bshirk's Torchlight - Digital Release (PC) review

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Can Torchlight Illuminate Diablo's World of Darkness?

 

Fans of PC action-RPGs are likely already familiar with the latest Diablo. After all, it was just released a couple months ago. Before you call me all sorts of four letter words for being wrong, I'll have you know that the most recent Diablo release is not Diablo 3. In fact, it doesn't even use the Diablo name. Instead, it falls under a new moniker: Torchlight.

Okay, so while Torchlight isn't a true Diablo 2 successor, it does take inspiration from the series and was produced by a number of developers that worked on the first two Diablo games. This action-RPG actually manages to imitate Diablo so successfully, that you'd think it was a sequel if you weren't paying attention to the title.

As with either of the two Diablo games, you'll begin your adventure by choosing a character class. Unlike the seven character classes of Diablo 2 (if we're including its expansion), you'll only be able to choose from three characters, but that's not necessarily a bad thing considering that this is only a twenty dollar adventure. And besides, the original Diablo only used three character classes, and for most gamers that was plenty.

So what are these three character classes? Well, you have the option of choosing a burly fighter that could cleave He-Man in two, a dexterous female who excels at long range combat, and a Daniel Radcliffe clone (just kidding, the mage bears no resemblance to Harry Potter).

As you can tell, these character classes aren't exactly unique, but does it really matter if they're fun to use? All of these character classes have many unique abilities to learn, so you basically have three entirely different ways to play through the adventure. Before discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, however, I'll touch on the basic gameplay.

Those of you who've already played a Diablo title will mostly be familiar with how the game works, but for those who are inexperienced when it comes to PC action-RPGs, I'll explain the basics. To play Torchlight, you'll guide your character with the mouse. Most of the adventure will be spent in dungeons far below the tranquil village on the surface, but the controls remain the same in both areas.

To move, you simply have to click on a destination with the mouse button. If an enemy stands in your way, you can hold down the left mouse button on your target to make your character perform a standard attack. As a veteran player knows, however, regular attacks are for sissies, so it'd be wise to click the right mouse button to perform whatever spell or special attack you have assigned to that button; just be aware that it'll drain some of your mana (magic power).

If you think Torchlight's gameplay sounds shallow, don't worry. Each of this RPG's characters has more than two abilities -- you just have to assign them. If you'd like to perform a different kind of special attack, simply assign an ability to one of the number keys as you would in a certain Blizzard MMORPG that no one plays. Once you have a move assigned to a number button, you can use it by tapping that particular key. Even if you have enough mana to use an ability a second time, you should be aware that your spell needs a certain amount of time to recharge before it can be cast again.

Fortunately, there's more to Diablo's...err I mean Torchlight's gameplay than routine hacking and slashing. You'll also need to keep a constant eye on your health and mana, pick up loot, make trips to town, manage your pet, and upgrade/equip your character.

As is the case with most RPGs, keeping your character in tip-top shape is simple. You'll notice two large, colored spheres towards the bottom of the screen, and as you might imagine, those represent your health and mana. The large red orb represents your Hit Points (health) and the equally large blue orb represents your mana (magic). It's easy to keep track of how much health and mana you have simply by observing how full the spheres are, but if you'd like, you can also see their numerical value by holding your mouse over the spheres. All you need to do to keep your intrepid warrior ticking is to constantly refill those orbs using various health and mana potions, which is accomplished by pressing the number buttons they're assigned to.

More important than keeping your character in good mental and physical condition, however, is the loot you'll be able to outfit her with. You don't want your character to fight nearly naked unless you're a perv, so you'll need to keep an eye out for various types of armor your enemies will drop. The items you'll find have a variety of stats listed that'll tell you how powerful they are, but they're also color-coded to denote their value.

Unlike Diablo II, the weapons and armor your character equips can't break, but you'll still want to pay attention to requirements necessary to equip them. It's important that you provide your character with enough points in whatever stats you desire, otherwise, you won't be able to equip her with a powerful ranged weapon you discovered lying on top of an enemy carcass.

Sometimes, you won't want certain articles of clothing, so this is where you'll take trips to that quaint town that lies above the hellish dungeons you'll spelunk. There are several different ways to take your equipment to town, and I'll briefly cover each.

The first method involves hi-stepping through the entire dungeon like a dunce. That method won't get you anywhere fast, so instead, you'll want to use a town portal, or make use of your cat or dog you named at the beginning of your adventure. Town portals are quite handy, as they allow you to travel between town and your current location quickly.

