January 7, 2010

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Torchlight  (PC)
Oct. 27 download; Jan. 5 retail, Runic Games
By Glenn "Giant Catfish" Given production@hippopress.com

Click-click-click on the dwarven wight and watch your screen go kablooey with fun in Torchlight, a click-and-slash dungeon crawl in the vein of Gauntlet and Diablo.

Well, more than just in the vein of Diablo, this practically is Diablo 2 all over again. From the wafer-thin plot (“blah, blah something evil in the mines under our town”) to the development team (many members of the Diablo creation team at Blizzard North are Runic founders) Torchlight might as well have been boxed as Diablo 2.5. While the grimdark stylings have been swapped out in favor of a more Fable-cum-Anime veneer, the core game remains the same. Players choose one of three classes to delve into the mines of Torchlight. As the burly Destroyer, you wade into hordes of foes relying on passive damage auras and improved melee abilities to cleave your enemies in two. The agile Vanquisher can opt to specialize in ranged attacks via gun or bow as well as close critical strikes or by dominating the field of battle with various trap-like abilities. The magical Alchemist employs summoned minions, magic-infused strikes and storms of hellfire to lay waste to roomful after roomful of baddies. While there is a fair amount of skill-customizing available (each class has three branching trees of abilities to invest in as you gain experience and fame), on any but the hardest difficulty the game can practically be played one-handed. Navigation is click-to-walk and clickity-clicking enemies will start the violent hammer blows. You can hot-key abilities for fast deployment, but most players will find that they boil their game down to one or two key spells and some fancy footwork. Enemy AI is dodgy and all but the teleporting villains can be bested with guerrilla tactics and kiting.

Torchlight is a budget winner — for $20 via Steam (a price which frequently sees random but welcome slashing for weekend sales) you’re  not going to get a better action RPG. Throw in the netbook mode, which downgrades graphics to enable play on today’s ubiquitous micro-laptops, and you’ve got the perfect on-the-go gaming fix. Replayability is high as characters who complete the main quest can be “retired” and pass a buffed item on to your next character, or continue to slog deeper in an eternal dungeon that scales its enemies to your level. Signs indicate a Torchlight MMO later this year, and while I wouldn’t necessarily shell out a monthly fee to keep the dungeon grind treadmill running when the single-player model is so satisfying already, fans of RPGs, Gauntlet-likes and the ability to text with your left hand while slaughtering an army of pygmy cannibals with your right hand will rejoice at one of the best and best-priced games of ’09. AGlenn Given