You arrive in a somber town, lured by the promises of power held in the town's ember, rumors of the growing darkness, or possibly both. Off in the distance, you see two people struggling to hold off a group of foul creatures.
Thus begins Torchlight, an action-RPG from Runic Games, who were able to recruit many of the same people who worked on both Diablo and Diablo 2. If they had called it Diablo 2.5 and tried to pass themselves off as Blizzard I might have bought the ruse, well initially anyway. The similarities are rather noticeable, almost as if they took both aforementioned games and spliced together what they thought were the good parts. I have to say, if Diablo 3 is anything like this game, then I will be very pleased indeed.
The player takes control of one of three classes, each fulfilling one of three classic roles familiar to veteran RPG players since there have been RPG's: warrior, archer/ranged and mage. Each of the three classes has their own unique skill sets, while all three share the same passive abilities. There are also a number of spells, that any class, up to a maximum of four, can learn and cast. What I found nice is that the skill setup isn't an actual skill tree, ala Diablo 2, and a player if they wish can go without learning a single skill from a group before taking points in the high-end skill. The Destroyer feels like a slight combination of the barbarian and paladin, while the Vanquisher shares stark similarities with the Rogue from the first Diablo, as well as the assassin and amazon from the second game, and the Alchemist came off as a blending of the sorceress and necromancer.
The game takes place in a rather archetypical fantasy setting, with the introduction of very basic level firearms adding a hint of steam punk for flavor. Ember is the source of all magic in the realm of Torchlight, and the towns' miners extract it in its crystalized form from the veins running through the mountain. But a strange corruption has been growing within the ember, and it is up to your character to investigate. The player must guide their fledgling hero down through the monster filled mines beneath the town, acquiring increasingly better swag to outfit with, and grappling with increasingly tougher critters, pretty much the standard RPG fair.
Just like the first Diablo, it is always down, for some reason the game always has the character going further down. That didn't really bother me at all, I am just more so simply curious why they choose to make it that way. Also the game likes to throw large crowds at the player, and something I noticed to be especially true while playing a minion alchemist is things can rather quickly turn into a giant cluster****
I wasn't joking about the whole mad scramble bit!
It doesn't help either that the map only shows the location of your character and the pet, it is very easy to lose track of things in a scramble. A common complaint I heard was how the game, much like Diablo, was a clickfest that abuses the hell out of the mouse buttons. While such has merit, I realized that is a rather silly complaint. Any game that uses the mouse as part of its controls is going to be much the same. I mean you don't hear people complain how most console FPS's involve constant pushing of the trigger buttons
One thing that really pleased me was finally, a game that actually makes money useful. Good items can actually be found in the shopkeeper's inventory. I always find it frustrating to have a character sitting on a pile of money that could fill a house that keeps on growing because all the best items are found, and never show up in the shops. But of course in this case it comes with a cavet. Plenty of gold is dropped in the dungeon, but it is always in very tiny amounts, and the items you sell often don't even net a tenth of what it would take to buy the very same item. Can't make things too easy now can we?
The game also grants you a companion pet, either a cat (lynx) or a dog (wolf), purely an aesthetic choice, and I felt the pet warranted its own discussion point. I found it to be a welcome addition. The pet is capable of learning two spells to aid you in your battles. While I found the pet's power to be fairly balanced, against larger crowds or more powerful monsters I noticed the pet didn't fare all that well. Also, sometimes the minion AI can be thick as a brick. Through the game various fish will be acquired that can be feed to the pet to allow it to transform into various creatures with varying strengths and weaknesses. But perhaps the most welcomed aspect of the pet is the 21 slot inventory it possesses, allowing you to pack mule it, and then send it back to town to sell goods, saving the player a trip back to town.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Torchlight. For me it brought back memories of the days of Diablo 1 and 2 in their heights. The game play was simple and easy to learn, but still challenging enough to be satisfying. One problem I did have was the higher settings can stress and tax all but the highest end systems. I still enjoyed the game quite a bit even if my machine couldn't quite handle the optimal settings, and the spell and skill effects were simply gorgeous. It was an RPG experience that I would recommend to both newcomers to the genre, and to wily veterans. I thought the game had a bit of a retro feel to it that really drew me in.
Bottom line: A fun, all around solid RPG.
Recommendation: It is available on steam for $20, I absolutely think it is worth it, and a free demo is also available from steam.