In the Star Wars novel Darksaber - I swear this story is relevant - a Hutt crime lord decides to build a superweapon. He wants something as powerful as a Death Star but doesn't have the resources of the Empire. So, he decides to build the titular Darksaber - a stripped-down version of the Death Star with the main cannon but little else. If Diablo is the Death Star, Torchlight is its Darksaber. Though not as substantial as the classic action RPG that inspired it, Torchlight still shares its powerful core.
In Torchlight, adventurers flock to a town of the same name in search of great fortune. The town is built upon a rich vein of Ember, a mineral with magical power. They travel into the mines to find treasure and are greeted with armies created by the Ember’s dark influence. The game, then, consists of the player delving deeper and deeper into the tunnels beneath Torchlight and popping back into town to sell their treasures and resupply. It’s a structure very similar to the first Diablo. The smaller trappings like Town Portal and Identify scrolls are even carried over.
However, Torchlight suffers from a thinner plot than the older game – the first sacrifice to be made in the game’s design. The same charge could be leveled at the first Diablo but there were at least hints at a world or story beyond the game. With Torchlight, the developers just don’t seem concerned with this. The main storyline is flimsy and side quests are generally sterile fetch or kill jobs that add nothing to the lore.
It’s okay that the story’s not deep, though, because that’s not the point of the game. Runic Games has focused their attention on crafting the core action RPG experience, which is – simply put – killing and loot. You wade into mobs of monsters, spamming spells and attacks, and then eagerly scoop up the treasure that they drop. All the while, you’ll be leveling up and learning new abilities to let you kill even faster. The process is as old as the genre but it still manages to thrill. The randomly-generated dungeons and loot keep the action novel. It’s a shame that there isn’t a lot of visual diversity among the armor and weapons, though; donning a new item isn’t as satisfying when it looks the exact same as the item you’re replacing. Again, sacrifices had to be made.
The character development system contains a surprising amount of variety. You’re given a choice of three classes at character creation: Destroyer (warrior), Alchemist (mage), and Vanquisher (archer). There’s a lot of choice to be found within those stock classes, though. The Alchemist, for example, can choose to specialize in summoning creatures or simply focus on gaining powerful new attack spells. Points can be spent on either upgrading existing abilities or purchasing new ones, giving you greater control over your skill set. Should you be unhappy with your choices, you can buy a “respec” (at great cost) and redistribute the points.
Converting a game from the PC to consoles can be a nightmare with controls at times but Torchlight translates well. You directly control your character with the left analog stick rather than point and click a cursor. One face button is needed for swinging/firing your primary weapon and another is for interacting with the environment or picking up treasure. The right and left bumpers control mana and health potions. The remaining four buttons can be easily bound to whatever spells/abilities you want. The controls are quick to pick up and work just as well as a mouse and keyboard could. The only complaint I have is that picking up specific items can be tricky – you have to shuffle around on the ground until you’re over the correct item. This is less of a concern for loot though because, well, there’s no one to share it with so you might as well grab it all.
It feels slightly wrong to ding a $15 game for not including multiplayer. I don’t think there’s any question, though, that Torchlight would’ve been substantially improved by the inclusion of at least two-player support. Trading, dueling, and teaming up with players was one of the crown features of the first Diablo. Also, let’s not forget that the game was released back in 1996 – asking a game produced these days to carry a similar feature isn’t unreasonable. Runic realizes their error and plan to include co-op in the sequel. Those of us playing the original, though, have to live with a feeling that a great opportunity was missed.
There are some noticeable omissions from Torchlight. However, these sacrifices have allowed the developers to offer this solid action RPG at a bargain price. You could mourn the missing features if you want but wouldn’t you rather go collect loot?
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Perfect World (PC), Microsoft Game Studios (Xbox 360)