Torchlight Review

Enjoyable combat and a great loot system make this hack-and-slash role-playing game hard to put down.

It may have taken a while, but Torchlight has made it to the Xbox 360. This hack-and-slash game debuted on the PC back in the fall of 2009 to raves about its fantastic re-creation of the classic Diablo clickfest formula, and the nearly identical Xbox Live Arcade take on the game is every bit as hard to put down. Combat is fast and bloody, loot drops are plentiful and varied, and the overall production values are rich with cartoonish visuals, as well as a catchy soundtrack that will keep you humming tunes long after you have shut down the game. Only the absence of multiplayer keeps the game from reaching the heights of its action-oriented role-playing-game rivals.

Anyone with experience in action role-playing will find few surprises in Torchlight. This is a follow-up to Runic's Fate games, which in turn mimicked the old Diablo franchise. The main difference is that the gameplay is single-player only, so multiplayer fans need not apply here. Plot is a very thin device about evil thoughts and evil doings beneath the tiny medieval burg of Torchlight. This mining town has hit hard times due to problems with its deposits of a magic-generating ore called ember. Tainted ember has corrupted creatures in the mines below the town and has even caused a white-hat adventurer named Alric to embrace his inner bad guy. So, as expected, you join up with a requisite hot fantasy babe who used to run with Alric and descend into the depths of the mine to kill everything you see.

Adventurers are chosen from just three classes: the destroyer (fighter), the vanquisher (ranger/thief), and the alchemist (mage). All are traditional RPG heroes, with some minor steampunk tweaks like the vanquisher shooting guns in addition to bows, and the alchemist being able to summon robots, as well as cast more traditional incantations. There aren't any options for customizing characters at the start of the game other than coming up with a name, although a fair bit of depth is added later when leveling up. Core stats like strength and magic are boosted with skill points, and further points are spent to purchase such special attributes as souped-up attacks, a range of stat buffs, various magical gimmicks, and the like. You even start the game with a pet dog, cat, or dino that can be morphed into a more useful ally, like a troll courtesy of magic fish that can be caught at select water holes in the dungeons.

Great lighting and spooky dungeons give Torchlight a lot of atmosphere.
Great lighting and spooky dungeons give Torchlight a lot of atmosphere.

Controls have nicely made the transition from the mouse and keyboard of the PC to the Xbox 360's gamepad. Basic controls are mapped to the buttons and triggers, while the right stick is used to zoom in and out on the action. Some aspects of the inventory have been tweaked to better accommodate the gamepad, with slots for individual items dumped in favor of a simpler stacking option where you can hold a set number of each type of equipment. You don't even have to worry about equipping valuable items like health and mana potions in quick slots because the game does it for you and assigns them automatically to the shoulder buttons. It even scales up as you start grabbing bigger and better versions of these elixirs, and it makes the best possible version of each potion in your inventory the default.

Of course, the story and setup in Torchlight amounts to little more than an excuse to send a fantasy hero off to slaughter thousands of monsters, play medieval UPS man on quests, and acquire swords, magic rings, potions, spells, suits of armor, and the like from loot drops. Still, even though everything is formulaic, that formula is adapted extremely well. Torchlight excels in virtually every area, save innovation. The single-player-only campaign is a good seven or so hours long and packed with nonstop action. Battles fly by because most monsters take no more than a few attacks to kill. Even the bosses can generally be toasted in reasonably short order here. Game pace never drags due to monsters that take forever to kill. Monster types are also mixed up just enough to keep you intrigued.

You take on standard fantasy goons like plague-spewing undead, giant spiders, and goblins, but there are also weirder creeps like pygmies, tree creatures, balls of light, and fungus-covered myconids. Bosses are given goofball names as well, like Slag'Zanik the Cunning and Poisonflinger the Great, which adds character to the massive melees. Loot drops are sprinkled with new items to keep you interested in searching corpses. Weapons, armor, and magical accoutrements, like rings, are widely varied and come with a long list of bonuses and enchantments, keeping you continually upgrading your hero with new stuff. While in town you can even pay to add extra magical effects and increase abilities further by popping ember stones into sockets on many weapons and pieces of armor.

Varied loot drops, along with a strong character development system and skill trees, make it easy and fun to customize your hero.
Varied loot drops, along with a strong character development system and skill trees, make it easy and fun to customize your hero.

Torchlight has a sense of humor, so even spreading guts and gore all over the dungeon walls feels much less grim than it might sound. Art style has been taken from Saturday-morning cartoons, with both characters and monsters boasting outlandish attributes, such as Popeye-like forearms and Russian-doll eyes. Everything here is exaggerated, from huge spin-o-rama killing blows that shower blood to monster pygmies that can leap across the screen like Batman. Randomly generated dungeon levels are also striking in appearance. Waterfalls, claustrophobic mine shafts, flowing lava, ancient palaces, and mossy ruins are just some of the picturesque locales that you visit.

There is a lot of color here, courtesy of the smart use of lighting and the massive pools of blood you leave behind after every fight. The dungeons are also constructed out of what appear to be floating platforms, so the claustrophobia of being deep underground has been mitigated by always being able to see areas of the levels below. The outstanding original score is even more memorable than the visuals. The tunes cover a range that is all over the musical map, including tension-building piano, dramatic Lord of the Rings-style military marches, and a set of progressive rock tunes. This is one of those game soundtracks that resonates in your head long after you have finished playing.

Torchlight might not break any new ground, but it remains an inspired reimagining of the hack-and-slash RPG formula. While the lack of multiplayer might keep it out of the big leagues for some players, it is still a great solo dungeon crawl with the ability to eat up a lot of your spare time.

The Good

  • Great refinement of the hack-and-slash RPG formula
  • Evocative visuals with varied and colorful dungeon settings
  • Impressive loot system
  • Wide range of monsters and bosses to battle
  • Brilliant musical score

The Bad

  • No multiplayer
  • Does very little that's new

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