Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Post-Launch Review
Developer: Runic Games
Released: October 27 2009

Torchlight is an action-RPG dungeon crawler set in the village of Torchlight (surprising!), where miners have discovered a powerful magical mineral called ember, which seems to be creating horrible monsters. The alchemist investigating the ember's properties has been corrupted by a dark influence, and it's up to an aspiring adventurer (you!) to find him and save the villagers.

At Launch
Torchlight received average review scores in the low eighties. Reviewers were impressed with the game's audio, refined core gameplay, animations, and unique creature designs. The main criticisms were of the light story and few quests, as well as the lack of multiplayer.

Post Launch
There were a couple of bug fix updates, with the only major one being soon after launch. Achievements were not available at launch and were added shortly afterwards.
The Good
Skills & Controls
Torchlight has a respectable number of skills, with 3 distinct paths for each of the 3 characters - so you almost have 9 character classes. I played as the alchemist, whose lines can be broadly defined as offence (attack spells and passive damage bonuses), minions (summoning and buffs), and defence (damage-reducing spells and passives). 
You can map any skill or ability to mouse 1 and 2, as well as the number keys - potions, spells, skills, whatever. All you need to do is click on a slot and choose something to put in there. With my particular build I usually only used right mouse to fire off lightning, and occasionally used a potion. Later, when I found I actually needed to use some spells, I mapped them exactly where they worked best - defensive spells next to potions, for example. It's nice to be able to quickly and easily put things exactly where you need them with the game's default UI, without going into a controls menu or anything.
Pets & Fishing
Before I'd played Torchlight, I'd heard about the pet dog you have, which fights for you and can carry items up to the surface to sell, so you don't have to leave the dungeon to clear inventory space. That's cool.
What's even cooler is that you can go fishing, and each fish offers some kind of transformation or benefit to your pet (and, rarely, to the player). You can temporarily turn your pet into various creatures - a mimic, elemental, etc.
But the best part, at least for me? When I created my character I was given a choice of pets: dog or cat. "Cat?" I thought, "That's weird, how does a housecat fight and carry stuff like a big dog?" Only it's not a housecat, it's a lynx, and it looks great and is very well animated. Fantastic.

Enchanting & Transmutation
For a fee, you can have Torchlight's enchanter add some magic to a piece of gear. The more you enchant an item, the greater the chance of things going wrong and losing all enchantments. It's a bit of a gamble, but it's a cool way to upgrade your gear - it even works on the already-powerful unique items, but there seems to be more of a chance of nothing happening with those.
Transmutation is similar, but applies to gems. Gems can be applied to gear (with gem slots) to add an additional effect to that item. That's cool, but most of the gems you find are relatively weak - +3 to damage or resistance, for example. However, in town, you can transmute two identical gems into one of the next higher grade. I didn't realize this at first, and mostly sold my gems. Big mistake! If I ever play through again, I'm saving and transmuting every gem I find.
Sound & Music
A couple of things caught my... ear?
First is that the lightning spell actually sounds really dangerous when you hit multiple enemies or score a critical hit. It sounds very electrical normally, but with a big hit you get a sharp, vicious crack. It's a neat detail.
Also, in the background music for one of the environments (can't remember which one unfortunately), there's a background bass throbbing that somehow sounds very... underground. I can't really explain it, but it's really cool.

Defeating the final story boss isn't the end of Torchlight. When visiting the town, you may notice a graveyard with a locked-up crypt in the southeast. Once you've cleared the source of the ember corruption, you can then clean out the Shadow Vault to ensure that Torchlight is safe from all the corrupted beasties. And the Vault scales with both character level and difficulty, adding to the challenge. It's nice to have optional post-game content - if you enjoyed the game and want more, well, there it is!
You can choose to retire a character - literally, they hang up their adventuring boots and leave the profession. When you retire a character, you can choose one item to pass on to your next character as an heirloom. The item is renamed to bear your character name, has its stats boosted a bit, and has its requirements reduced a bit. The Shadow Vault is also open from the beginning, scaled to your level. But you lose everything else, so if you retire, make sure to load up your shared stash so other characters can access the rest of your gear.
Basically it's a new game +, but it's actually explained in the game lore in a cool way.

