What do you get when you assemble a development team of Fate creator Travis Baldtree, Blizzard North co-founders Max and Erich Schaefer, and members of the former Flagship Studios' Mythos team? You get Torchlight.
To be honest, Torchlight hadn't originally made it into our fall reviewing schedule, being a budget-priced game in a season filled with blockbuster PC and console titles. Our readers were adamant, however, and after an outpouring of support via our tips email, we decided to give this unapologetic Diablo clone a good hard look.
Set in the mining town of Torchlight, which serves as the player's base of operations, the game sends the player into a twisted underground dungeon network in order to root out a source of corruption that could endanger the entire world. With our trusty pet at our side, we delve into the dark depths of Torchlight.
Loved Diabloriffic Gameplay: If you are looking for a quick and dirty Diablo alternative, this is it right here. Torchlight is your basic click-to-move isometric dungeon crawler, with fast action, randomly generated dungeons, experience points, red healing and blue mana potions, random named boss monsters, and enough equipment dropping to have you clicking on your Town Portal scroll every 10 minutes or so just to unload and restock on Identify Scrolls. It's so unabashedly a Diablo clone that I'd laugh — if the gameplay weren't so enjoyable.
Customisation: Torchlight features a wealth of character customisation options, from talent points granted when your character gains an experience or reputation level, to socketed gems that add stats and elements to weapons and armour, to the random enchanter, who can power up your equipment beyond belief or strip it of your favourite features. Each of the three classes has multiple talent skill trees to delve into, meaning going back through the game with the same class could yield you a relatively unique experience. If you're as big a fan of tweaking little details as I am, then there's plenty here to sidetrack you from the main event.
Man's Best Friend: Each character in Torchlight starts off with either a dog or a cat companion, a feature lifted directly from the Fate series of dungeon crawlers. Your pet follows you on your adventure, gaining power as you do, fighting by your side. By pausing in your adventure to do a little fishing, you can catch magical fish that transform your pet into another creature entirely, making an entirely new set of abilities available until the magic wears off. Torchlight may lack multiplayer options, but you're never quite alone with your trusty kitty by your side.
And a Side of Questing: Torchlight allows you to take a break from the main story line to do a little questing on the side. Certain NPCs grant you side quests, which either involve finding objects in the main story dungeons or journeying into levels created specifically for the quest. You can also purchase dungeon maps from certain vendors, which will give you even more new areas to explore.
The Look, The Sound, of DiabloCraft: The presentation of Torchlight is definitely Diablo meets Warcraft, resulting in a world that's definitely lighter than the dark realm of the former, with elements that seem lifted almost directly from the latter — the first time you run into a goblin riding a steampunk mech, you'll feel as if you just ported in from Warcraft's world of Azeroth. Aiding the similarities is a musical score by Diablo composer and sound designer Matt Uelmen, whose string arrangements bring you right back to the unfortunate town of Tristam.
The Random Item Vendor: I love the Random Item Vendor. He presents you with a list of statless weapons and armour, and only after you pay an exorbitant amount for them will you find out what you just bought. In one instance I walked away with an epic bow for my Vanquisher character (think rogue / ranger), which had me slaughtering smaller trash mobs with a single shot. It's a gamble, but when it pays off it is definitely worth it.
Hated Something Vaguely Evil This Way Comes: An evil force is corrupting the magical ember beneath the mining town of Torchlight, and it's up to you to ignore any story points and go back to mindlessly slaughtering anything in your way. The story is simply a thin excuse to keep the player moving, and not much more than that.
The Random Item Vendor: I hate the Random Item Vendor. He presents you with a list of statless weapons and armour, and only after you pay an exorbitant amount for them will you find out what you just bought. In one instance I walked away with a set of armour that I could never hope to have my character wear without completely forgoing her main attribute to focus on one she had little need for. It's a gamble, and when it doesn't pay off it really bites.
To really enjoy Torchlight you have to accept it for what it is. It's a Diablo clone with bits of Warcraft and Fate thrown in, sure, but when the development team consists of people directly responsible for those titles you pretty much have to give them a pass. Once you overcome the initial shock of seeing just how much familiar material the team has pulled from previous projects, you can begin to appreciate the high level of polish they've given that material, and the proficiency that comes with their experience.
While it would have benefited greatly from a deeper story and a multiplayer component, Torchlight is one of the best Diablo-style games you're likely to find without the Blizzard logo displayed prominently on the front of it.
Torchlight was developed by Runic Games and published by Perfect World Entertainment, Inc. on October 27 for the PC. Retails for $US19.99 on Steam, with a retail version coming early next year. A copy of the game was acquired via Steam press pass for reviewing purposes. Played through the entire story as a Vanquisher, dabbling briefly with the Destroyer and Alchemist classes.
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