Have you played Torchlight yet Luke? Have you? Have you?
Jesus Christ, YES I did! Now, shut up!
I have picked it up in November shortly after but due to a long list of post in my queue I didn’t have a chance to comment on it. I mean, I had all those Mass Effect and L4D2 posts queued up. So I’m writing about it now.
What is Torchlight? If you don’t know you have probably been living under a rock without any internet access. Either that or you are one of the people who are totally not into RPG and/or hack & slash games who spent the last month playing nothing but Modern Warfare 2. Torchlight is a small phenomenon that swept the internet and made everyone love it for some unspeakable reason.
When I say that the game is a Diablo clone I mean it. It’s almost as if someone took Diablo I and upgraded it to the point where it plays like a 2009 game. The shortest, and best fitting review I have read so far was posted by Tormod Haugen in the comments here:
Torchlight… It plays like my Nostalgia remembers the original Diablo. It sounds like it and has “all” the features I’ve missed from the Diablo’s as time has passed.
That’s exactly it. The game essentially is how Diablo would look if it was published in 2009 rather than in 1996. The core game play mechanic is the same: there is a town with bunch of shop keeper NPC’s who will buy your loot and give you quests. Below the town is an expansive, multi-level dungeon filled with nasty monsters for you to kill. You advance by gowing down these dungeons. The lower you get the stronger the enemies and the better the loot.
These monsters drop randomly generated loot, which must be identified with the “scroll of identify” which has a distinctive red ribbon. If you want to go back to town, you need to use the “scroll of town portal” with a blue ribbon. Does this sound familiar?
The sounds are almost exactly lifted from the Blizzard game. Dropped rings go *ding*, armors go *kerflop* – it is eerily familiar. If you have ever played Diablo you will be able to jump right into this game and feel right at home.
New features are plentiful – best of them is the pet which you can use in myriad of ways. First and foremost if you are playing non close combat class, you can use it for aggro. Second, it has a spacious back pack that you can use to carry extra items. Third, at any time you can send it back to town, to sell all the loot it carries and bring you back gold. This means that you never, ever have to throw anything out in this game. Every item you pick up can be sold at any time without wasting a precious town portal scroll.
The game has a modern skill tree that you can use to purchase new types of class based attacks and/or upgrades – bit like Diablo 2 or modern MMO’s. These attacks usually cost mana but are available instantly. Torchlight also features something akin to Vancian magic – class independent spells you can learn. At any time you can know up to 4 spells and your pet can know 2 and they all both cost mana and have cool down timers.
It all works well together. The rules are simple, the controls are intuitive and easy to learn. There is always something to do in the game – between the frantic combat, the item management, agonizing over which skills to learn, fitting gems into sockets and trading there is really no time left for boredom. It just works, and it works well.
What surprised me about this game though is that it does not have a save-anywhere system. There is just no save button anywhere, which really confused me at first. I was really concerned that the game will be using some bullshit checkpoint system and ruin my fun – but it does not. Torchlight takes a roguelike approach to saving: it preserves your state when you quit the game. Yup, you can quit at any time – even during a boss fight, and next time you launch the game you will start at that exact spot. This is fucking brilliant! No, I’m not kidding – this is how you do it people. If you don’t want save-anywhere system, that’s fine. But don’t punish the player for having a life. Don’t fuck them over when they need to shut down the game and go to sleep. Punish them when they die, not when they have to get up from the computer and do something.
This is the first time I’m playing a game that offers no save-anywhere functionality and I’m not annoyed. Why couldn’t Assassin’s Creed use that approach? This is really all I’m asking for – I want to be able to quit and resume my game when I left of next time. I believe this method is far superior to anything else I’ve seen out there.
What happens when you die then? Well, you get a choice – you can be resurrected at the spot with a hefty XP and gold penalty. You can go back to the beginning of the level and lose some gold but not XP. Or you can go back to town, and lose nothing – your penalty being the back-tracking you need to do. It works well!
What makes this game so popular? I have no idea, but I love it just like everyone else does. It is simple, straightforward and the plot is vestigial. And yet, I am having a blast. Torchlight took a formula that worked, and then modified it just enough to feel fresh and modern, but not enough to ruin the magic of the original.
I highly recommend it to anyone who used to love Diablo, or who wants a simple and yet engaging hack & slash game. Launch it, play for few hours and relax – it’s just that kind of a game: Simple, fun, engaging and addictive.