Developer: Runic Games
Game provided by developer: No
Torchlight is an Action-RPG in the same vein as all of your genre defining favourites like Diablo, Path of Exile, Titan Quest and Grim Dawn that released a decade ago and was a huge hit on the old Xbox Live Arcade. Runic Games ceased trading in 2017 and have since rebirthed under the Echtra Games label with Diablo and Torchlight co-creator Max Schaefer at the helm and are currently developing Torchlight Frontiers. I thought now would be a good time to venture in to the world of Torchlight.
Ember. It lives in us all
If you have ever played a ARPG like Blizzard’s ever-popular Diablo series, you will know exactly what Torchlight is and what it offers. If not, Torchlight is an isometric, mouse-controlled Action-RPG where you must slay every shuffling enemy that presents itself while utilizing a unique set of abilities, weapons and armour while hording every darn piece of loot that emanates from every corpse.
Torchlight offers the choice of three classes which can be boiled down to their basics; a melee focused Destroyer, a magic wielding Alchemist and the range-oriented Vanquisher, with each offering their own unique class abilities and playstyles. For this particular review I was an all-powerful magic casting Alchemist named Azrael who focused on conjuring an array of spells to dispose of the ungodly inhabitants of a mysterious mine.
The game instantly hit me with an incredibly bland and uninspired story that I had very little interest from the get-go and that interest very quickly waned. Set in the town of Torchlight, the local mine is laden with a all-magical substance named Ember that holds power beyond all imagination and corrupts the very bones of those that dare harvest it. It is this exact substance that is empowering a never-ending spawn of creatures and demons that are serving as protection for their master who is encased at the bottom of the mine. As interesting as this sounds, it all falls completely flat with utterly laughable voice acting and miniscule story bites that are strewn thinly throughout the campaign.
Every piece of dialogue is served either via a loading screen with one to two paragraphs of text or a small text box during gameplay, this is further confirmed when the story culminated in a singular sentence of a NPC mumbling thank you for your help, before quickly leaving.
So you’ve picked your class and decided on whether to bring along a dog or a cat as a companion and pack mule that you forcibly stack full of items and send to the games only town to sell and return with your hard-earned cash. This reduces the amount of trips needed to remove junk from your inventory as your fluffy compatriot has the same inventory size as your chosen hero. Not content with being a sentient item wheelbarrow, Mittens or Spot will fight by your side recklessly and constantly flee as their health drains from enemy attacks. However it is possible to buff your furry friend by teaching them spells from spell scrolls or feeding them fish in a bid to transform them in to some gelatinous blob or spider, whatever your preference.
The town of Torchlight is the only hub in the game and is the only location outside of the mine. Exciting, I know. The town is not vast but it had everything I needed to keep my adventure going and is where I picked up all of my very similar quests before delving back in to the depths below. The sub quests are handed out by lifeless Townie’s and are the exact same every time. I got bored with the robot-bard that asked me to hunt mini-bosses, which were only higher tiered enemies, or the mage tasking me with collecting the corrupting substance Ember – no thanks, I am attempting to put a halt to the corruption that is spilling out from these glowing rocks, not infect everyone!
Speaking of NPC’s, the dank, dark and depressing town of Torchlight acts as a hub to sell items, enhance gear, gamble and make use of the shared stash. I actively avoided leaving the mine unless it was to scoop up side-quests with each tier using the same, tired dialogue or to buy health and mana potions. Like a demanding boss I drove my poor doggo to exhaustion as I made full use of the return to town option, selling all of my junk as I forced myself to go from floor to floor, fighting very comparable foes at every corner.
Hitting the grind
Combat feels incredibly satisfying, something which I regard highly in the ARPG space – if it feels good to smash through thousands of enemies for a undetermined number of hours, then that is a positive in my book. In Torchlight mulching enemies with a staff, axe or sword feels powerful and weighted while magical spells are entrancing and have nice looking elemental effects, even a decade on.
This is coupled with one of the best in genre soundtracks as Torchlight is packed to the brim with eery, guitar-strumming goodness. It reminded me of previous Diablo titles and rightly so as it is composed by Matt Uelmen of Diablo fame.
Tying combat together is an uninspiring levelling system that leaves a lot to be desired. Each class has three separate skill trees all with their own unlockable physical and passive skills as well as a generic place a point in to strength, dexterity, magic or defense system. Every level up provided me with a skill point while generating fame by fighting mini-bosses let me place a stat point in to one of the three skill trees that each class had access to. For example, on my Alchemist I had the choice to venture down the dark path of necromancy, the strength of a battle wizard or to be more traditional and make use of magical spells. Each skill can be levelled up 10 times increasing its potency, damage and a manner of other relevant stats.
