If you’ve played one dungeon crawler you’ve play them all, right? At least, that’s what I thought before I set out to conquer Torchlight. While it may not stray from the usual formula of exploration, combat, looting, trading and questing, Torchlight presents itself with such charm and charisma that it goes a long way to making one of the most stubbornly traditional genres feel fresh again.
The most immediately striking aspect of Torchlight is its art style; a vibrant, cartoony, whimsical aesthetic approach that should appeal to even the most vocal of the genre’s detractors. It’s a far cry from the gothic fantasy approach adopted by the majority of the dungeon crawling fraternity and goes a long way to helping Torchlight stand out from the crowd.
Enemies look great, environments look great and your character (and pet) looks great. The game uses the genre-typical isometric camera angle to frame its action and allows you to zoom right in close to get a good look at yourself (particularly handy for checking out that fancy new armour you’ve acquired) and the damage you’re inflicting upon your foes.
Damage can be dealt by one of three character classes that loosely occupy the traditional warrior, mage and rogue roles. Disappointingly, like the PC version, there’s no multiplayer option, so questing is an entirely solo experience that forces you to pick your class at the start and stick with it through to the end.
I always opt for the warrior class in these kinds of games; there’s nothing quite so satisfying as simply equipping the biggest weapon, the strongest armour and the smallest brain and diving straight into the battle hacking away randomly at any idiot that strays to close too your untamed blade.
Torchlight delivers on its combat in part because it throws an incredible number of enemies at you; dungeons rarely affording you the opportunity to rest, heal and proceed unimpeded. This intensity is great for the warrior because it provides plenty of meat and bone to slash and bash but, during a quick experiment with the other two classes, the approach seems to work across the board; the rogue’s traps and the mage’s attack spells being put to good, regular use.
That’s not to that say each character is a one trick pony, however. While I like to focus on my strength and defence stats as a warrior, I can still call upon the art of black magic with the help of my pet. Your pet is incredibly helpful in that you can equip it with magic which it will use of its own accord. The very first spell I found, for example, was assigned to my pet and from then on we had our very own skeleton knight patrolling the depths of the earth alongside us. If dogs could summon such beasts in real life I’d… well, I better not say what I’d do for fear of government investigation.
Your pet is equally handy when it comes to earning money and keeping your inventory tidy. He/she/it can be sent back to town to sell items – obediently returning a few minutes later with your gold. This leaves you free to continue looting, slaughtering and exploring without trekking back to town but, during these moments, it’s wise to be extra cautious in battle as it’s not until your pet is gone that you come to realise just how effective it is in battle (especially if you’ve loaded it with magic).
Technically (a few frame-rate dips aside) the game has survived the transition from the PC to the 360 without issue but, unfortunately, the usual PC-game-on-console menu issues attempt to ruin the party. The menus are incredibly wordy and layered with tab upon tab which makes navigation using the analogue stick somewhat clunky and awkward.
The number of tabs is a result of the enormous number of armour slots, weapon slots, ‘socket-able’ gems, stats and upgradable skills. It’s nice that Runic have refused to dumb this part of the game down but it does take quite a while to familiarise yourself with the menus to the extent that you memorise the ‘two flicks left for this tab’ and ‘three flicks right for that one’.
Gameplay itself works fine on a pad. Your favourite skills can be assigned to the Y, B, LT and RT buttons as well as the d-pad, giving you eight slots in total from which to chain together attacks/spells.
Still, despite its 12 hour-ish length, there’s no getting away from the fact that is a dungeon crawler-lite. There’s no multiplayer support, there’s a limited number of locations and a limited amount of visual variety – as I’ve already said, the art style is nice but a bit more variety within that style would have been welcome. It’s a shame because, other than replaying the game as a different class, there’s little to encourage you to play through again – however, depending on your level of RPG ‘hardcore-ness’, that may be all the encouragement you need.
When it’s all said and done though, Torchlight is a charming, fun and worthwhile experience that goes a long way to quashing the argument that these kinds of games do not work on consoles.