Torchlight comes with a level editor and modding tools (found separately under your Tools library in Steam). Hooray, mod support! I haven't so much as booted it up, but I've seen plenty of evidence that it's been well-used by the community.
The Neutral
Difficulty Curve
I played as an offensive alchemist, meaning I maxed out my strongest spells and passive buffs. I tore through just about everything in my path with ease, never even needing more than one attack spell at a time due to my power and high mana. However, towards the final levels of the story dungeon (Black Palace onwards, levels 30+), things suddenly got challenging, and I found myself needing a wider selection of spells, running out of potions, and occasionally dying. It was nice to finally have a challenge, but not for it to come so late and so suddenly.

Tracked alongside your experience is a stat called fame. You earn fame for killing bosses and completing quests. Since the game doesn't explain fame to you anywhere, I was very confused as to what it did and whether I should care about it.
Turns out, every time you gain a new fame rank, you gain a skill point. That's it. Nothing else. It's purely an additional source of skill points. In that sense I feel it's kind of wasted - a lot more could've been done with a fame stat, like making certain quests and items available only to characters with a certain fame rank, or changing how other characters react to you.
Item Sets
Some items are part of a set. These items are exceptionally powerful already, and give you additional bonuses for wearing multiple items from the same set. That's awesome, right? Well, almost. The rarity of these items means that you might play through the entire game and never pick up a second set piece - and there are 20 different sets, so it's very unlikely to actually complete one. Lamesauce. I got particularly lucky and managed to get 3 pieces of the Dragonslayer set (the minimum number to get a set bonus), but all of my other set items are singles.
More irritating, there's an oversight with some of the item sets. Some sets contain two different items of the same slot - for example, the Dragonslayer set has boots, a helmet, a shield, a chestpiece, and an epic chestpiece. However, since you can't equip two chestpieces at once, it's impossible to get the full set bonus for equipping 5 pieces. Double lamesauce, especially since that's the one set I have multiples of.

The Bad
Story & Quests
The game's plot is very basic and bare-bones: there's bad stuff in the mountain, so go kill the bad guys! I'm hoping that the possibilities of the magical mineral ember are explored more in the sequel.
The few quest chains don't offer much more. There are 3 chains, which consist of repeatedly doing the following: kill a boss, find a special piece of ember, and retrieve an item from this random dungeon. A few more are added for the post-story content, but are pretty much the exact same things.
Environment Repetition
The interesting dungeon environments become slightly less so when you have to clear 3-5 dungeon levels based on only a few tilesets, filled with generic monsters and no plot or lore. Further, the map scrolls you find frequently use the exact same layout as one of the dungeon levels. At least the map scrolls are optional, but it would've been nice to see a bit more variety in layout and content overall.

The in-game economy is kind of a joke. Actual useful items are incredibly rare, and the gold you earn from selling a full inventory haul is pitiful compared to the prices you pay for enchanting and stuff. Merchants have little variability (except the gambling guy), so you're relying on drops which are totally UNreliable. You also can't share gold between characters (without mods), so starting a new character isn't much fun for the first few levels.
Alchemist Scaling
Having only a week to get my review done, I only played through as one character class, the Alchemist. My character build was ridiculously effective for the longest time - I focused on lightning bolts and boosting damage (crit chance/damage, weapon damage, + lightning damage gems/gear, etc). I was one-shotting common enemies left and right, clearing rooms in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately the alchemist's skills don't scale very well at higher levels. Luckily for me I'd picked the one skill that scales 100% with weapon damage, so I was mostly OK, but if you rely on other attacks like Pyre or Ember Bolt, be prepared to be disappointed at high levels. With little to no weapon scaling, some skills simply stop getting stronger once you've maxed them out, and will only ever get incrementally better. I hear from the internet that most of the other two class's skills scale much better than the alchemist's, which is good for them I guess.
The Verdict
Recommendation: play it.
Torchlight is a solid dungeon crawler. It has its weaknesses, but the core gameplay is sound and it's perfectly built to keep you addicted and seeking out better loot. The relatively minor problems can be pretty easily solved with mods which are simple to install. Check back on Friday for a look at some Torchlight mods.

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