Thinking About Gaming – 9/5/12 – Torchlight Edition
So, two things. I've decided to get rid of the generic title of before, what with it being tacky and boring. This new one isn't much better, but it's one I'm okay with, so it'll do. Second, I've realised that I don’t have that much interest in covering too many current games, considering that they get inundated at the time of release anyway. Also, since this is basically my own little archive, I may as well seek out games I find interesting for one reason or another. But who knows? I don’t, and that’s gone alright so far. Anywho, if you find this, feel free to read if you like. In the meantime, let’s look at a little old dungeon crawler on the PC that manages to punch above its weight.
The most I’d heard about Torchlight before playing it was that it was a smaller Diablo I. I haven’t personally played many loot-driven action-RPGs, but I did quite enjoy Diablo II, and Borderlands took up more hours than I’d care to admit. Suffice to say, I knew the basics of what I could expect. I’m happy to say, even though it’s not a particularly long game, Torchlight was really enjoyable, and to some extent I want to go back for another playthrough. The combination of satisfying combat and a beautiful setting make for a game that can suck up a few hours pretty easily, and even though there are a few imperfections, I was happy with this $15 purchase (thank you Steam sale).
The most immediately impressing part of Torchlight is the combat, because it is not only competent at what it tries to achieve, but manages to make a great deal of what you’re doing feel powerful and punchy. I chose to play as a Vanquisher, since I always go for the range-focused characters if given the option (melee fighters are boring, and I have a fundamental issue with playing anything that relies heavily on spells) and had a blast taking monsters out with my crossbow/pistol/skeletal shotgun. For a good deal, I made the combat work for me because I went in the direction of getting lots of critical hits, and it’s a success of the game that that was a perfectly viable option, since I was gibbing zombies almost every time at a point. Even if it is very much Diablo-esque combat, it’s still really satisfying to kite enemies around as my cat summons zombies to bunch them together, before blowing them all up with an explosive round. Although close combat felt uselessly weak for my character (not unreasonable) and when I wasn’t getting crits my guns felt kind of weak, I really enjoyed smoking creatures all the way through.
The skills system surrounding the combat is a good example of the systems throughout Torchlight, which, although not original for several of them, are effective, uncomplicated and are allow for a lot of flexibility. The skills were all cool in their own way, because of how each had a particular job that it would fill very effectively, even though it had the annoying Diablo system I didn’t like of assigning points to skills so that you can either focus on a few or be a jack-of-all-trades. I understand that it allows for a lot of diversity, but it made me pick 5 or so skills and max them out. I’m totally happy with what I chose, but I would have preferred some sort of option so that I could try out some more of the skills; even if it was something ridiculously out of place like the ‘Tome of Skill Reset’, that would have been nice. The fact that you get a pet to follow you around, pick up items you want without having to walk over, fighting and casting spells, and especially dragging stuff to town to sell, was an exceptionally clever idea because of how much it reduced a good deal of the tedium of loot. I used that poor cat for everything. I would have it go around and pick up every crappy piece of white or green gear I could, truck it town and get me gold, as well as using it for crowd control with aforementioned zombie hordes. This eventually lead to the economy being entirely broken with me having thousands of gold more than I needed, but that was fine, since it allowed me to indulge in my gem crafting. I know it’s a real old, basic system, but there’s something about getting lots of crappy gems and eventually making a really good gem that is addicting as all hell. It will continue to be a clever system to me.
Of course, what would a loot-driven action-RPG without good loot? The loot, thankfully, is pretty good. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, with your greens and blues, with some orange and purple occasionally thrown in. There’s something exciting about finding a blue item, and wandering what it’ll be as you identify it. It’s usually not as good as what you have, but it doesn’t matter, and it makes it better when it actually is good stuff. When I didn’t want it, I’d just give it to my cat, which would make it into money. You have your usual array of swords, axes, shields, armour, and whatnot, and it’s all cool, but what I found the most interesting was the inclusion of guns. Loot-driven games have always resided in either medieval-ish settings, or modernistic design, a la Borderlands, so carrying around a sword and a piece at the same time makes for a cool look, sort of like the Warhammer 40K guy-with-bolter-and-chainsword motif. It became a bit weird when it seemed like the cycle of gear began again, and I’d start seeing stuff like ‘Epic Cracked Bow’, but the loot aspect of Torchlight is still very strong.
Perhaps the most impactful was the setting and environment. Torchlight is not the most technically impressive feat, considering that it’s about 5 years old or so, but that doesn’t matter; the setting is gorgeous. Everything is colourful and beautifully curved and makes the technical settings absolutely meaningless, since it looks so good. The colour that permeates every single facet, combined with the huge variety of environments and enemy types and the really interesting, magical-industrial vibe it puts off, makes it a great game just to wander through. (As an aside, it always continued to be weird to think about just how much Torchlight seems to live on. Even if there was an ancient race of beings that made a crazy nature-covered waterway underneath a bloody mountain, did said beings’ building planner make a staircase going down and fail to notice the bottomless caverns, lava-flooded fortress and demonic cathedral underneath?) In a media dominated by muted colours, often as a variation of grey, it’s nice to have this shiny, pretty think to look at and admire. And it helped me to ignore probably the weakest part of Torchlight, which was its story. I could not give an arse about the story, and I only really recall it in the sense that I know I’d been infected by some evil blight, and had to kill the big dude who’d caused it. But it was so easy to ignore it, when it was sending me to cool places all the time. I’m probably not giving the story enough credit, but it just seemed like the part that had had the least amount of time spent on it.
The only major problem that I had with Torchlight was the difficulty curve, which seemed like something that the developers only remembered in the in QA section and realised “Oh shit, this game is really easy for ages.” Seriously, the game is stupid easy for a long time, even though I’d set it to Hard. It’s not purely because levelling up and good gear made me overpowered for a long time; it definitely did, because the skills I chose evaporated any and all. I believe it was because the enemies just weren’t designed to deal with an enemy that could keep away from it. Almost all of them were slow, and even the “extra-fast” enemies could be kited easily. And if they had a ranged attack, it would do little enough damage that I could ignore it, as well as blowing them up in a couple of shots. Even surrounded, I could use my explosive shot to decimate them. This led to the bad habit in which I’d never use potions, and I was just selling most of them, and that was bad when the game went from stupid easy to stupid hard. It was the last final set of levels which suddenly became ridiculous, because of a sudden increase in pretty fast mobs and one particular enemy with a lightning bolt attack which, almost uncannily, would hit me and take off two-thirds of my HP. When there was two of these nearby, or one on top of a staircase, or at worst an orange-named enemy, then I’d be trying to keep as far away from them as possible, trying to snipe these pretty beefy enemies for minutes at a time while also killing off these skeleton bastards who would harass me. The game didn’t become impossible, but it was the first point where I would stop because I didn’t want to play anymore. It’s a very curious oversight for the game to have, and I’m not sure if it was a problem with the design process, or just an issue which the developers, for whatever reason, struggled to get over.
Regardless of that quibble, Torchlight is a legitimately enjoyable game, especially for the cheap price I got it for. If nothing else, it’s acted as a good primer for Diablo III, since now I’m keen to dive in to that and get even more loot, as well as see how much each setting contrasts. If anyone’s looking to satisfy that quench before Diablo III hits (particularly since it looks like we’re headed towards another game drought) then I’d highly recommend picking up Torchlight, either on PC or XBLA, because of its pure, fun nature, caveats be damned.