Torchlight Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Mar 14, 2011

Torchlight is an adorably cute, yet surprisingly deep and hardcore dungeon crawler on the PC, and Runic Games has finally translated that experience to the Xbox 360. You'll have the taste of Diablo in your mouth the entire time as you thumbstick through this loot hoarding title.

The Pros
  • Extremely fun dungeon hoarder
  • Colorful graphics, tight controls
  • It's Torchlight...on your Xbox 360!
The Cons
  • Inventory / Skills screens are extremely busy
  • On-screen interface can detract from the experience

Torchlight Review:

Torchlight is an adorably cute, yet surprisingly deep and hardcore dungeon crawler on the PC, and Runic Games has finally translated that experience to the Xbox 360. You’ll have the taste of Diablo in your mouth the entire time as you thumbstick through this loot hoarding title.


Torch Song

Frequent watchers of G4’s Feedback know that I’m a sucker for Torchlight. When I saw the game back at PAX a couple of years ago, I flipped for it. If Pixar married Diablo, Torchlight would be their first-born spawn. It marries delightfully cute graphics with the hack/slash/spell/shoot set, and tosses tons of loot into the mix. Forget about the TV show Hoarders, because Torchlight is where you learn how do make use of every single slot in your pack, and back home in your stash.

If you were one of the many who didn’t jump on the Torchlight bandwagon back when it came out in 2009 and has multiple sales on the Mac and PC versions on Steam, then you’ve been missing out. But, there are probably a lot of you out there who prefer to game on your Xbox 360, and just haven’t had the opportunity to jump in. This is your chance.

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It Only Takes A Spark…

Torchlight represents a long line of development that can be traced back to the original Diablo. Several key members of then Blizzard North who had worked on both that project and its sequel, Diablo 2, left to form a new company in Seattle: Flagship Studios. They were working on a title called Mythos, which went as far as a beta stage. But the project folded shortly thereafter, Flagship disbanded, and the rights for Mythos passed into the hands of a Korean publisher.

But from the ashes of Flagship, co-founders Travis Baldree (creator of Fate), Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer (co-founders of Blizzard North), Peter Hu and other members of the Flagship team founded Runic Games, and thus Torchlight was born. The game bears more than a passing resemblance to Mythos (and shows its Diablo roots), and represents all the marbles for Runic, as they are currently planning both Torchlight 2, and a full-fledged Torchlight MMORPG.

Shedding Some Light On The Subject

So now that you know the history, what is the game? In simple terms, Torchlight is a single-player action RPG. You play as a lone adventurer in the town of Torchlight, built over a massive mine where Ember, a magical ore, is mined. But that ore is becoming contaminated with evil, and as a result, bad things are happening everywhere.

You join Torchlight as one of three character classes, each with different abilities and fighting types:

•    An endless wanderer, who is drawn to conflict with his dual-welding blades, was led to Torchlight after hearing of the evils befallen it. Through channeling the power of his ancestors, the Destroyer excels at close-quarter combat and is able to smite his foes with such ferocity as to easily dispatch multiple enemies at once.

•    Part of an ancient order dedicated to justice and bringing balance to the world, the Vanquisher was sent out to Torchlight to investigate the mysterious slayings and missing town folks.. As an expert marksman, the Vanquisher is able to take enemies from afar as well as use traps to confuse and deliberate her foes from all directions.

•    Drawn to the power of Ember as a cornerstone of his magical art, the Alchemist came to Torchlight for his own ends. The power of Ember is beyond imagining, but the price is very high. By channeling the power of Ember, the Alchemist is able to dispatch enemies from afar as well as summon minions to his aid.

Or if you want to break it down to the basics, you’re talking: Tank, Ranged and Mage. My personal favorite is the Alchemist, but your mileage may very. Each class has different abilities, and they can all use magic to great effect. The Vanquisher is the only female class you can select (something that will change in Torchlight 2), and each class also comes with a pet – a cat, dog, and as a bonus to the Xbox 360 version, a Chakawary. Which is a sort of baby reptile thing.

