The town of Torchlight sits atop a vast mountain packed full of dungeons within which wave upon wave of enemies lie in wait, ready to charge the next hapless hero foolish enough to brave the depths. It seems an ancient evil has taken up residence in the corrupted Ember crystals deep in the mountain and – oh it doesn’t matter. Ancient evil! Many enemies! Kill! Loot! Level up! Pick a class, skim over the minimal quest text and get stuck in.
Make no mistake, this is a Diablo clone through and through. Arguably the grandfather of the action RPG has spawned so many spiritual successors that it’s well known brand of dungeon-based warmongering has become a genre unto itself. Happily, you’ll struggle to find a more refined and entertaining example of this genre than Runic’s Torchlight, who’s fast and explosive action adds extra immediacy and a sheen of accessibility to the well known formula. If you’re hoping for an involved world, conversation trees and moral quandaries then turn away now, this is a game of battling from level to level, killing literally thousands of enemies as you plunge deeper into the mountain.
Whether you choose to take the meaty Destroyer, gun toting Vanquisher or the minion-summoning Alchemist you’ll be rewarded with fast and fluid combat, and lots of it. You’ll regularly battle twenty enemies at once, and the action unfolds in a whirlwind of blades and glowing spell effects. Damage numbers and loot spill freely from your foes, the screen shakes with every critical hit and dispatched enemies fly across the screen. Unleashing each new ability is a satisfying reward in itself, which makes levelling and gaining new abilities that much more compelling.
Torchlight’s pleasing technicolour fantasy stylings are laced with steampunk overtones, and you’re as likely to fight a Goblin riding a mechanised war machine as a dragon. The visuals are uncomplicated and the easily navigated menus belie a satisfying level of customisation. Each of the three character classes has three skill trees which can be upgraded each time you level up, allowing you to fine tune your character’s build to your taste. Your armour and weapons can be upgraded with gems and items found in the dungeon can be combined and transmuted into more powerful ones if you know the right recipes. You can even enchant your weapons for a hefty fee, though there’s a chance that the process will backfire and render your weapon useless. These systems are nothing new, but they add some welcome depth to your character’s development, and grant extra purpose to the large amounts of time you’ll spend loot gathering.
The whole experience is beautifully slick and well made. It takes less than a second to peg an ability to a keyboard shortcut. Loot you’ll always want, like gold, is picked up automatically as you walk over it, leaving you to decide which bits and pieces you’ll need from what remains. Then there’s your pet. You start out with a dog or cat that will fight alongside you, and has an inventory of his own, and a button press will see him dash to town to sell your loot for you, returning a few minutes later to rejoin the fight. Those irritating elements that drag you out of the fighting to change your abilities, or nip back to town to sell unwanted loot have been surgically removed, leaving you alone to get on with the fun stuff.
The only pity is that you’re unable to share the fun stuff with a friend. Torchlight is perfectly entertaining as a single player experience, but it would be great to share that joyous combat with an ally. The difficulty, too, is a little off kilter. The game didn’t become especially challenging until the final levels, and those familiar with Diablo and it’s ilk will certainly want to play through on Hard mode.
It’s not revolutionary or genre-changing, but Torchlight is a brilliantly executed and lovingly made game that nails the exciting combat and addictive character building of its spiritual predecessor. It’s also long, and will give you plenty of excitement for the perfectly pitched £15 price point. Runic have also made development tools freely available to all. The prospect of fan made quests and mods only serves to sweeten the deal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Vanquisher just got a seriously mean magical blunderbuss, and there’s a whole floor of Dwarven Wights waiting to be slain.