Torchlight: review

Torchlight is the first release from Runic Games, a company boasting an excellent pedigree in action RPGs, with previous team credits including Diablo’s I & II, Mythos and Fate. Going into Torchlight you’d be forgiven then for expecting a tightly designed and polished take upon the oft-neglected genre.

The storyline concerns Ember, a mysterious ore that can enchant materials and seemingly people brought into contact with it. As with any potent magical power, there’s a downside in that it can also corrupt people and turn them into cackling b-movie villains, with ridiculous plots for world domination. As one of three heroes your task is to investigate the caves underneath the small mining village of Torchlight to figure out what’s gone wrong. The story isn’t an important part of the game, just an excuse to get to the real meat, which is dungeon exploration, loot collection and monster genocide.

The experience within Runic Games is evident from the outset. You’re given a brief introduction, a quick tour of the simply laid out town and a couple of quests and then you’re thrown instantly into the action. There’s no faffing about and no 5 minute long obligatory cut-scene, just violent mouse clicking action followed by frenzied bouts of loot collection. Pretty much every feature you might expect to appear from playing action RPGs is in, with genre staples such as town portal scrolls, item identification, shared storage space, sockets and gems all making an appearance.

The Village People
The Village People

Neat touches abound, your pet in particular turns out to be an inspired piece of design. Not only do they fight alongside you, cast spells and look incredibly cute, but they also act as a loot shuttle. You can load them up with your unwanted gear and send them off to town to sell them and have Rover back by your side within a minute. The fact that they pitch in when the going gets tough is the icing on the cake.

Speaking of getting tough, it’s worth mentioning that Torchlight if played on the medium or easy difficulty settings is pretty much a walkover. With a semi-competent build you’ll be hacking and slashing your bloody way through the world below with consummate ease. Happily there are advanced difficulties for the more experienced player, with a Hardcore mode for those of you who like death to mean death. In terms of classes, Torchlight has three, which sit comfortably within the melee, ranged and magic archetypes you’d expect. Even so there’s a pleasing array of options for developing your character along three different skill trees as you level. Spells can be used and upgraded by any of the classes. So if you wish to be a spell-slinging sword and shield user, or a duel-wielding berserker the Destroyer offers both of those options. The Vanquisher can throw grenades and set traps as well as duel wield daggers or guns. The Alchemist can specialise in elemental weapons, summoning minions or spells depending on your taste. The skills are mostly obvious and intuitive in both description and use, though you may find your hot-bar cluttered if you rely heavily on spells as well as skills.

Action RPGs are the natural home for hat enthusiasts.
Action RPG’s are the natural home for hat enthusiasts.

As with any Action RPG, the core of the game is the combat. You’ll spend most of your time with the game fighting, so it’s an important aspect of the game to get right. Fortunately Runic understand that completely and the combat is excellent. As you cut a swathe through your enemies with the different skills and abilities on offer, you’ll notice how smooth and seamless the combat is, it naturally flows from one battle to the next. More gratifying are the visual and sound effects as you fight, a spectacular blow or critical hit seemingly causes the screen to shake, accompanied by satisfying splattering noises as your foes’ entrails meet the wall. It ramps up nicely too in terms of difficulty, as you progress you’ll find enemies whose attacks and abilities link in with each other. This means you’ll have to be sharp and prioritize your targets as well as use a variety of skills for different situations.

Graphically the game is splendid. Runic have gone for the kind of cartoony colourful style that Blizzard would get lynched for using and it works very well. The three characters are distinctive, the backgrounds varied and well lit and the creatures and combat effects are excellent. The game won’t tax your system either, it’s nicely optimised, meaning it’ll run just as well on a low-end system or net-book.

Fears of a loot shortage in the Volcano Prison region were proven to be unfounded.
Fears of a loot shortage in the Volcano Prison region were proven to be unfounded.

The few flaws that are inherent in Torchlight are simply by-products of the genre. The game is repetitive, it’s unavoidable in an action RPG and can be a turn off to gamers unfamiliar with that type of play. The scope of the adventure too is limited, as you delve further and further into the underworld, floor after floor, you may find yourself longing for a more fully realised world, like the one found in Titan Quest. These flaws do detract from the experience, but they are relatively minor when faced with the polish and quality to be found dripping from Torchlight. The one caveat that does truly impact the experience is the lack of multiplayer. Runic Games plan to release a free-to-play MMO based on the same world at a later date, but this release is limited to single player. As any Diablo II veteran will tell you, the game truly comes alive when playing with friends, the same would likely be true with Torchlight, but for now we have to explore it solo.

Torchlight showcases the decade and a half of experience making Action RPGs on offer at Runic Games effortlessly. It’s cheap, cheerful and tightly designed. Anyone looking for a loot frenzied action fix until Diablo 3 emerges from development need look no further.


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Written by Michael J

Michael is a self proclaimed PC gaming fanatic and is equally at home with all genres, bar platformers and puzzle games. Except Bejeweled, he's awesome at that. Seriously, he is totally like second on his Facebook Bejeweled leaderboard. And they said he'd never amount to anything...


  1. Cave-eat?

  2. Michael J /

    Whoops, nice spot.

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