I grew up never playing Diablo. There, I said it. The first step to recovery is admitting the problem, right? To be honest, I never played Dungeons & Dragons or Dungeon Siege either. Heck, I didn’t even play Torchlight on PC. The idea of mapping 80 different spell commands across my keyboard pretty much put me off of any dungeon crawlers no matter how pretty the graphics or deep the story. Fortunately for my inner gamer, Torchlight on Xbox Live Arcade may be changing that.
To start, Runic Games is forthright that Torchlight stands somewhere between the Isle of Diablo and the Wasteland of Console Controllers. It says in the game description, “developed by the creators of… Diablo,” so I can’t criticize Runic for whipping up a rather uninspired storyline because that’s the audience they are aiming for. Everyone knows the story: Adventurer comes to Town Nowhere that’s been infested with Dark Monsters because of some Ancient Evil dug up by Stupid Miners looking for Magical Stuff. It’s almost lifted right out of the pages of Lord of the Rings. As I was playing Torchlight, I actually had flashbacks to the Mines of Moria. But that’s ok; I expected that. I wasn’t looking for anything groundbreaking (pun!), as it’s the charm and wit of the story that I was after. And Torchlight delivers. While I never made an emotional connection to my character, I did find myself growing attached to my pet. Sure, I may have transformed a cute bobcat into a huge troll, but he saved my bacon a number of times in combat and was always there when I needed to send him to town to sell loot.
I’m pretty sure that gameplay in Torchlight is the part everyone is most concerned about so I’ll go into it a bit more. “OMG, no keyboard, no cash,” has probably sprung forth from many a Torchlight fans’ lips upon hearing about the Xbox port. Frankly, I didn’t miss the grind that comes with a keyboard-mouse combo. Spell mapping is a simple matter of assigning the spell of choice to one of the B, Y, LT, or RT buttons. Then you can assign skills to the same buttons by pushing up or down on the directional pad. I found this much easier than juggling weapons in Assassin’s Creed 2 and it really made it super easy for me to get into the game.
A word of warning, the game itself is kind of easy. If you level up your character in the right places, you can trounce everything the game throws at you. I don’t know if this is a general trait with most dungeon crawlers, but I would have liked to see more puzzles to figure out. I have about 8 hours invested in the game so far and I am an ass-kicking archer of death. I have a fully enchanted bow enhanced with two super jewels I transmuted and it’s a true death-dealer. Not many creatures can stand up to me and the bosses are quickly dispatched with the help of my troll pet. Being somewhat linear, the game makes up for the ease with a number of side quests. The inhabitants of Torchlight will keep you loot grinding and monster slaying for a while. And of course you can keep track of all those ghouls you sent back to their graves in the stat tracking journal.
Controls are a tad different than I expected. I wanted to have a twin-stick shooter-type of control mechanism so I could fire my bow while strafing away from an attacker. Perhaps this is a by-product of the port from PC, but it’s awkward at first. After I upgraded my bow to god-like power, I could just stand there and fire off arrows without strafing, but a novice may find this off-putting. At the least an option would have been nice.
I would say Torchlight looks like a pretty version of Warcraft 3. The characters are cartoonish yet identifiable. There are ample glorious particle effects and the Dolby 5.1 track sets the mood nicely. I never felt like a team of 4-year olds rendered the game (see my Yaris review). The environments are pretty varied from one level to the next considering you’re in an underground mine. It’s not going to look like Chinatown no matter how deep the miners dig, but it is varied. I must say the addition of day-night cycles or weather effects would have been nice, but the amount of time I actually spent in the town of Torchlight was minimal. I definitely liked the extra bit of detail that went into the backgrounds of the mines to complete the mood for each dungeon. The lava gave off a nice eerie glow, even if I couldn’t throw any enemies into its fiery jaws.
Honestly, I think I’m one of the few gamers left alive that cherishes a solid single player only experience, but I’m in the minority and Xbox gamers demand such things. I’m kind of surprised that Runic didn’t include some form of local co-op in the Xbox version given that this game has been available on PC since 2009. Local multiplayer a la Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light would have been a welcomed addition, but the exclusion doesn’t hurt the experience at all. I can only hope that gamers don’t overlook Torchlight because of this decision. I will go out on a limb and say that Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, and Portal are all wonderfully deep single player games that never needed a multiplayer addition and, like these, Torchlight stands just fine on it’s own. Also like those games, the sequels got multiplayer modes and I hope Torchlight does too. After you finish the game, you do have the option of transferring gear to your next character.
Overall, Torchlight was a great experience for me and I really hope Runic brings Torchlight 2 to Xbox Live Arcade sooner rather than later. Despite the lack of a personal connection between the character and myself, I enjoyed the game a great deal. Also, the avatar awards were a bit lacking creatively, but that’s me being nitpicky. Torchlight is console dungeon crawling done right and a welcome game on Xbox Live Arcade. You would be making a mistake if you didn’t pick this one up; and that’s coming from a recovering PC dungeon crawler hater.