Ever wondered what would happen if you took the best and coolest aspects of your favorite action RPGs and blended them seamlessly into a single title? You’d probably have something a lot like Torchlight. While there’s very little innovation or novelty here, this gem from Runic Games is easily the best ARPG I’ve laid eyes on in quite some time.
On its surface, Torchlight sounds much like another derivative Diablo clone, and if it weren’t laden with tons of style, polish, and all around fun, it would be. Players choose from one of three character classes, the melee-centric Devastator, the magic-using Alchemist, and the ranged-attacking Vanquisher. There’s a nasty dungeon in town, the world is at risk, and there are scads of monsters (and countless mouse-clicks) between Our Heroes and victory.
Each character has a decent selection of skills available in their skill trees, allowing for some interesting character customizations. As expected, killing monsters nets experience, which translates into increased levels and advances through the abilities. The abilities themselves are typical action RPG fare, with attacks, passive bonuses, and summons. Unlike many titles, there are no progression lines of advancement, only level requirements, so players are not forced down a particular path of abilities to get to the coolest powers. The trees overlap a bit between each of the classes, so it’s quite possible to make a melee character out of the Alchemist or Vanquisher for a change of pace. In addition to skill trees, characters can also each learn up to four spells, which are found as loot or bought in town. The spell selection further allows for increased character customization.
Characters also begin the game with a pet, either a dog or cat, that can lend a hand in the fighting. Additionally, pets can be equipped with rings and necklaces, to give them a bit of an edge. Pets can also learn two spells on their own. I was constantly amused as my companion cat would be summoning a horde of zombies to do its bidding. The AI for the pets is quite good, and I found that mine did a great job keeping me healed when necessary and keeping my undead armies in place. Should you want something a little more impressive than a dog or cat, pets can be temporarily changed into various monsters through the ingestion of some of the dungeon-dwelling fish that can be caught at certain points throughout the dungeon. The quality and type of fish determines the transformation duration and identity.
Pets also act as pack-mules, with a bigger inventory space than the characters themselves. Not only can they carry much of those hard-earned gains, they can also run back to town (although I have no idea how they do it so quickly) and sell off their items, bringing back the money after a few moments. While this is incredibly convenient, as players don’t have to stop grinding through the evil hordes, I did find myself missing the helping paw that my pet lent to the battle.
The dungeon levels are randomly constructed, but impressively so. I seldom encountered any lay-out that I considered strange or out-of-place. There are several different tilesets used, depending on the level of the dungeon, so the atmosphere never grows dull. Levels are littered with secret passages, multiple story construction, and the occasional trap to keep everyone on their toes. Each section of the dungeon has its own style, from the typical dank stone passageways to an underground greenhouse to the fiery depths of volcanic doom.And it’s not only the levels themselves that look great. All the graphics in Torchlight are top-notch. Torchlight sports a cartoonish look, keeping things from becoming too dark and dreary. The various spell and ability effects are solid, and everything runs along very smoothly. In fact, the system requirements for Torchlight are surprisingly low, and can be tweaked to allow players with older systems to have just as much enjoyment as those with bleeding-edge rigs. The audio fares equally well, with solid voice work and a simply great musical score.
And now a word about the loot—Torchlight gets this spot-on. Action RPGs are unabashedly about the carrot-and-stick of finding that next special piece of equipment. The loot drop rate and type seems perfect, not drowning players in too much cool stuff as to make everything ho-hum, and not being stingy, either. There are plenty of magical, rare, and unique items, as well as socketable items and sets. Players can also play around with enchanting item on their own, with its risks and rewards, as well as fiddling with the transmutation aspect.
The main plot demands about 15-20 hours of adventuring per character, and can be done at varying difficulty levels. Once the main story is complete, players can embark on a much deeper (infinite?) dungeon to further advance their character. Should players decide to be done with a character, they can “retire” that character from play and bequeath some bonuses on the next. While many players will complain that there is no multiplayer aspect to Torchlight, I had no problem with it at all. I prefer the solo campaigns for most games, and I firmly believe that many games hurt themselves by trying to shoe-horn multiplayer functionality where it needn’t belong. Still, players can look forward to Runic Games’ upcoming MMO set in the Torchlight universe to scratch that multiplayer itch.
I had an absolute blast with Torchlight, and I’ll be returning at least a few more times to try out some additional character concepts. There’s just a ton of well-done ARPG goodness here. And while I usually don’t comment on the price of the games I review, Torchlight brings all this goodness to players for just $20. That’s an incredible amount of fun for a bargain-priced title. For action RPG fans, Torchlight is a title not to be missed.