On this theme of no-time-wasted, most boldly but most disappointingly, the game is one, long, linked dungeon. All of Torchlight's killing and collecting happens in a multi-level dungeon beneath the titular town, theoretically plunging forever downwards, but never quite feeling like you're going anywhere. You don't need to roam the world to find anything, and you certainly can't get lost. Yeah, there are optional dungeons you can access for side-quests, but they're instantly teleported-to and recycle art assets from the main questline.
Yer proverbial double-edged sword, this. +18 vs critical indecision and all that. This insta-uber-dungeon means you're always straight to the fight, but it also emphasises the inherent hollowness of the game. You can't pretend you're in any sort of real world, fighting any sort of meaningful fight. There's a superficial sham of a narrative about some dude being possessed by some thing and presenting some danger, but it barely even tries to make you care. All it amounts to is a brief cut-scene every 10 or so levels of dungeon, before you carry right on with your fantasy genocide. Against, well, Diablo, it's a kind of relief - draping a pretence of grit and purpose around something that's only really about watching numbers get bigger is openly ludicrous in a lot of ways.
However, most of us do feel a whole lot better about this repetitive, crazy thing we're doing if someone is telling us it's ultimately for some greater good. I merrily lost double-figures of hours into Torchlight, before catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, so to speak, and thinking "what am I doing?" It had been several hours since I could honestly say I was enjoying myself, and while it certainly hadn't lapsed into anything like dislike of the game, it was by that point only some strange, almost inhuman compulsion that was keeping me playing. "Just two more levels and I can wear that hat I found an hour ago..." Immediately, I wanted another hat.
But I definitely had a good time for the first, ooh, six hours. A great time. My cat can summon zombies! The spells and weapons are agreeably unhinged - everything exaggerated in size, appearance and, to a point, damage. Nothing is taken seriously. And it does sustain this past the double-figures of hours mark - come level 25,my Alchemist character was followed around by a loyal army of six imps, two golems, a floating death-crystal, the cat, the cat's three zombies, and as many skeletons as I could be bothered to temporarily hotkey into existence. It's a game that really, really wants you to kill a lot of stuff. But I did get bored. The idea of playing it again now is almost sickening to me, after the absurd binge of the last few days - but I'm quite sure I'll come back to it, most of all because developer Runic is planning to expand it from its current single-player form into a quasi-MMO, and to add a glut of modding options to further ensure every player sees and kills different things.
As it is, dungeon levels are randomly generated the first time you enter each. I didn't feel this made any meaningful difference personally, but I suspect I would have a greater sense of New! second time of playing. I'll also have a more challenging time, as I made the now-infamous mistake of playing on Medium difficulty, wherein everything's just a bit too easy. Just one difficulty level up and there would be sustained challenge, and therefore probably heightened interest at the later stages. Alas, it's not possible to change difficulty midway through (though fans have discovered a hacking method to achieve this), and I really, really, really don't want to start a whole new character after this many hours.
So, it's the best Diablolike since Diablo II, and a very real rival to the upcoming (at an unspecified point, God-blinking-dammit) Diablo III. Even though there is nothing new or truly unique about Torchlight, nothing at all, that it so confidently and prettily takes the fight to Blizzard is an enormous compliment about how well put-together this is. Yeah, it gets old pretty fast - but it's also only Ł15. You'll definitely get your money's worth. And that's even before the MMO stuff turns up. But, by Christ, my hands hurt, and my brain is squealing for stimulation. I've had a whale of a time, largely - but I desperately would not want to put my body through these few days of unblinking kill'n'collect again any time soon.
8 / 10