Review: Torchlight

Torchlight is an odd game.

That is not to say that it is bad; it is, by most respects, an awesome Diablo clone. It ought to be, as the developer, Runic Games, is comprised of some of the development staff from the original Diablo game.

Diablo itself is merely an update to the Rogue-like formula: an adventurer starts out in a town and descends to the depths in search of treasure and to vanquish evil. This genre has spawned several timeless games, like Sword of Fargoal, Nethack, and Angband. These games are lightweight, can run on even the oldest, non-graphical systems, and almost every electronic device out there. One day, we will see Nethack played on blenders. Mark my words.

Torchlight does not mess with this formula: it plops the player down in a mixed-tech, quasi-steampunk setting, gives them a weapon, and says, “Off to the Ember mines with you!” As is to be expected from former Blizzard employees, the story is quick, engaging, and even a little light-hearted at times.

Gameplay is surprisingly deep, with mechanics for combining and enchanting the weapons the player buys, socketing of weapons and armor with gems, and multiple talent trees that allow for a high degree of customization of the three basic classes — a melee fighter, a ranger markswoman, and a caster-type.

The user interface is clean and easy to use. Movement is controlled via simple point and click interface, and standard attacks are performed with the right and left mouse buttons. It is simple enough to work on a laptop trackpad or a pro-grade gaming mouse (this reviewer has used both).

Graphically, the game uses very stylized, cartoonish graphics. Most of the game happens from an isometric viewpoint. At higher resolutiuons, the game looks like a painting. At lower ones, it looks like the average free-to-play MMO. One interesting technological quirk is that it is capable of running on netbooks, those tiny glorified smartphones. And this is not some, “Oh, we can jam it on there!” hack. The developers included a “netbook” mode in the configuration utility specifically for this purpose. It has been optimized to run on the most basic of systems.

Mac and Linux users need not feel left out; although the developers promise native clients (the game avoids the dreaded DirectX) for these systems, the wonderful people at CodeWeavers and their “Crossover Games” WINE implementation support it almost out of the box. For my Macbook Pro, all I had to do was install Crossover Games, install Steam from within the Crossover Games menu, and then install Torchlight from Steam. Aside from minor graphical issues with some of the fire and shadows rendering far larger than they should, the game runs flawlessly in windowed mode with no slowdown, no interface lag, and without causing my laptop to heat up noticeably, which is saying something for a Macbook.

More savvy Linux users could likely avoid even the modest price of Crossover Games, provided their WINE skills are up to the test.

For an excellent game with absolutely stunning production values, high replayability, and the ability to have lots of fun across nearly all of the electrical devices in a person’s collection, a typical Gamestop®™© price tag would be justified. However, Runic is charging only a paltry $19.95 US for this game. That’s right; for the price of feeding a family of four at any fast-food restaurant, anyone can own Torchlight.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!!!

The developers, in a display of magnanimity rarely seen outside of the halls of charity, have made the game skinnable and modable, and even encourage player-created content. That is what makes Torchlight so odd: no big-studio budget, but very solid production values outstripping many big-box games. Runic’s developers clearly care about their product, but have not locked it down. Although it lacks stunning graphics, as a concession, the game is playable on an amazing variety devices. With its autosave feature, it can even be played in very short bites.

I would not be entirely surprised if iPad/iPhone/iPod versions were not at least being discussed around Runic’s offices.

This is the sort of game development that deserves the supoprt of game fans. Should you find yourself with a spare $20 here or there, drop it on Torchlight (via Steam!). If you do not have $20, well, Lusipurr and I still have our crushed velvet suits, and there is a lot of money to be made out there. Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but that is the sacrifice we are willing to make for you.

0 comments on “Review: Torchlight”

  1. Torchlight is like Nethack, in that you have (1) the player and (2) an animal companion. The animal companion is a nice touch; I like sending my dog back to town with vendor trash.

    My one complaint about the game is that I think that they should include a high-res texture pack for higher-end systems. I suppose with the modding capabilities, this will eventually happen, as well as some things like new classes, etc. More than that, I hope Runic turns this stint of success into a bigger action RPG or MMO, because I like their style.