They cost money and valuable time, however, so if you're lazy like me, you might want to make your pet do the work. If you want your pet to sell your items for you, simply fill up your pet's inventory slots, and click, "Send to town." He'll do all of this for you, with your only cost being losing him in battle temporarily. I found this option to be a valuable addition to the classic Diablo formula.

Besides being your errand boy, your pet can also aid you in battle, learn abilities, gain levels, and transform into other creatures. He'll battle automatically, but if you want your furry friend to learn spells, you'll have to teach him a move via an ancient scroll. And if you want him to truly become fearsome, you'll need to search for local waterholes where you can fish. The fishing mini-games are fairly simple, and if you're successful, they'll award you with valuable fish that'll make your pet temporarily morph into powerful creatures.

But enough about your beast of burden. Your character is what you'll put the most effort into. One of the best aspects of Torchlight is its impressive character development system. You'll equip various types of armor and weapons simply by opening your inventory with the 'i' key and by pointing and clicking, but you'll also teach your character a variety of abilities and assign stats points.

Equipping armor and weapons can be an incredibly rewarding experience, because there are so many stats to pay attention to. Not only are there basic stats like attack power, dexterity, and defense, but you'll also have to pay attention to weapon attack speed, stat bonuses, elemental effects, among other things.

Learning abilities is an equally enjoyable experience, as you'll have to carefully plan out your character's development with a skill tree that is similar to the ones found in Diablo II and World of Warcraft. Many of the most useful abilities are easy to pinpoint, so careful planning can lead to an unstoppable character at high levels.

What I particularly enjoy about Torchlight, however, is assigning points to different attributes upon leveling up. If I'm trying to make a warrior, I'll put the majority of my points into strength, and just enough points into defense. Magic characters on the other hand will want to focus mostly on improving their magic and defense, while characters with ranged attacks should focus on their dexterity.

By now, you should be able to play Torchlight with your eyes closed, but before you click the download button, I need to impart some more wisdom. I know some of you would like to know if Torchlight will run on your recently purchased stock PC, and if its graphics will cause you to vomit or kiss your computer monitor.

The good news is that you don't have to have a 10,000 BTU graphics card to run this downloadable title. You'll probably still want a PC built in the last few years if you'd like to play Torchlight on the highest settings, but it doesn't have to be capable of running Crysis.

Even better than the relatively low system requirements, though are Torchlight's impressive visuals. Its visuals aren't comparable to those of top-of-the-line PC titles, but its impressive use of color, excellent lighting effects, and beautifully rendered characters and enemies will please most individuals.

Sometimes, there's a bit of pop-up, but I never had an issue with lag, even when fighting hordes of goblins and casting more spells than you'd see in a Gandalf-Saramon battle. You'll always be trekking through colorful environments (the scenery usually changes every three floors), so Torchlight will keep you satisfied until the very end (unless you didn't like the combat from the beginning). Some of the areas you'll traverse are similar to those found in Diablo, but the gorgeous lava and purplish caverns will make you forget that pesky jungle area.

Besides being visually splendid, Torchlight also has a soundtrack soothing to the ears of any Diablo fan. The town music will make you reminisce of days past, and the dungeon offerings are equally pleasant.

I've already covered most of what you need to know about Torchlight, but I should briefly mention its difficulty settings, so you'll have an optimal experience. As you may have already heard, Normal is an unbelievably easy experience that your non-gaming parent may be able to clear with little effort. Not being a hardcore Diablo fan, I ignored the advice of previous reviewers and experienced this mundane difficulty. I had a great experience, but it was truly a cakewalk (and I'm someone who usually likes things easy). If you've touched a PC game before, I highly recommend starting on hard, unless you want to breeze through this six to eight hour adventure without dying.

This review is already the equivalent of making the trek to Diablo's lair, so it's time that I aid you with your purchasing decision. If you had a blast playing Diablo 1 and 2 and don't mind the lack of a multiplayer component (online or offline), I highly recommend throwing down a twenty. If you're not a huge Diablo fan, but have some fond memories of the series, it's still probably worth the credit card expense. However, if you've never been a fan of the Diablo dungeon crawling formula, and require your games to have a great storyline, you'll want to try something like Dragon Age instead. Whatever your choice may be, just don't blame me if you break your finger from too much clicking.

Pros:

·          Diablo is back, and is now using a pseudonym

·          Excellent visuals without high end system requirements

·          A pleasant soundtrack for Diablo fans

·          The addition of a pet streamlines the selling of inventory

·          Diablo's classic character-building formula is back

Cons:

·          For some players, this game will feel too similar to Diablo

·          Normal difficulty is far too easy for most players

·          Lack of original character classes

  .        Dungeon crawling might not be enticing enough for some players 

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