Rounding out our reviewerâ€™s quartet of recent Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) titles is an action role-playing game (RPG) from developer Runic Games, whose first title, Torchlight, has already enjoyed a long outing on the PC. The game is notable for both its popularity and the dubious honour of hitting the pirate sites very early in its release, with a significant loss of revenue opportunity - despite being a very reasonably priced title when it hit the shelves. This was a shame, as the developers deserved full credit and income for delivering a well polished title. The game is now available for download on XBLA and we were curious to see how well it has ported from the PC platform to the consoleâ€¦ and whether it is worth laying down 1200 Microsoft points (about $24).
The creative minds behind Torchlight were also involved with Fate and Diablo, so their pedigree and experience speaks for itself. No surprise, then, to discover aspects of both titles in this game, which delivers a (3D) isometric view dungeon romp through randomly generated tunnels and caverns, populated with hordes of monsters and tons of loot. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but in the context of this game it is paying homage to the ideals of easy and entertaining gameplay, with just the right balance of action and role playing that featured in the Diablo titles.
The gameâ€™s setting is the mining town of Torchlight, where the gold in them thar hills is replaced with ember, a valuable ore which can imbue items with magical power, and around which the main quest revolves. Torchlight is your base of operations, and your character will return there to obtain quests, buy and sell gear, and play around with transmuting and enchanting objects for fun and profit.
There is no complex character creation involved; you are presented with three character choices and three pet options. Each will appeal to different playing styles, with the Vanquisher (warrior) best suited to melee combat, the Alchemist (mage) having ranged and AOE spells at his disposal, while the Destroyer (ranger) relies more on missile weapons and traps. All three have their benefits, but to be successful in the game requires you to develop some early choices on where you invest skill points, and the type of items you equip.
The skill trees are pretty basic, but youâ€™ll have to make some important decisions on where to invest. There is no cap on how many points you can place in each skill, and while it can be tempting to try and work your way up the tree as quickly as possible, you can easily render most of the benefits obsolete and ineffective if you donâ€™t match the skill points to the level you are playing at.
Items are a huge draw card within the game, and thereâ€™s no lack of goodies dropping as you kill off the dungeon-dwelling nasties. In addition to the bog standard stuff, youâ€™ll pick up magical, rare, uniqueâ€¦ and even socketable items, which allow for a certain level of customisation. The promise of set items will drive you to clear every monster on a level before advancing to the next, rather than risk missing out on a choice drop.
The limitations of your backpack soon become evident, but the solution lies with your faithful pet. In addition to assisting in the fighting â€“ even learning spells to do so - your pet also acts as your trained pack mule. At your command your pet will nip back to Torchlight to sell off your loot, before returning to your side. This feature allows you to quickly realise your profits without having to head back to town in person. If you are lucky, you can also encounter random merchants inside the dungeon. It pays not to think too hard about why any merchant in his right mind would want to set up shop in such a godforsaken place, and just be thankful that he did. Ditto for the fishing holes, which often turn up in the most unlikely of places. Not just a recreational diversion from all the killing and looting, time spent fishing can reward you with magical items, as well as fish. The latter can be fed to your pet, for a temporary-but-entertaining transmogrification.
The dungeon levels are randomly generated each time you pass through an entrance to the next level. This is what makes the game so replayable. For the cautious player, it also allows you to take measured steps. Rather than advancing from the 5th level of the dungeon to the 6th, you can return to town and effectively create another level 5 dungeon, to further increase your abilities before taking on something tougher. The downside of this is that it takes some degree of processing power to generate the new level, and consequently we found the load times between each a little on the long side. Technically we understand this, but as a game it relies on slashing, hacking and general mayhem; while these imposed breaks in the action may help the heart rate settle, their length is a distraction.
The levels are varied and occasionally offer a series of simple, puzzle-type challenges. These involve fighting your way to levers or switches to activate a related object or remove an obstacle, which allows you to continue further. The monsters are well animated and varied. Some do put in repeat appearances, but their level is commensurate with yours to make them more challenging. There are usually a few mini bosses on each level, and they tend to drop some of the more attractive items. In addition to the standard random levels there are also portals to bonus levels. These tend to be smaller, slightly tougher but much richer in loot than the level youâ€™re currently on. Again, they're always worth doing as you never know what may drop. If you want to work up a sweat you will have to dial up the difficulty level a notch or two; we found the â€˜normalâ€™ setting too easy, although itâ€™s probably just right for younger players.
It does take some time to become accustomed to the controls â€“ particularly inventory management and menu navigation. The cursor from the PC version has vanished, and you control your character directly with the analogue stick. Assigning spells and skills to buttons is fairly straightforward, and you can map two sets of four (for a total of eight), flicking between them with the D pad. Not quite as efficient as the good old â€˜point and clickâ€™ interface, but not too bad once you get used to it.
The graphics are very cartoonish, brash and unsubtle, with characters wielding oversized weapons and making â€˜comic bookâ€™-like exaggerated movements. In saying this, the spell effects and animations are top notch. Bodies splattering as you mow â€˜em down (with optional gore), spectacular spell effects and festering green clouds of poison gas display with ease. Backed up with some solid audio â€“ including haunting strains of Diablo-esque music - the Torchlight experience is fun and complete.
This is a game you donâ€™t take too seriously. Itâ€™s all about a bit of mindless bloodletting and the lure of loot. Something you can pick up and play for both short and long bursts, without too much strain on the grey matter. Think of it as the leisure suit in your wardrobe of games. Even without a multiplayer option, it is well worth the downloadâ€¦ and with Torchlight 2 on the not-too-distant horizon, a good lead-in to what looks to be an excellent sequel.