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With the announcement of Torchlight II, there’s no better time to get into the original. Torchlight is an action RPG with one hell of a pedigree – designed by Travis Baldree (Fate), Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer (Diablo and Diablo II) and the team behind Mythos. It’s no surprise then, that the game is of a very high quality. Players take control of a preset character class – Destroyer, Vanquisher or Alchemist (roughly soldier, ranger or mage in generic terms). You then choose a cat or dog to keep you company and you’re ready. Your adventure starts in the town of Torchlight, situated above a complex cave network. In the rock around Torchlight is a magical substance known as ember, and the mysteries surrounding this element provides the meat of the storyline.
Torchlight is, explicitly, an action RPG. Things like character and story take a definite backseat to other elements of RPG gameplay: slaying and looting. There is still a storyline, of sorts, though it’s more of a mystery which gradually unravels. It’s most definitely not what’ll draw you into the game. You’ll have a character to build, but only in terms of leveling up – there are no conversations or choices here. Much like typical RPGs, each time you gain an experience level, you’ll be prompted to allocate a number of points between several stats – namely Strength, Magic, Dexterity and Defense. Anyone who’s played an RPG will feel right at home, and anyone who hasn’t will pick it up with no problem.
However, the biggest aim of the game is looting. There’s slaying too, but mostly you’ll be causing destruction in order to get the treasure afterwards. The developers know their subject perfectly – there are frequent loot drops, but it’s always sparing enough to keep you playing just that little bit longer. As in traditional RPG’s, there are quests for you to complete. However, the range of quests is not great; they will involve you either killing a specific boss, or finding a specific item. This may be offputting for some, but since this game is all about gaining experience and loot, this is what the quests get you. In a way, this shows up how uninventive so many RPG’s are; most RPG quests involve finding someone or something. In Torchlight, the story surrounding it is stripped back, just padding.
That seems to be one of the aims of Torchlight; to strip back the over-bloated RPG template to create something far simpler and, ironically, more fun. The simplified gameplay contributes to this, but the masterful interface allows the player immediate, effortless control. Left click moves and attacks, right click casts spells and skills. You have a number of hotkeys; assigning and using them couldn’t be simpler. Your health and mana are clearly displayed. The only limitation is being limited to two spells or skills to alternate between, though in a way this just keeps things from getting cluttered. You’ll get a lot of loot very quickly, so your pet’s extra inventory space will be very helpful. You won’t even need to carry everything to a store to sell it off to make more room – just send your pet with a click of a button. Simple.
The world of Torchlight is brought to life beautifully. The dungeons are randomly generated, but they don’t feel random or fractured. They are populated with plenty of enemies to kill, but little details like rats, frogs or snakes scuttling around truly bring the world to life. The visual style is a little cartoony, obviously owing a great debt to WarCraft. This makes the game very easy on your hardware – Torchlight looks great even running on a two year old laptop. Those with the hardware will get the benefits of anti-aliasing and high fidelity effects, and it looks great. Not only does the game look gorgeous, it sounds gorgeous, too. The score comprises epic orchestral cues, lonely latin guitars and gentle pianos. No matter which it is, it sounds great and is completely appropriate. Torchlight is a joy to listen to.
Torchlight is a great little game, and if you’ve been considering it, then go for it. It’s incredibly playable and addictive, as well as charming. It’s great to play an unashamed game, without all the attempts at cinematic storylines, cutscenes and characters; just a world to inhabit and play in. The lack of quest variety, story or characters seems like a major shortcoming at first, but in the end is just a streamlining of the traditional RPG system for maximum playability. The only glaring omission from the game is multiplayer – everything is set up perfectly for co-op gameplay but, alas, it’s not to be. However, multiplayer is already confirmed for Torchlight II, so fear not adventurers: party based looting is just over the horizon. If the sequel is half has endearing as Torchlight, it’ll steal away the hearts and evenings of many gamers.