Ah Diablo what a game that was back in the day procedural dungeons the original hack and slash game that came to define the action RPG category.

It was followed up by the equally excellent Diablo 2 a game I spent a lot of time with when it first came out. I remember when I was working as a video card tester in the school holidays the week me and one of the other testers exclusively trashed our way through 2 player Diablo 2, we didn't get any other games tested but we were pretty certain there were no problems with Diablo 2 at any rate.

And here I am some 13 years on from the original and 9 from the sequel playing the third game ... no wait this isn't right. It looks like diablo plays a lot like it even sounds like it yet for some reason it's got "Torchlight" scrawled on the metaphorical box (since it's digital distribution only) must be a misprint or something.

Of course I jest Diablo 3 is not yet with us and may well not be for a good few years knowing what blizzard a like for teasing stuff. I mean Starcraft 2 was announced in 2007 and it's still not out so I wouldn't hold my breath for the third iteration just yet.

So anyway torchlight what's this about then well if you want a really quick one line summary then I would say "Diablo but with modern graphics" it does have some differentiators but at it's core that is what it is.

And there's good reason for it the people behind it Runic games includes Travis Baldree, designer of Fate (a very Diablo like action RPG from 2005 and if you look it up clearly a design influence on Torchlight and almost all of the features are like for like) as well as Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer who designed Diablo and Diablo 2 with the Flagship Studios Seattle team who were working on Mythos a MMO diablo like game which got handed off to the Korean owners when Flagship went belly up due to Hellgate london bombing big time.

Anyway so even if it isn't diablo it's certainly a relative the illegitimate son if you will to Diablo 3's dynastic heir.

So Torchlight story goes something like you turn up in the mining town of torchlight and something is wrong with the ember (some sort of magical material that powers all the spells and magical gizmos) and blah blah blah. The story is fairly light it's there but most of the time the main quest just ticks along as you hack and slash your way through the hordes of enemies with the occasional boss popping up. Torchlight town serves as the main hub of the game with a series of merchants and quest givers getting back is fairly easy it's the old standard scroll of town portal mechanic that means at any point you can jump out of the dungeons fiddle about and jump back in where you left off.

Torchlight uses the OGRE graphics engine an open source graphic rendering platform which is something I've toyed with in the past and it does a nice job of rendering the somewhat stylised dungeons and characters. If anything the style reminds me a lot of World of Warcraft there's a lot of colour and not a massive polly count but what there is gets well used. It's colourful and bold and fast paced the animation is fluid and the particle effects very well done.

The dungeons are procedurally generated the trick being (which I saw in the developer diary's) they've got a load of prebuilt blocks/tiles that the engine selects at random then ties together to make a dungeon such that you are unlikely to play the same level more than once. The various areas have their own style from mine like sections to water logged ruins to decaying castles and so on.

You get the choice of three character types Destroyer, Alchemist, and Vanquisher. You can basically think of them as Warrior, Mage, and rogue but with a bit of steam punk twist to their design. I've been playing the Alchemist and within these classes as you level you get point that can be spent to further specialise their abilities and stats. So in the alchemist you can focus on offensive powers, defensive powers, or more minion based abilities. So there is a great degree of customisation I've focused mainly on offensive abilities putting points into defence when I run out of offence skills to boost but I can see other builds would make for an different and entertaining game giving each of the classes their own replay value.

You also get fame, given for completing side missions and defeating especially tough monsters, which is sort of an additional experience track that when it levels gives you an additional point to spend on your abilities.

Loot is fairly standard armour weapons of various qualities (normal enhanced rare unique and then sets) some of which give special bonuses some of which has sockets which can take gems for further stats boosting. You can also try enchanting things back in town which may or may not work and occasionally backfires destroying the weapon but in this game loot is plentiful and a better stick of maiming is usually right around the corner or you could buy one of the various blacksmiths and traders. It includes industry standard health/mana potions and scroll identify and scroll of town portal. Then you get gold which you collect automatically just by running over it.

The game also gives you a pet either a wolf or cat initially but as you play the game you can change the pet into other animals or boost it's stats by feeding them fish. The pet also has some inventory space for equipment and spells. The transformations offered by fish (which can be fished for at fishing holes with quick minigame or bought or found) are usually temporary but sometimes permanent. One especially useful feature is you can load up your pet with all the crap you don't want hit a button and send it back to town to automatically sell it without even leaving the fray. The pet then has a timer before it reenters the battle. It's a neat mechanic combined with the relative ease of getting to and from town makes it pretty smooth to keep plugging away having your pet auto sell all the crap and swapping out the good stuff popping back now and again to collect quests and tweak items.

The game separates out spells as different from the powers you get from levelling (though you can level the spells with those points) and all the characters can get spells. Indeed you can even teach your pet spells which naturally I did. I taught my cat magic yeah that's right it's a mage cat! But I digress, you can only memorise a few spells though so it often means throwing away what ever you have when a new spell comes along.

The interface is pretty straight forward number keys for easily configurable short cuts to potions, scrolls, powers, abilities, and spells left click move and melee right click active power. You can hold down the button to just continue to attack. You can pretty much run the whole thing with just the mouse.

There is variable difficulty so far I've not had too much trouble on normal I've died a few times due to not paying attention to the health bar but this isn't too much of an inconvenience you get to choose where you re spawn for a cost the highest being right where you died, then start of the current level, then back in town for zero cost. It's a fairly forgiving mechanic. And the Powers are pretty fun right now my alchemist has a spell that causes a beam of fire to shoot all the way across the screen and I can just hold down the attack and keep it on spinning around roasting anything in my path till I run out of mana. Then I switch to my backup my dual wield wands ... that's right I call them Hurt and Burn! Those pirate assassins and their metal friends will rue this day and rue it hard!

Hmmm where was I oh yes music, well it's by the same guy that did the music for diablo and at points it sounds like it is the music for diablo. The town theme from there is very distinctive to anyone that has played it and it will jump right out at you. It's nice enough as music goes I suppose.

It has some nice features like a chest in town that you can stash stuff in that is then available to all your characters so if you find a nice weapon that doesn't work with your current character you can slot it away for future use in another one. Also I understand if you play to the end you have the option to retire your character and then get their "decendant" which will be the same class with some boosted stats and one of the items can be passed on to them with some additional bonuses and lowered requirement which could make for some insanely powerful kit as it is possible retire again and pass on the boosted item which will be boosted again for the next iteration.

There's plenty of fun to be had here and lots of replayability plus it's pretty reasonably priced coming in at 15 quid off of steam. It also has a full suite of editing tools available for download so I expect there to be user mods galore fairly soon.

So it may not be diablo 3 but it's close enough for the time being and it's well worth a go if you enjoy that sort of game. Currently the team behind it are working on an MMO version which I imagine would be pretty enjoyable but I guess we shall see how that turns out.


Disappointing there's no multiplayer

fish's picture

I guess they want to leave all that for the mmo version

Evilmatt's picture

I've just wasted half the weekend playing this...very good fun :-)

I'm playing a Vanquisher/Rogue, and currently running round with a blunderbus with explosive shells, blowing the crap out of things... backup is some AoE spells. Probably for the best that team damage is off, or the dog wouldn't be alive now (though he can shoot back...tooled up with Fireballs)...

babychaos's picture

I am tempted but I didn't really enjoy the Diablo games and I've finally got myself a computer that runs GTA4...

brainwipe's picture

I got this up and running on the netbook last night, which I consider fairly impressive. It has a Netbook specific graphics mode, and while the frame rate is a little low it's fully playable. Not great with a finger pad, but I have a bluetooth mouse that will make it a handy travelling game.

babychaos's picture