Torchlight Impressions

The minds behind Hellgate: London and Fate have teamed up to make this upcoming single-player action RPG.

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Diablo may be the grandaddy of all clicky action role-playing games, but dozens of games have since built on the foundation that Blizzard created. The newest game that hopes it has the power to keep you glued to the screen in enthralled bliss is Torchlight, Runic Games' upcoming action RPG. We got together with company cofounder Travis Baldree, who walked us through Torchlight's finer points.

Who's Making This Game: Remember when Blizzard North employees splintered away to create their own development house, Flagship Studios? Flagship dissolved last year, and the defunct studio's Max and Eric Schaefer teamed up with Baldree, creator of the well-received action RPG Fate, and founded Runic Games. The team from Flagship created Hellgate: London and had been working on another free-to-play MMOG, Mythos, which is now being developed by developer/publisher HanbitSoft. In other words, a lot of experienced individuals are creating Torchlight.

What the Game Looks Like: Torchlight has a highly stylized, almost cartoony look that is reminiscent both of Baldree's previous project, Fate, and NCsoft's Dungeon Runners. It's played from an isometric perspective typical of the genre, and as is also typical of the genre, we saw goblins, goo, ogres, and other action RPG staples. The environments look clean but attractive, and the game uses a scalable open-source engine that should let it run on a variety of PCs.

What There Is to Do: For the most part, you'll click your way through various environments, attacking creatures, looting corpses, and leveling up. There are two classes to choose from, and it's the destroyer class that we saw in action during the demonstration. Perhaps the game's biggest feature is its modification tools that ship with the game. With these tools, you can modify almost any feature of Torchlight. You can design new dungeons, create characters and interactions, tweak the rate at which you earn experience, create new classes and weapons, make your own skills and spells, and do a whole lot more. From what we saw of the mod tools, you can keep things simple or craft an incredibly complex castle. The coolest aspect of these tools is that you can test your creation without having to exit the toolset and enter the game proper.

How the Game Is Played: Accompanied by an AI-controlled dog (think Fable II), you explore the world, looking for the nefarious forces behind the corrupted floes of nether, which flows underneath the land. On the way, you'll beat up beasties in a variety of randomly generated dungeons, so every dungeon visit will result in different monsters, different pathways, and different loot. Of course, you will also use a variety of spells and other abilities, and you can choose from both a shared skill tree as well as a class-specific skill tree. You will also earn other perks that might improve your pet's combat skills, decrease merchant prices, and more.

Another interesting feature: Once you complete the game, you can pass on items and abilities to descendants, which means that you can start the game again with a new character who has access to better stuff than a standard level-one avatar. Sadly, a friend won't be able to join you: Torchlight is a single-player-only RPG. However, it will sell at a discount price, somewhere around $20 or $30, and it will start life as a digital download, hopefully to appear as a full retail product at a later date.

What They Say: The powerful modification tools and randomly generated dungeons will give Torchlight a lot of replay value.

What We Say: Torchlight may be limited in scope, but based on the success of Fate, sometimes the simplest games can be the most enjoyable to play. We liked what we saw, but it's too early to tell if this simplicity will be enough to engage modern RPG fans.

With such talented minds behind the project, it's hard not to have high expectations for Torchlight. If you'd rather find out for yourself, be on the lookout for a fall 2009 release only on the PC.

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