Platform: XBLA (1200 Microsoft Points)
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
Loot Grinders have received short shrift this console generation, but Torchlight sets out to deliver a streamlined take on the beloved genre. Switching from the traditional PC to the Xbox 360 was a brave and controversial move, and I'm delighted to report that Runic Games' decision has been thoroughly justified by a refreshingly pure dungeon-crawling experience.
Torchlight does its utmost to ensure that players aren't separated from the action with obtrusive cutscenes or an overblown plot. Your trawl through its deep dungeons involves a search for an insane mage and a desperate bid to rid your body of magical corruption, but it's nowhere near as involved as you'd expect from an RPG. A smattering of skippable scrolling text provides only the flimsiest excuse and context for the dungeon-crawling, meaning that you'll be slaying your first horde and grabbing your first loot drop within scant minutes of starting a new character. Personally I appreciate this emphasis on gameplay over exposition, but be aware that this makes Torchlight an exercise in grinding for the sake of it. If you're looking for strong characters and an emotional rollercoaster ride, Torchlight simply isn't the game for you.
This puts the spotlight firmly on the gameplay itself, which is as close to the classic Diablo formula as it's currently possible to get on a home console. You'll trawl through massive, sprawling dungeons on a never-ending search for phat lootz; encountering hordes of smaller enemies, randomly-generated unique monsters and the occasional major boss. Your character becomes more and more powerful (as well as more influential thanks to the innovative fame system) the more you grind, with two familiar coloured globes showing off your health and replenishing mana. When you need a break or run out of inventory space, a quick town portal scroll will whisk you back to the town of Torchlight; which is as convenient and streamlined as you'd expect. The core experience may not be as deep as other RPGs - and it's certainly nothing new - but it's immediately accessible, ruthlessly addictive and fantastic fun.
Slick controls make the transition from mouse and keyboard to triggers and thumbsticks feel natural and effortless, with two alternate skill sets adequately compensating for the lack of hotkeys. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that I prefer the new setup since it complements the streamlined nature of the loot grinding action itself. The only minor niggles stem from Torchlight's steadfast desire to highlight your minions and allies over items, making Mage characters faff around with hitting the perfect sweet spot every time they need to grab an loot drop. It's nothing gamebreaking, mind, and it's a fantastic precedent that demonstrates that Diablo can work on consoles. Pay attention, Blizzard.
Three classes provide you with a choice between brutal hack & slash noobery, stealthy ranged combat and ridiculously overpowered magic, allowing players to choose their favourite tactical archetype and get involved. Each hero feels distinct and relevant, though as mentioned, the magic-slinging alchemist packs a devastating beam spell and a gaggle of minions that make light work of even the biggest hordes. Glass Cannon doesn't even begin to cover it. Regardless of who you choose, there are plenty of skills and spells on offer that will result in a massive number of potential builds.
The one area where Torchlight completely loses its streamlined focus is the all-important loot drops. There's just so much of it, to the extent where item-stuffed treasure rooms unleash hordes of enemies that give you even more gear when they die. It seems bizarre and fairly ungrateful to suggest that a loot grinder can actually provide too many pickups, but you'll need to frequently break from the action in order to address your limited inventory space. This problem is exacerbated by many items needing to be identified with a limited supply of scrolls, which is an annoying throwback at best and aggravating busywork at worst.
Luckily each hero has a pet creature to accompany them on their travels. As well as helping out in combat to a limited extent, your companion acts as a voluminous loot bank that can be independently sent back to town and bring back the profits of any sales. It's a neat mechanic to be sure, though it's a shame that it's not possible to automatically send weak items into their inventory as soon as they're picked up.
Torchlight is graphically capable, showcasing some detailed texture work, eyecatching spell effects and great lighting. The art direction is also excellent; blending traditional dark fantasy with a colourful, cute and adorable style. It's an odd juxtaposition that works very well indeed. The occasional whiff of slowdown sometimes becomes apparent in larger brawls, but you'll barely notice it.
After a few hours of levelling, your natural instincts will be to hop online and show off your character to your friends... which sadly isn't possible. Like its PC predecessor, Torchlight has no online functionality of any kind. I won't mark it down, but be aware that the decision of whether or not to invest ultimately comes down to your love for the genre and your patience with grinding for the sheer unadulterated hell of it.
Personally, I'm absolutely fine with that. But once you've played the demo, it's important to remember that that's essentially as far as it goes.
- Engaging, addictive gameplay with masses of content
- Slick controls
- Eyecatching graphics
- Lack of story and multiplayer makes it all about the grind
- Too much loot?
- Will leave traditional RPG lovers cold
The Short Version: Torchlight cherry-picks the best bits out of the genre to provide a streamlined experience that doesn't scrimp on the content. It's big, addictive and thoroughly worth your money... but it's nowhere near as deep as its dungeons.