The actual act of placing points in to each skill was a drag and added to the lethargy I was feeling towards Torchlight. Something so simple as allowing me to build my character in the way that I want should not be gated off by an arbitrary levelling system. I wanted to max out a skill that boosted my magic stat and I was constantly forced to either not use that skill point and save it for later, until I reached the games desired character level, or place that point in a different skill, where I would be unable to recover it as there is no option to respec. I felt I wasn’t in control of my character build and I was being railroaded down certain tracks that the developer had predetermined.
While we are discussing character builds, Torchlight is utterly bereft of any stat screen, to my unmitigated bemusement. A video game which is centred around gathering loot and becoming increasingly more powerful to strike down tougher foes doesn’t give me the tools to truly get down to the nitty-gritty of min-maxing my character or even at times figuring out which weapon is better suited to my build. You will not find health on hit, armour block percentages, damage numbers, minion damage, mana per second, magic find, thorns or anything that you would expect to see.
Playing as an alchemist was fun but there were clearly certain spells that were much more powerful than others. Lower level spells become near useless as I continued to level and unlock newer ones. In particular I uncovered the overwhelming power of an energy beam that would melt any enemy in its path regardless of how many stat points I had injected in to that particular tree branch or my weapon damage – I made use of the same 135 damage wand for about 60% of the game. However, not even this worked properly as I was typically able to continuously fire my newly found death beam and rotate on the spot, attacking enemies from all angles. Sometimes. Half the time I had the ability to rotate while firing and the other half Azrael the mighty one man death machine stood as lifeless as a scarecrow requiring me to recast the spell which would often then allow me to rotate once more. It was frustrating, laughable and left me utterly defeated as the game couldn’t decide on which mechanic to use, resulting in a few avoidable deaths.
There was a surprising upswing in difficulty towards the end, a difficulty that was not present in the previous 95% of the game as I minced my way through hordes of corrupted enemies monotonously. Average enemies, mini-bosses, full on story related bosses and everything in-between were no match for my build and then I hit floor 31. Oh how naive and unprepared I was as my first brush here seen me get pushed aside like a crisp packet in the wind as the previously laughably easy enemies melted their way through my armour and build in seconds. Taunting me as they paraded my corpse to their overlords.
Even after upgrading my weapon and being armed to the teeth with the highest rarity items possible in most slots I was being one hit by normal mobs. Keep in mind the only two stats I levelled through my entire playthrough were magic and defense as I was in control of a magic-focused build and had no use for strength or dexterity. All of this was nothing when compared directly with the final encounter.
Going in to that fight I had a defense stat of 90 and magic over 130, not including armour rating or percentage boosts from my gear. I had killed every boss prior to this without much trouble, using potions here and there to top up my health; enter the final encounter. I naively skipped towards a hulking four-legged demon ready to witness his dying seconds as my beam of death pierces through everything he has got. Wrong. With a seemingly infinite health bar, teleportation and the ability to spawn, without exaggeration, several hundreds of mobs on top of me I may as well have been level 1 with no armour or weapon. It made me feel like all of my previous grinding and levelling was for nothing. I don’t mind difficult games or a natural difficulty curve but this was beyond anything I have ever seen in games and was relentlessly out-of-place.
An uninspired experience jammed with problems
Upon completion of the main story additional side quests unlock with a new dungeon to explore, however the quests are literally the exact same as those seen during the campaign; go to this dungeon level and kill X enemy or find X item and bring it back for an underwhelming reward and minimal XP or gold.
It is also possible to retire your character at the welcome culmination while selecting a singular item to transfer to your new character. This was an interesting idea executed poorly as most items have level requirements, rendering them near useless for early-mid game depending on the gear you have managed to muster up by the end of the game.
I had many pathfinding issues as I witnessed my mighty warrior, saviour of Torchlight, struggle to navigate around a tiny barrel or become perplexed at the sheer thought of voyaging down a flight of stairs. This is also true for the companion as I stared angrily at the minimap icon of my dog who was lurking at the beginning of a floor more often than not. Maybe he was just taking a well deserved nap. This could be fixed by ordering them to pick up an item from the ground nearby, however it was frustrating nonetheless.
To me, an ARPG is all about fun combat, interesting loot and diving head first in to character builds, browsing the numbers and researching ways for those numbers to increase. Torchlight fails on nearly all of these points and so much more.
With an uninspiring story and a horrific difficulty curve like nothing I have seen in other games, a lack of multiplayer and no option to respec a characters skill point distribution, it even lacks the very bare minimum of a PC title in keybinding – this is a PC title without keybinding.
I questioned my love for the ARPG genre and video games as a whole while I became increasingly demotivated with each passing floor. This is a lethargic single player experience that does not hold up.