Torchlight is the inaugural release from Runic Games and it has a lot riding on its virtual shoulders. Torchlight carries the dreams of all the studio developers and, quite possibly, the hope of redemption for Runic's founders, Max Schaefer and Travis Baldree.
Redemption? Well... perhaps a short history lesson is in order:
Schaefer worked with Blizzard North with Diablo/Diablo II under his developmental belt. Baldree came from Wildtangent after working on Fate. Both were also part of the now-defunct Flagship Studios. Shaefer worked on Hellgate: London, Flagship's premier property. Baldree handled Mythos, a "side" game developed to test various engine components. Hellgate was intended to be a showcase for these former Blizzard employees (along with Bill Roper). Fans of the Diablo series were watching Hellgate with keen anticipation. Little unheralded Mythos took on a life of its own. Things were looking good for Flagship. But looks were deceiving. Hellgate was fraught with bugs and game-ending problems for many and, to make a long story short, Hellgate closed its servers in January of this year. The term "flagshipped" entered the online lexicon as an unflattering term that "references...the fact that many of the game's features are currently broken, or bugs causing the player to be set back after doing a fair bit of work for a meager reward" (UrbanDictionary.com). When Flagship closed, developers lost control of the properties that they had created including Mythos.
The old saying that when a door closes, there's an open window somewhere is applicable to Runic Games. Within months of Flagship closing, Baldree and Schaefer created Runic Games. The studio immediately began working on Torchlight, taking the best of what they had learned developing Mythos, Diablo and Fate and putting it to work. Now the time has come to see if dreams and redemption will come with Torchlight.
Torchlight will be released October 27th via digital download either from Steam or directly from Runic. Coming in at a mere $20, Torchlight will initially be released as a single player game, though people will also have a level builder with which to toy and create custom maps. At some point in the indistinct future, publisher Perfect World will be hosting a Torchlight MMO.
Torchlight is definitely in the action RPG camp: Capital ACTION, lower case "rpg". Gamers who love Diablo and Diablo II will find a lot to like about Torchlight. The game has a more "cartoonish" feel to it than Diablo but the isometric viewpoint should make action RPGers feel right at home. Player characters have big feet, little heads, bright colors, and exaggerated weapons. I was reminded a lot of Dungeon Runners (and, of course, Mythos) for those looking for a point of reference.
Similar to Diablo's Tristram, a small town (in this case, Torchlight), is in trouble and the helpless folks need a hero. In steps the player. There are three character classes: The Destroyer (male melee fighter); The Vanquisher (female archer); and The Alchemist (male magic user). Destoyers use big swords, big pole arms and can dual wield. Vanquishers use ranged weapons such as bows and, in a nod to steam punk, gun and rifles. Alchemists use staves and wands. Character gender is obviously not an option and there is no real customization other than the character's name.
Players are given a "pet" at the start and can choose from either a dog or cat. Pets can be given a custom name and are incredibly handy to have around. They're no slouches in the fighting department and can be given the ability to cast two spells. I found it particularly handy to have my dog, Fido, cast archers and skeleton fighters. My Destroyer wandered around with a small army, a rarity for a frontline fighter! Pets can also wear two rings and a necklace for additional protection or power. Probably their handiest feature is a good sized inventory that players can pack with unwanted items for the pet to run to town and sell without the adventurer even having to leave the dungeon! Pets level and can be fed fish caught by the player in town and in some dungeons. The fish transform pets into various creatures with different abilities and strengths that can definitely make or break any battle.
The only other real choice left to make on game start is how hard to make the game. Players can choose from easy, normal, hard, and very hard difficulties and can also opt for hardcore on any difficulty level.
Once the character is created, players are sent to Torchlight and begin picking up quests to complete. Let's be honest here and say that the only real objective of the game is to follow the main storyline, kill bad guys and get stuff. Torchlight does this extremely well. Gone are the old Diablo days when hording was a necessary evil. Loot is 'phat' and plentiful. The conundrum comes from trying to figure out exactly what to wear and use. There's just that much stuff. Players have two stashes in town. One is specific to that particular character and one is a shared stash for all characters. This is a nice touch for collectors and people who like to create characters of all three classes.
There are few side quests, at least the type one gets from townsfolk. Vendors also sell dungeon maps that open portals to new areas and there is an 'endless' dungeon with a constant series of quests to complete for, yes, even more great loot. Also when adventuring, players will occasionally come across a "phase beast" that will open up a portal to a separate dungeon when it is slain.
Battles are big and flashy with lots of attack and spell effects. Things rush in from all sides and there are traps that can catch players off guard if not careful. Players who love to break stuff will have barrels and baskets galore. Yes, more loot and gold, neither of which are rare. But the search is so much fun...
The main storyline takes players through 36 floors of the town's mine and will take 20 or so hours to complete. The game ends with a final battle that takes about 10 minutes to finish even on easy level. The end boss bears a striking resemblance to, yep you guessed it: Diablo.
Speaking of Diablo, there are a lot of reminders of where these developers have come from besides the overall game play. The music is quite similar to Diablo's which is not a surprise given that the composer, Matt Uelman, also created the music for the Diablo series. Sound effects are similar as well and will give players a sense of déjà vu.
Torchlight is a LOT of fun for those who adore ACTION RPGs and/or shooters. Torchlight has brought the best of Diablo, Mythos, Hellgate and Fate to bear and it shows. I couldn't get enough of Torchlight and can't wait to see what the community creates using the level editor. Similarly, I am already eagerly anticipating the Torchlight MMO.
At any price, Torchlight is a bargain and you will squeeze every dollar and more out of it. The action RPG market has been missing a big hit for a long time and it's a good bet that Torchlight is going to be a hit. Torchlight brought a smile to my face and will undoubtedly bring a lot of smiles to others as well. Torchlight is a surefire winner in its niche and a good bet to make hefty inroads into the MMO market in the future.
Redemption? Oh yes...redemption and so much more.