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When it comes to action RPGs, dungeon crawlers, or loot games, Torchlight was the first game of this genre I actually completed. And I beat it shortly before Torchlight 2 was released. There was just something about it. Something that just kept me playing. Before Torchlight, I had already played Diablo and even Diablo II but they just didn’t click with me. Maybe it was the art style, the friendly interface, or just the right timing but whatever it was, I enjoyed my time with Torchlight. And even now after replaying it, I’m happy to say it’s still a great game.
You start off by choosing one of three characters, the Destroyer, Vanquisher, or Alchemist, and then you can choose a cat or dog as a pet and companion. Your character arrives to the fictional town of Torchlight. From there you meet up with an NPC named Syl who recruits your character to help find her mentor, an alchemist named Alric. After working your way down the mines you soon realize Alric has turned evil, apparently due to the corrupting influence of Ember. So now you just keep fighting your way down the levels of the mountain to find and defeat Alric. The story is really not very interesting and the voice actors sound like they’re phoning it in. But when it comes to this genre, I don’t think it’s the story that really keeps players engaged.
Right off the bat you can see why Torchlight would be considered a Diablo clone. And actually that’s not far from the truth. Like Diablo, you work your way down the dungeons, fighting monsters, earning experience, and leveling up your character. The town of Torchlight is like the hub area where you can buy and store items, among other things. However, there are significant differences from the Diablo series. For example, the introduction of a pet is actually quite welcome. They fight along side you, they have their own inventory and you can even equip them with trinkets and spells. Not only that, but the best part of the pets, and one of the best parts of the game, is the fact that you can send them back to town to sell whatever is in their inventory. This is an amazing mechanic that removes what would have otherwise been a tedious process, warping back and forth to town every five minutes, like in the original Diablo.
Torchlight definitely takes elements from both the original Diablo and Diablo II while still managing to stay fresh and addicting. Each time you level up you gain five experience points to distribute among strength, dexterity, magic, and defense. You also earn Fame whenever you complete quests or kill unique monsters. Each time you level up or earn enough fame you can apply a point into different skills and abilities across three different skill trees. The inclusion of Fame feels almost like a second way to level up and really helps make it feel like you’re always progressing and getting stronger.
In addition to the main story are the side quests. However, these are generally uninteresting and lack any form of variety. The quests are just there for extra experience and fame. You can decline a quest but why? You either need to find something for someone or slay a specific monster and you’ll never have to go out of your way for a side quest either. You’ll always be completing quests in every other dungeon and it becomes annoying because you’ll want to warp back to town to retrieve your reward and accept the next quest.
One thing I despised about the original Diablo was the fact that gold takes up inventory slots. Well not in Torchlight. All items take up only one inventory slot and not only that but your inventory is divided into three categories. Weapons, armor, and gems all fill up the equipment category, spells fill up another, and fish fill up the third category. You can feed fish to your pets to transform them into a different creatures for a limited amount of time granting your pets different stats and abilities. Weapons and armor don’t degrade in Torchlight so you’ll never have to worry about anything breaking or spending money to repair an item.
The three characters you can choose from all specialize in different abilities. The Destroyer is like a warrior, the Vanquisher is a ranged character, and the Alchemist is a magic -based character. But even with only three characters to choose from, Torchlight is very flexible with character development allowing you to develop different combinations of character builds. For example if you wanted to focus on a Destroyer that can specialize in ranged attacks as well you can, or maybe you want to create a Vanquisher that also doubles as a magic character. With the experience points and skill trees there’s all different types of character builds you can essentially create.
There’s always loot to be found and always that persistent addiction to try and find something better than what I already had equipped. I found enchanting items to be extremely useful and addicting as well. Enchanting an item will give it additional magical properties that make it more efficient in combat. These elements range from offensive to defensive like doing poison damage or maybe having resistance to ice attacks. Maybe both. Each time you enchant an item it increases the risk of losing all enchantments and it can be bummer when you enchant it for the tenth time only to lose everything that made it so powerful. It’s a basic risk versus reward system.
