The Essential Games: Torchlight (2009)
In The Essential Games, I highlight video games I would recommend without reservation to just about anyone. Click HERE for the full index.
Torchlight is perhaps the most pure expression of the Diablo action-RPG hybrid concept, made by some of the folks that created it. It was an accidental project, formed out of the ashes of Flagship Studios, made to be the single player predecessor to an MMO that never materialized. It is focused, fun, easy to learn, and incredibly precise in its execution. I love it.
Torchlight is available for PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, for about $15. It’s a single player action RPG with three classes, a lengthy story campaign, and after you’ve finished that it has infinite randomly-generated dungeons to explore. You click on lots of monsters to fight them, take their stuff, and upgrade your own stuff to fight more monsters. It takes place in, and under, the fantasy-themed town of Torchlight. The town is full of merchants and other NPCs who give out occasional quests to the player. Three classes are available: a warrior, a rogue, and a wizard. Torchlight’s fantasy setting is tinged with elements of steampunk technology. Guns, machines, and other technologies exist in the world of Torchlight alongside bows, swords, and magic.
The gameplay systems and pacing in Torchlight are pitch-perfect. Gameplay moves at a rapid pace, constantly challenging the player with new monsters to fight and challenges to overcome. Randomly generated loot appears at the perfect speed, and the player has a pet that can transport unwanted items back to town and sell them. The pet also assists in combat, and can learn spells.
Is the gameplay better than something more modern like, say, Diablo III? Well. It’s different. Diablo III almost has more in common with classic arcade brawlers and shooters than the traditional action RPG. Torchlight’s basis is strongly rooted in numbers. Careful management of character and item statistics is a must to achieve the most success in the game. The action gameplay still matters; not everything is determined by dice rolls. But the balance is spot-on.
Yes, the game involves a lot of clicking on things. That’s standard fare for the genre. Torchlight’s speed and pace are its true stars. It’s not so fast that it’s chaotic and unmanageable, but not so slow as to be clunky. Older, more classic examples of the genre, like the original Diablo, are a little tough to go back to due to their slow speed.
Even the PS1 port of the original Diablo added an option to speed up the game.
Torchlight has a luscious, painterly art style that has aged tremendously well over the last several years. It’s a little light on polygonal detail, but more than makes up for that with brilliant textures and extensive use of effects animation. The game has a variety of environments to prevent tedium, though humorously I personally find the jungle tile set a little tedious.
It’s not going to wow you with its physics or come close to setting your rig on fire, but its got a well-executed art style that should continue to age well.
Torchlight has music from Matt Uelmen, the original composer from Diablo 1. It shows. The music feels like an extension of the old Diablo music. It’s textured and nuanced and wonderful.
Sounds are solidly chunky and generic enough to not sound annoying over the tens of hours you’re likely to dump into the game.
The versions for various computer platforms are all largely identical. They run well even on basic hardware, and have full mod support thanks to some freely available tools and integration with Steam Workshop.
The Xbox 360 version is…a little rough. Particularly in the framerate department. Interestingly, it also has aspects that aren’t present in the other versions of the game. The 360 version was developed during the production of Torchlight II for the PC. As a result, it inherits the animation system and automap system that were designed for the newer game. The result is animations that transition a little more smoothly into each other, the ability to run at different speeds with the analog stick, and a much more detailed automap display.
It’s such a shame that the framerate is so iffy in spots, as it would otherwise be the definitive version of the base game. If you have an Xbox One or Xbox One S, you can play the game through the backwards compatibility program. The extra hardware oomph helps a little bit with framerate consistency, but it still doesn’t perform as well as even a basic computer would run it. Which is a shame.
The Xbox version certainly isn’t unplayable, but if you care a great deal about performance, check it out on PC/Mac/Linux.
What About Torchlight Mobile?
Your guess is as good as mine! Torchlight Mobile has been in development for an eternity, by an outside studio. It had a beta recently, finally. It’s apparently quite a different game.
I hope it comes out some day and I can play it. It was supposed to be out like a year ago.
What about Torchlight II?
Torchlight II is also good, but it loses the simplicity and focus that make the first game so great. It’s a more linear, traditional game in structure, with occasional random dungeons. It adds a larger world, and has multiplayer. The UI is a little more streamlined, and the game is faster, which I think makes the combat feel a little less punchy and satisfying.
Plus, it doesn’t feature the town of Torchlight in any capacity save for a brief mention in the opening and a few other references. Overlooking the chance to revisit classic environments is disappointing, as I always like it when video game sequels do that. You might not care about this as much as I do, but Diablo has capitalized on this quite well, and I had hoped Torchlight would follow suit.
Torchlight II feels very different tonally and art-style-wise, and I don’t like it as much. It never got a console version.
Will There Be a Torchlight III?
Probably not? I don’t have any inside info. But the original creative staff formed a new studio and made Rebel Galaxy. The remnants of Torchlight’s original team at Runic Games are now working on a very different game called Hob. Torchlight Mobile is the only new Torchlight game currently in development, and maybe it’ll never come out. If it does, I’ll do a little happy hop and update this article.
Torchlight is all the way great, and you should play it. It’s the best example of Action RPG gameplay on the market, it’s cheap, it’s focused, and it provides endless content. There’s a huge library of mods if you want new content/hate something about the game. It’ll run on a toaster. It has a lighthearted art style with some of the best effects animation in a game.
Go buy it! You can find out more at www.torchlightgame.com
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