Friday, April 9, 2010

[Game Review] Torchlight

Regular readers may recall when I took advantage of a big holiday sale on Steam to buy a slew of games. I've already finished and reviewed Assassin's Creed. That's a link to the review there. I've also finished Judge Dredd, but I never got around to reviewing it. The short version is that it was totally worth the $1.59 I paid for it.

I actually only paid $4.99 for Torchlight, which was really a remarkable price for a game that was only a few months old and of such high quality. Torchlight feels like the original Diablo, done with modern graphics and a few nifty tricks. Like Diablo, the game randomizes its maps, so that it's never really the same game twice. Also like Diablo you get to choose from a selection of classes, in this case a melee-focused barbarian, a magic-focused alchemist, or an archer. Each of them also gets to choose a pet - either a dog or a cat.

The game, made in part by some ex-Blizzard employees who worked on Diablo, keeps many of Diablo's basic features. It has pools of health and mana that are used up when you take damage or cast magical spells. It has a variety of weapons, it has an array of spells, and each character has statistics controlling things like how hard they hit, how well they use magic, and how well they resist certain types of spells. Each character has a tree of special abilities that they can learn and improve as they go up in levels. These abilities use mana just like spells. There's a town with merchants to buy and sell your stuff as well as characters who give you quests to kill certain monsters or find certain items. And, lastly, there's a dungeon into which you descend, level-by-level, gaining power, gold, better spells, and superior weaponry.

You get to determine how to beef up your character as you go up levels, which means that really any character can be as good or bad at whatever you want - you can have a barbarian who casts spells really well, or an alchemist who uses a bow. I didn't really try this, but by the end my barbarian was a pretty fair spellcaster.

The game was long, which I consider to be a good thing. There's nothing worse than a game that's over before you're ready to quit playing it. More, Torchlight lets you keep playing indefinitely once the main questline is complete and the "final boss" has been defeated. The main problem I had was that there didn't really seem to be any point in doing so. There was almost no chance of getting a complete set of any of the really useful magic items, yet they weren't really necessary anyway. I played the game both without any really great magic items and also, often, without even bothering to assign all of my skill points. I very rarely died and the penalty for dying wasn't that severe anyway - generally just a loss of some gold.

It was a fun game, but it wasn't a great game. I can't put my finger on the difference, but there was something missing from it when it get the inevitable comparisons to the blockbuster hits Diablo or Diablo 2. It had some interesting differences. The pet was nice, both because he could hold stuff and because you could send him off to town to sell crap you didn't want. Also, there were fishing holes where you could play a little fishing mini-game, and the fish you caught could be fed to your pet to change him into various monsters, some of which could be quite powerful.

So, again, I don't exactly know why Torchlight wasn't as good as Diablo or Diablo 2. It just wasn't. But it wasn't bad by any means, and if you can get it for a few bucks, it'll keep you entertained for quite a while. The graphics, music, gameplay and voice acting were all fine. The spells, skills and items made sense and worked appropriately. The game wasn't terribly challenging for the most part, but I also played carefully and made sure to take every advantage I found, which probably made my character's power above-average for the levels he was on. Torchlight is a fun, discount, single-player only game reminiscent of (but not quite as good as) the Diablo series. I recommend it and rate it a B+.

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