I spent a lot of last week zooming around in Disintegration, which is a fascinating and pretty lovely game. It's lovely because everything in it feels so good, and because - not an insult - there is a warming, comforting Double-A-ness to it in its sparsity and its obvious desire to get the most out of absolutely everything. And it's fascinating because... well.
Disintegration feels a bit like Halo 2 to me, or rather the Halo 2 that might have been. It takes the lovely tree-scattered setting of Halo, the flat metallic heft of the classic Spartan weaponry and the precision staging of the encounters, and it then throws in a big new idea: you scoot around and direct troops in a sort of blend of FPS and RTS. Halo 2's big idea was dual-wielding (and dual leads). Disintegration feels like the Halo 2 we might have gotten if everyone had been more able to explore new ideas - which, given Bungie's background, would also have been old ideas.
Disintegration is made by ex-Bungie people, and in this respect it sort of seems to parallel the work of the team at Runic Games. In Torchlight 2 - the numbers are about to get confusing - we got both another version of Diablo 2, which some of the core team had helped make, and also a glimpse of an alternate version of Diablo 3. Torchlight 2 felt like the Diablo 3 these veterans might have made, the same way that Disintegration reminds me of a mirror-world Halo 2.
Anyway, what's interesting me today is that before all that, the people at Runic made the first Torchlight. And the first Torchlight is Double-A royalty.
I had never thought of it as Double-A before, but what do you know? A small team with experience in big budget development coming together to get the most of their more limited resources. Torchlight is an action RPG, and with the loot and tiles and leveling that means it's as expansive as you could hope for. But it's also very focused. Like the first Diablo there's one town, and one dungeon. You just go deeper and deeper and deeper.
Coming back today the town of Torchlight is wonderfully dinky - a single circle of houses really, with the shops, merchants, stash and quest-givers that you need. But it's the mine to the west where you'll spend most of your time. Underneath Torchlight weird things are going on. And they get weirder and weirder the further down you venture.
This is such a compelling pitch for a game, I think. Hit things, get better at hitting them, get better stuff to hit them with and venture further along the path where you'll find even more things to hit. This is every ARPG in the mould of Diablo, of course. But still. Smashing stuff in Torchlight feels fantastic. The loot you pick up looks great. The three classes blossom into really charismatic classics - I love the Ghost Heavy who can spawn all kinds of spooks - and the tiles! Oh man.
Torchlight's tiles are beautiful, from the mines at the beginning that seem to drop away beneath you intermittently, chunky rock giving you glimpses of the abyss, to later furnace-tinged location and then disco Gothic palaces shot through with turquoise and pink. None of these places are massive reaches for RPGs, but isn't that the point? Torchlight is what you want, what you've always wanted, delivered with the absence of fuss you get from a team who has been doing this for a while and knows what's truly important.
And at the heart of it is your pet, I think. Hardly a novelty in an ARPG, but a beautiful exploration of Torchlight's combination of excess and convenience. Lot of loot in this game, so shouldn't that mean a lot of trips back to town to sell it? Why not give it to your pet to take back to town while you keep on fighting?
This pet reminds me of the thought processes you get from the kind of elderly family member who has lived in their house for so long that they have rigged up all kinds of devices to make life a bit easier. A long stick by a favourite chair for changing channels once Countdown has finished, a pulley system to turn off the overhead light while in bed. Torchlight is hectic, thrilling and comforting. It's a take on the genre from a mirror-world where everything is just a little friendlier and a little brighter and a little bit more willing to make things simple.