO based on the Torchlight universe. Conversely, the lack of multiplayer does not detract from the game's overall initial appeal, as it accomplishes all it sets out to do, and does it quite well.
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