You can obtain gems to socket into items that grant them additional properties. Gems normally have magical properties and gems of the same type can even be transmuted to become more powerful. Another cool feature is the ability to either have an item destroyed to recover the gems inside or destroying the gems in items to create empty sockets. Transmuting seems to be necessary in creating really powerful gems. I never seemed to pick up a gem that was extremely powerful, even at the end of the game.
Torchlight definitely encourages multiple playthroughs with different characters. Like Diablo II, there’s a shared stash for all your characters to use and I mainly used it to store items that are part of a set. Having multiple pieces of armor in one set can grant you additional magical properties that are extremely useful. And the chances of finding them all in one playthrough are slim. Not only that but you may find a strong weapon or piece of armor that may not be useful to your current character but could greatly benefit one of your others.
As expected, the dungeons and loot are all randomly generated each time you start a new game. You can even buy maps that warp you to randomly generated dungeon floors, or even earn a map as a quest reward. There’s thirty five main dungeons and every several floors is a boss and a waypoint back to town. Beating the final boss opens up the Shadow Vault. The Shadow Vault is just an endless series of randomly generated dungeons so, essentially, you can keep playing forever. The dungeon floors themselves are actually quite large and the game will definitely take you longer to complete compared to the original Diablo. Also, this mountain is very diverse when it comes to it’s areas. You start out in the mines and then you’re down in the catacombs. Next thing you know you’re in the ruins where it’s raining all the time, then the caverns, a molten prison with lava spewing everywhere, a lost fortress, and finally the Black Palace. I really love the cartoon-like art style and the diverse areas really help make the game feel interesting.
As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing really negative holding Torchlight back in any way. And with the inclusion of mod support, it’s a game that can be infinitely replayable. However, there are some things about the vanilla game that I wasn’t a fan of. For one thing, there’s nobody and nothing that you can rely on to identify all magical items in your inventory at once. You see, all magical items you obtain must be identified before they can be equipped. So you better stock up on Identify Scrolls because it will become a staple item, essentially eating up an inventory slot or two. And considering you’ll be picking up a ton of magical items, you’ll constantly be warping back to town to buy more of these scrolls. Fallen enemies definitely don’t drop enough of them to keep up with the amount of magical items you’ll find. Town Portal scrolls also eat up an inventory slot but at least you won’t be using them too often. There are spells that enable you to identify items and warp to town but, for me, they only started to appear very late in the game. I would also recommend that you try and obtain multiples of these spells and put the extras in your shared stash if you plan to play again with another character.
Now I played on the normal difficulty and really didn’t have any problems progressing through the game. All monsters are at a specific level just like you and the further down you go, you’ll encounter monsters at higher levels. The problem is I found it very easy to become overpowered. The enemies in the main dungeons don’t scale with you. Only the maps or specific quests that open up a portal to randomly generated dungeons will place you in areas with enemies around your level, usually one level under yours. In these areas you’ll gain more experience and fame so when you finally go back to the main dungeons, you’ll feel like a beast, decimating every enemy with ease. I was even taking out bosses in in a matter of seconds. I did die a few times and it was always late in the game from enemies that just swarm you with attacks.
I absolutely love the user interface and HUD in this game. It’s friendly, it’s useful, and it doesn’t really get in the way. One little gripe I do have is that the mouse cursor can sometimes be too small and I often lost track of where I was clicking when a ton of shit was happening on-screen.
Torchlight is a game that doesn’t really do anything revolutionary for the genre. It takes mechanics we’ve all seen before in games like this and adds it’s own style. If you don’t like the genre, there’s really nothing about this game that will change your mind. Torchlight does include some welcome additions, though. Now I haven’t played every game in this genre but having a pet as a constant companion and as a way to sell items without having to travel back to town is one of the greatest things ever. I’ve noticed many players recommend skipping this and jumping straight into Torchlight 2. With the story and quests being as stale as they are, I would have to agree. Unless you’re a Torchlight lore fanatic you won’t be missing much and Torchlight 2 just adds so much more. But the original is still fantastic and still fun to play. And with the inclusion of mod support, the Torchlight series is one of the best in the genre.