In the real world, instant gratification and rewards don’t come often. It’s hard to learn new things. You can’t just pick up a guitar and strum a song within a few hours, it takes practice over a lot of time. One of the appeals of video games is you can quickly become adept. Not only that, it’s possible to track your progression with tangible evidence. You don’t just know you’re getting better, the game tells you. RPG’s are brilliant at doing this; the best ones make you feel like your time spent on them isn’t for nothing, instead you’re rewarded with clear and constant development of a character, as you take them from nobody to somebody (in most cases, a somebody with a massively oversized sword).
With the XBLA release of Torchlight, Runic Games show they understand this concept perfectly.
Torchlight is an action RPG; a genre in which character development and loot collecting are key. It dispenses a constant stream of items, weapons, and spells, as you ascend through levels with incredible momentum. Amazingly, it does this without getting bogged down in an endless ream of stats. Advancement isn’t just tracked through numbers, you experience it viscerally, by eliminating waves of foes in awesome displays of destruction. The result is a game that’s satisfying to play, and worryingly addictive to boot.
You start by selecting a character, with three classes to choose from: destroyer, vanquisher, and alchemist. Destroyers are your basic warrior class, excelling in melee attacks. These guys are all about swords, axes, and anything that can be smashed into an enemy’s face. Vanquishers not only have the coolest name, they’re also ranged attack specialists, preferring to wield bows, guns and crossbows. Alchemists, as you may have guessed, are a dab hand with magic. Your choice dictates the initial distribution of stats, but later you’re free to concentrate on whichever area you want. This eliminates annoying situations where you wish you’d chosen a different class. Character development accommodates an evolving style of play. So if you chose a vanquisher, but later find you prefer melee combat – it’s not a problem – just beef up your strength stats and away you go.
Next, you select a pet from a choice of cat, dog, and – exclusive to the xbox version – what can only be described as a weird mini dragon creature. There’s no strategic difference between the three, it really just comes down to whether you’re a cat, dog, or weird mini dragon creature kind of person. I went for the latter and called him George, because that’s how I roll.
After listening to a peculiarly flat voice-over set a clichéd scene (there’s magic stuff called ember… and it’s EVIL), you’re unceremoniously placed in the town of Torchlight. This is your hub for the entire game, hosting merchants, side-quests and a chest to store loot. From here you can access mines underneath the town where the rest of the game takes place. Unlike most RPGs, Torchlight has no world to explore, just mines beneath the town that extend for miles, and miles, and miles. These are randomly generated each time you play, which should invite multiple play-throughs. But like the character classes and pet choices the differences are fairly superficial. The obvious disadvantage of a random level generator is without human influenced design, areas often feel generic and uninspired.
The first half hour is pretty slow, with a lot of mindless mashing of the X button to attack. In this time your character levels up rapidly but with little effect. Beyond praising the colourful graphics, at this point, I was beginning to wonder how to find anything nice to say about the game. Then, as my character gained more levels, learned more skills, and could cast more spells, Torchlight sank its hooks in me.
Three hours later, I had various magic and skills assigned to triggers and face buttons, my pet was summoning zombies and I was dual-wielding weapons. Together we were slaughtering dozens of enemies and having a ball. At least I was, I can’t really speak for George.
If I’d spent three hours learning guitar I might have just about mastered E-minor. In Torchlight I was already a bona fide killing machine.
Trawling through mines, there’s loads of items to collect, colour-coded to let you know their worth. Your inventory is limited but rather than making you backtrack to town to offload items it’s possible to give them to your trusty pet who’ll take them to town and sell them, eliminating unnecessary games of inventory tetris that plague most RPGs. More importantly for a game that plays on desires to explore and collect, you never have to leave things behind.
Torchlight effortlessly absorbs hours of time. Easy to play, it feels like progression is constantly being made. On normal difficulty death is rare, and punishment for dying is small. You can pay gold to re-spawn at the start of the level, with dead enemies remaining dead, or for xp and fame you can start where you died. It requires very little from you but seemingly gives a lot back. As this realisation dawned on me I questioned my enjoyment of the game.
At its core, Torchlight is very shallow. The mechanics of the game are simple, and apart from the incessant desire to unlock the next spell or find a better weapon there’s little to keep you playing. Characters advance and improve, but the player doesn’t. Hard as it may be, it’s a game best played in small chunks. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking at a clock, then a mirror, and wondering what happened to your day. Whilst this was true for me, it’s more an observation of the genre than the game.
Torchlight has no allusions to be more than a polished dungeon crawler, and that’s exactly what it is. With plenty of side quests unfinished, it took around 15 hours to finish and as such is well worth the price. If you’re a fan of the genre you won’t be disappointed, while newbies may be pleasantly surprised by how quickly they take to the grind.Pros :
- Zombie summoning cats !!!
- Loads of different enemy types
- Menus and controls have been well adapted for the xbox controller
- Some slowdown at busy moments
- Fairly long loading times
- Sound effects are repeated a lot and can become annoying