Just what on earth is going on? The last thing I knew was that I was having a quiet poke around a Dwarven stronghold when a dozen of the local greenskins took umbrage at my presence and started waving their big choppas at me. Nobly my dog jumped to my aid, calling to his side a pack of zombies; not wanting to be showed up, I summoned a phalanx of floating, flaming swords; and before you know it my pet imps have waded into the carnage, teeth bared. Between all that and the lightning I’m casting from my fingertips and the fireballs from the hound, I can’t see a bloody thing.
And that’s because Torchlight is not afraid to fill the screen with “stuff”. Some adventure games live by moderation, but that seems a dirty word around the Runic Games studio. For when two-dozen, oversized spiders can leap on you, why not even things up by chucking as much as you can back at them?
Whether you begin your heroic career as a brawler, an assassin or a mage in this top-down, dungeon crawling, action RPG, you’ll be given access to a host of over-the-top talents and traits to learn and abuse. Be it stomp attacks that sends enemies tumbling in an explosion of blue of light, whirling blades of doom that flash around the screen on green arcs, or bringing forth a mob of lumbering and solemn golems; your potency in combat will soon extend to far more than that which you initially wield in your inexperienced hand.
Combat is both frantic and satisfying; with vast swathes of colours appear on screen as the wide array of attacks hit back and forth, accompanied by suitable bangs and crackles you land a particularly devastating hit. Though fighting styles may vary, all are easy to execute. On the PC, Torchlight proved a very compelling Diablo-lite, trimming back much of the RPG fat, and so the transition to the home console has been achieved mostly seamlessly. Powers can be easily mapped to the face buttons, toggling between sets if you learn more than there are things to press, and the complexity of battle is such that you need to do no more attack at the right time, and heal when necessary.
Having taken on the role of the mage, I found myself settling into a routine. I would throw out my skeletal archers as a defensive wall, from which I would target fireballs at the most vicious targets whilst my imps attacked whoever they pleased. Quick dalliances with the other classes revealed more traditional beat-em-up styles, but I just couldn’t get away from the joy of controlling a magical army.
Those looking for something deeper than all out offence might want to reconsider, as Torchlight, although of hardcore persuasion (it’s team made up of ex-Diable, Mythos and Fate developers), has turned its back on that side of the hobby. Inventory, talents, upgrades, all have been streamlined to reduce the numbers, stats, and prerequisites required to understand how to build a powerful hero. There still exist numbers and attributes to compare, but to a lesser extent than even a modern Fallout.
Even the surroundings appear to be from byword for accessible fantasy, namely World of Warcraft, with a slight rounding and softening to more traditional settings. This isn’t high-fantasy, but a bright coloured world with strong themes, from the ratman infested mines to the goblin riddled dwarf stronghold, the lizardman’s exotic cavern through to the dragon lairs below. Each theme has its own strong sense of identity, in looks and level design, and continually refreshes the experience.
With the emphasis on such an audio and visual experience, there are times however when the clarity of what is unfolding can become muddied. Getting enveloped by a horde, be it your own minions or those seeking to do you harm, there is little way of telling (apart from your diminishing health) that things could be amiss. As much fun as sending two tides against each other can be, control of the situation is always just a fraction of a second away from being lost and even when you become a widely renowned hero, complacency can never be ignored.
It’s not the only downside to the sheer quantity of magical beings chucked, and on the Xbox 360 the framerate can be seen to dip during particular set-tos. Furthermore, attempting to pick up the loot that has been dropped in the latest skirmish is annoying difficulty thanks to the number of bodies on screen. This infuriating issue can be overcome, but far too often I found myself walking off in one direction, only to suddenly double back, leaving my minions, hammering A, and attempting to pick up said loot before they once more flocked around me like chicks around mother hen and get in my way.
Despite that, I wouldn’t have it any other way, as it’s those features that make Torchlight. The cartoonish nature, the over the top effects and excessively flamboyant talents are the reason why I went from level to level, plundering these quite probably innocent and unassuming creatures’ homes, in want of loot and XP so I could buy my next set of perks. From turning your pet into a troll through feeding him a fish you caught, to fighting monsters that cause the screen to shake as they walk, everything is larger than life, but never pushes too far as to be parody.
In the same way that the original Saints Row satiated my desire for a Grand Theft Auto before the release of IV, then maybe Torchlight can keep some Diablo III fans company in the meantime.