Runic Games – Torchlight review

Diablo style dungeon-crawling action RPG
Photo of Runic Games – Torchlight

Torchlight makes no bones about what it’s up to. It’s a Diablo clone (produced by some of the people involved in that classic RPG) and a straightforward dungeon crawler. Diablo players will be instantly familiar with the mechanics. Yes, we’re talking furious left-clicking to hack away at beasts while gulping health and mana potions, burdening yourself with loot, then casting a town portal scroll to teleport back into the city to sell up.

Then it’s back through the portal into the dungeon, to slaughter your way further through the labyrinth, until you reach the staircase down to the next slightly tougher level. The maps are randomly generated – aside from key encounters and rooms which remain fixed – and that gives the game more replay value. In theory, anyway.

All this provides a foundation for Torchlight that’s solid, although certainly derivative by nature. It doesn’t help that the random levels use the same pieces of architecture over and over again, and the game re-uses the same environments and monsters quite considerably. But we were in two minds playing this RPG: the first was disappointed at this sense of a lack of imagination, but that was overruled by the second feeling Torchlight generated within us. Namely, that it’s fun; simple, good fun.

Why? It’s what is built on this rather journeyman-like foundation that counts, and the polish lavished on every section of the game. The characters, with three types (warrior, rogue/archer and mage) to explore, each have three specialisation skill trees which makes them very diverse. Each comes with a pet ally, a dog or cat which can be armed with spells it uses intelligently. Fido or Tiddles can also be loaded up with loot and sent back to town to sell up. Very convenient.

Then there’s the interface, which is thoughtfully crafted. Want to transfer items across to your pet’s inventory because your backpack’s full? Simply shift-click and they are automatically whisked across. Hot-key assignment is simple and effective, so for example you can switch between two weapon sets at the touch of a key. Or toggle the ability hot-keyed to the right mouse button by pressing Tab. When dead monsters drop their gold on the floor and you walk near it, the coins are automatically picked up. No need to spend time clicking directly on every pile.

Everything is streamlined and easy to use, with the only spikes of confusion occurring in the more intense fights. The amount of spells, effects, gas clouds and so forth going off in large scraps can make it difficult to tell exactly what’s going on at times. As a result, it’s easy to do silly things such as mis-click and accidentally wander over to stand next to a boss beast instead of casting a lightning spell at him. This is not good for a mage’s health (or the state of his underpants).

Even so, it’s these big fights where you really get to explore the various characters’ diverse range of abilities and possible tactics. Our mage, for example, specialised in summoning multiple pets (alongside our dog), as well as charming enemy monsters to fight for us and then “damage shielding” all these minions with thorns so a mass enemy pack tears itself to bits beating on them.

A further favourable string to Torchlight’s longbow of slaying is the cleverly designed treasure system. As with Diablo, lots of loot constantly drops and you’re always hoping for that rare (or better still unique) item. But there are also added layers on top of this, such as gems that boost the stats of items which have sockets that can hold them. There’s a large range of gems, and multiple stones can be transmuted by a merchant to make more powerful ones.

Another merchant in town sells random magical weapons – a lucky dip stall – and another will perform random enchants on your weapon for a fee (possibly breaking it in the process, though). Torchlight’s loot fruit machine is a compelling one; it’s even possible to “catch” an old boot when using the fishing skill, and it might turn out to be a rare piece of armour which is actually wearable.

Essentially, this RPG is a straightforward beast-basher featuring rather repetitive quests and environments which aren’t exactly brimming with imagination. The central plot is fairly flimsy too, but at least adds some intrigue to drive the dungeon exploration. However, it’s the layers involved in equipping and building your character, and the beguiling lights of the loot fruit machine, which really make this game an enjoyable experience.

Company: Runic Games

Torchlight is basically a slick, refined version of Diablo. It's a superficial hack-n-slash affair, but it's neatly designed in many respects and a surprisingly gripping little RPG.