Torchlight Reader Review
OK, let’s get this out of the way before the fanboys savage my nipples off. I hadn’t played Diablo or Diablo II before taking on Torchlight, so I’m not going to use Blizzard’s much-worshipped pieces of circle-jerk bait as a point of comparison in this review. Yes, I’m aware that Torchlight’s supposed to be to the Diablo series what a typical Mac user is to the human embodiment of self-obsessed smarminess, but I’d simply never taken the time to delve into the dungeon crawling genre before a temporary Torchlight discount on Steam lured me in like a reprobate at a market stall for fake Manchester United memorabilia. And besides, thought I, in the profound wisdom that belies my junior years, surely jumping into Torchlight without my judgement being clouded my unbridled nostalgia for the franchise that shaped it would allow me to truly gauge its worth as a standalone entity, rather than feeling the constant need to remind everyone how much it resembles its revered forefathers. Either that or I’m just too cheap to buy both products.
So, Torchlight, then. First thing’s first; it’s a dungeon crawler/hack and slash/RPG hybrid set in a fantasy world inhabited by monsters, mages, warlords, prancing elves and everything in between. Basically, it’s nothing revolutionary in the established folkloric canon that the acne-riddled goits salivate over, but why fiddle around with such a proven formula? Similarly, why mess about with an abundance of arbitrarily distinguished character classes when you can simply offer the classic three preset models of warrior, mage and rogue and just get on with the questing and maiming? Actually, Torchlight’s a little coy on this front as the aforementioned classes are named “Destroyer”, “Alchemist” and “Vanquisher” respectively, but the disguise is so thinly veiled that it needn’t have bothered. What really matters is which approach to the art of fantasy-fuelled one-upsmanship you prefer. Here’s a quick guide:
. Destroyer: The “Pop ‘em in the mouth until they stop moving” approach
. Alchemist: The “Verbally mutilate ‘em from a distance so as not to get your pretty face hurt” approach
. Vanquisher: The “Bypass the head-on conflict altogether, sneak up behind ‘em and steal their lunch money” approach
Essentially, what Torchlight comes down to is a series of lengthy quests in which the basic goal is to defeat enemies, pick up loot, level up and then rinse and repeat until becoming the bastion saviour of the realm. It assumes that you’re reasonably keen on the idea of sifting through endless heaps of material goods in order to work out which ones to keep and which ones to sell to the shady dealer in the town square because, quite frankly, Torchlight is nigh on overloaded with collectible weapons, staffs, potions, rings and novelty cookware, almost to the point at which it becomes overwhelming. Chances are that your inventory will fill up rather quickly on your voyages through the game’s sprawling corridors, castles and mines, and it often becomes quite a chore to sift through your wares in an effort to determine which of your dozen battleaxes will slaughter your foes the quickest and which will fetch the most money on the black market.
Thankfully, this is where your pet comes in handy. At the beginning of the game, you get to choose either a dog or a cat to follow you around on your adventures, and you even get to give it a name. Naturally, I chose a cat and called it Jess because Postman Pat is pretty darn awesome. Anyway, not only is your chosen pet surprisingly proficient at fighting alongside you and nibbling at your enemies’ nether regions, but it can also be used to carry some of your inventory and even go back to town and sell it for you in the middle of a quest, easing the strain of your rapidly bulging rucksack. While it may seem a little contrived, it’s actually a very welcome feature that facilitates the profitable disposal of what would otherwise be your useless tat, freeing up space for rarer, hitherto unidentified objects that may later be revealed by using an aptly named Reveal Scroll on them. Again, Torchlight isn’t exactly revolutionising the field of creative naming, but at least it’s clear in what it expects us to do here.
Still, there’s a vital element that Torchlight possesses that lifts it beyond its safety net of familiarity, and that’s the capacity for discovery. The inclusion of items that cannot immediately be identified is an effective developmental tactic that serves to spark the player’s innate sense of intrigue, offering him or her the necessary extra incentive to keep playing and to finally reveal what relics they’ve unearthed. Much like unwrapping a gift on Christmas morning, it’s the tantalising aura of mystery that evokes sensations of excitement, surprise, delight and disappointment in equal measure, before pushing you on in your goal to replicate your latest successful acquisition or rectify your most recent disappointment.
Torchlight also shines in its ability to hook players into its expansive world, with the seemingly never-ending dungeons providing compelling obstacles, goodies and challenges at almost every turn. If you allow yourself to get sucked in by the experience, you’ll probably find that the classic “one more turn” syndrome characteristic of the Civilization series is mirrored in the “one more floor” affliction transmitted by Torchlight’s multi-layered battlegrounds, a winning statement of successful game design if there was one.
Unfortunately, if you’re on the look-out for complex, intricate combat, Torchlight probably won’t satiate your rabid desires. Its scraps are predominantly simple cases of clicking on enemies until they drop dead, interspersed occasionally with one or two clicks on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen to sip potions and cast spells. There’s not much in the way of pulsating, heart-in-the-mouth excitement on offer here, and it’s not exactly helped by the fact that the reliance upon such a short array of spells and attacks becomes so repetitive and one-dimensional that much of the tactical nous required in many other isometrically-viewed games falls by the wayside. To cap it all off, Torchlight takes a leaf out of the book of many contemporary action RPG titles by ensuring that the penalty for death is as lenient as possible, with only a meagre amount of experience points and fame being lost in the unlikely event that you’re bested by your opponents. On the one hand, this removes some of the frustrations often associated with some of the more ruthless titles out there, but, on the other hand, any feelings of tension, adrenaline or even particularly deep thought are stifled to an excessively potent degree.
So, I can’t say from personal experience whether you’d enjoy Torchlight if you’re a devoted follower of Diablo. I can’t even say whether you’ll like it if you’re an aficionado of dungeon crawlers in general. What I can say, however, is that Torchlight is a light, satisfying romp that draws impressively upon a number of established gaming conventions, the majority of which come together to create a reasonably long-lasting and fulfilling experience. You shouldn’t expect a reinvention of the wheel, but what you can expect is a wheel that works exactly as a wheel should: smoothly and in a way that gets the job done.