You’re initially plopped down in the middle of Torchlight, and can explore the small town quickly, running into several different vendors who sell many types of items and offer different services, much like in Diablo. As you venture west towards the mine, you quickly become involved in a skirmish, and after you’re lent a hand, a woman named Syl asks if you’ve seen her mentor, an alchemist named Alric.. It would be a short game if you didn’t offer to help out.


Down, Down, Down …

The story of Torchlight quickly pulls you underground through level after level after level of different mines and dungeons, and along the way you’ll do battle with dozens of denizens of those dungeons as you fight your way into the depths. And what does all that killing get you? Loot. Lots and lots of loot. What began as a noble quest to try and help other quickly turns into a game of “Hoard As Much Cool Crap As Possible.”

You’ll be so busy collecting armor, checking out new weapons, Town Portal-ing back to Torchlight to sell stuff, identifying new items, trying out sockets, and searching for items needed in side quests that it’s extremely easy (and enjoyable) to get distracted from the main quest. Luckily, the pet that tags along with you comes in extremely handy. You can set them to be agro, neutral, or defensive, and you can also load them up with gear and send them to town to sell it all for you.

Sadly, there’s no minigame or cutscene showing your pet bartering for a better price with the vendors, who probably don’t speak Chakawary. The pets will prove themselves to be extremely useful when you’re swarmed by multiple enemies, and you can even give them armor to wear, and they can learn spells that you find as well. You can even fish at watering holes throughout the dungeons, and feed these fish to your pet to morph them into different creatures for a period of time, gaining that creature’s abilities.

On paper, this might sound like it would get boring quickly, but there’s some magical combination of cuteness, combat, and collecting that fires on all cylinders to make this game a real winner.


But Can A Console Handle This?

So, up until now, I’ve just been telling you what Torchlight is on the Mac and PC. But you’re reading this to find out if it’s worth picking up in the Xbox, right? Well, I’ll put it this way: yes. Unfortunately, translating the game to run with a controller loses some of the flexibility and freedom of motion you have with a mouse and keyboard, and that unfortunately can’t be helped. That and the text-busy skills and inventory screens are the only thing that knocked this down from a 5 to a 4.

Instead of a cursor to aim with, you drive your character around with the left stick, while the right stick moves the camera in and out. Skills get mapped to your left and right triggers and two of the buttons, and you can slot more skills in by pushing up or down on the D-pad to switch between selected sets of skills, giving you a total of eight that you can have at your disposal quickly.

But, that highlights one of the controller drawbacks. With no skillbar at the bottom of the screen, you’re limited to what you can do with buttons. Slotting in new skills or remapping your sets requires a visit to the menu screen, and that’s where things bog down. As someone who has played the Mac and PC versions of Torchlight exclusively, my first trip to the inventory in the XBLA version was rough. There’s a definitely learning curve between the two, and it will take several sessions upping your skills and investigating your loot to get things down pat.

It’s in those same menu screens that the pet commands are buried: hit select to bring up the menus, and then hit start while you’re in there to access the your pet. It took me awhile to figure that out, and there’s no RTFM to refer to. You’ll also quickly find out that the text can be hard to read, even on a large, high-definition monitor. Torchlight isn’t the only game that suffers from that affliction (seriously developers, what’s up with that?) but straining to read what sort of bonus the boots you just found isn’t the most enjoyable thing in the world.

Is It Worth Torchlight Lighting Your Way?

At the end of the day, once you get past the menus and adjust to the controls (and you’ll miss having the mouse to help you aim ranged weapons), you’re still playing Torchlight, and the whimsy, fun, excitement, and adventure from the original version are all there. The music and sounds, created by Diablo composer and sound designer Matt Uelman, are all beautiful, and you’ll blink your eyes and quickly realize you’ve just let five hours go by in this world.

If you loved the original Diablo, Torchlight is right up your alley. Yes, it can be a bit button-mashy at times, and it suffers from the same PC/Mac lack of multiplayer (that’s coming in Torchlight 2), but there’s no denying how much fun this game is. At $15 (1200 MS points), it’s also a bargain, and the price for the PC/Mac version has been permanently dropped to $14.95. The game is available now as part of Microsoft’s Xbox Live House Party, and is easily the standout title of that bunch.