Developer: Runic Games / Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Violence) / Price: $15
Do you like phat loot? Do you like picking up equipment to incrementally raise your stats? Do you like traversing randomly-generated subterranean dungeon levels on a quest to level up? Of course you do. You’re a human being. You’re genetically predisposed to enjoy numbers getting larger.
Do you want to have all these experiences in one, smoothly designed package costing no more than 15 dollars? Of course you do. Thankfully, you can now purchase Torchlight on your Xbox 360 gaming system, and for this you should rejoice. Torchlight was a standout success when it released for home computers last year and it’s still just as good if you decide to trade in your mouse and keyboard for a controller with analog sticks.
So let’s talk about that. The biggest challenge with the loot whore genre on consoles is that of control. The entire litany of games that inspired Diablo or were inspired by it come from the PC gaming universe, a place where characters can have 80 different spells and the player can access every one of them from the keyboard; thanks mainly to Torchlight’s simpler design, this isn’t necessarily an issue. But credit should still go to the team for taking the cursor-click nature of the PC original and mapping movement to the analog sticks. It feels just right, including the analog nature of the controller: move the stick a little, and your character will move slower (and vice versa).
Casting spells, attacking, and opening chests is all fairly straightforward and accessible via the buttons. I will say that the context-sensitive nature of opening portals or picking up items on the ground poses a problem when there are too many AI companions on the screen. Your character will auto-target them unless you’re standing at the exact angle to the item you want to pick up, which leads to a lot of mashing the A button to grab gear from the floor.
Torchlight, simple as it is, still presents a lot of info the player. The inventory screen, in particular, is a massive wall of numbers and text and tabs. This is probably the area that is hardest to bring over from the PC, where access to a mouse lets you navigate with precision. Still, Runic did the best they could, and for the most part the inventory management interface is useable if it’s not exactly the most exceptional example in the world. There are a couple of instances where item description overlays can pop up on top of other menus, which can get in the way of other items in your inventory or other sub-menus. You can toggle most of the overlays on or off; it’s not ideal, but it gets the job done.
If you’ve played Torchlight on the PC, you know what to expect: killing hordes and hordes of misbegotten spiders, goblins, demons, and other nefarious weaklings in your quest for better equipment and experience points. There’s not really much different here, though this version includes some new armor sets.
You’ll start the game, choose one of three archetypal classes, and head to the town of Torchlight, which will in turn lead you deep into the mines below the town. Each of the three classes specializes in some form of combat: ranged, melee, and magic. Within those classes, you’ll have a wide variety of customization over powers and play styles. Further adding to the variety of the gameplay are free ability slots that you can plug with ability scrolls that drop from enemies, meaning you can do a bit of crossover between class abilities if you so choose.
The real appeal of playing Torchlight is the pacing. You can clear out a dungeon floor in about 10-20 minutes, which means you always feel like you’re progressing. More powerful loot also drops often enough that you’re constantly hunting new gear, but it doesn’t drop so often that you’re in the menu every five seconds equipping every pair of boots you find. This is a tough line to walk, and Torchlight is a great example of random treasure done right. It also helps that you can load up your pet with loads of junk and send him off to town to sell it all while you hack some more faces off (though how exactly my wolf companion could negotiate sales deals is some sort of arcane sorcery I still don’t understand).
If this is your first Torchlight experience, I do have one recommendation: play on hard. The normal difficulty is a tad too easy, and while the game is still fun, I found myself wanting of some challenge several hours in.
I purposefully crafted my alchemist for maximum frames-per-second destruction. Not content to blast elemental magic at foes, I instead decided that I would focus on summoning an army of magical creatures to do my bidding for me while I poked my greedy hands into the dark corners of the dungeon. By the end of the adventure, I could summon six imps, a magical golem, a flaming sword, a skeleton, and my pet could also conjure his own ally. Even when entering a room filled with 15 or 20 enemies, my army clashing with them, spell effects triggering, damage pop-ups, and all sorts of other mayhem, the framerate held steady (for the most part). Only a couple times did the game start to stutter, but that problem fixed itself as my small legion of death decimated the enemy bastards.
Stylistically, Torchlight reminds me a lot of World of Warcraft. It’s got the Saturday morning cartoon look going for it with lots of simple textures but a very colorful palette and creative geometry. The art will let the game hold up visually for a long time to come.
Look, if you want to grind through a dungeon and you only own an Xbox 360, your options are limited right now. Torchlight was a great game on the PC and it’s still a great game on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s the right size adventure to be snackable or serve as a full gaming meal depending on your time allowance. It’s fun, nice to look at, and will scratch your OCD itch of needing the next level of plate mail to complete your awesome battle attire. You can’t go wrong, go download.