Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

10 Good Things About Torchlight

I wanted to write about Torchlight for a while now, but there are game reviews enough out there that you don’t need me to write another one. Instead, I’ll focus on highlighting good aspects of Torchlight today – as a lesson for future games – while talking about the bad sides tomorrow.
Quick intro for those that don’t know Torchlight at all: Torchlight is a (at the moment) single player only Diablo clone by Runic Games. Runic Games has a lot of the people in it that created the original Diablo and later Hellgate: London. The game is available for €15 or $20 on Steam where you can also find a free demo.
But enough of that, here are 10 good things about Torchlight, in no particular order:

Errand boy cat
One feature that virtually every article and post on Torchlight talks about is the ability to send your pet (each class has one) home with loot to sell. Your pet has its own inventory that you can fill up with junk you don’t want, send your pet away to sell and keep adventuring. Two minutes later (reduceable through talents) your dog or cat will return with some cash for your pockets. This feature greatly reduces the amount of trips to town you need to make – very needed because the loading screens take so long. But that’s for tomorrow’s post.

Fluent gameplay
Playing Torchlight is simply fluent. With the linear design and the power of your character you simply mow through monsters, picking up quest items along the way and get to your goal without ever having to search for an exit or running into a dead end. In Diablo you could sometimes spend half of the time you needed for a level with running around areas you had already cleared looking for an exit you missed. In Torchlight you just go into the dungeon and play, reporting quests from time to time; but even that often isn’t necessary. Potions and scrolls drop everywhere and your pet can sell stuff for you so you can focus on what the game is really about – killing lots and lots of monsters.

Cartoony Artstyle
Don’t you hate it when you play a game that tries to be photorealistic but is off by a little margin? I know I do. When I picked up Oblivion on its release date, I had seen screenshots before that really impressed me. Everything looked so good. Then I installed the game and it looked exactly like the sceenshots, but the animations just weren’t right. The game’s graphics went from beautiful to almost unbearable in my mind within a single jump of my character. Generally, the more realistic something looks, the more we notice small problems in the display. Blizzard understood this when they made World of Warcraft and went for the cartoony artstyle we all know, and Torchlight does the same. The graphics aren’t top notch and you can see that most models are relatively low on polygons – but it doesn’t matter because the game doesn’t try to look real. Instead its just really pleasant to look at. (Plus my character can wear a fedora while dual wielding pistols. How is that not cool?)

Picking up gold
In Diablo I rarely picked up gold on the ground. It was never in significant quantities and each small pile of gold required me to click on it to pick it up. Not so in Torchlight, money is automatically picked up when you walk nearby it. You still get the gratifying feeling of seeing money drop anywhere, but you don’t have to do anything anymore to pick it up.

More classes than advertised
The game has three classes, the alchemist, the destroyer, and the vanquisher. I have only really played the latter so far, but she is really three classes in one. Depending on which skill-tree you specialize in, she can either shoot things with her gun (or bow or pistols) like Diablo II’s amazon, stab things with daggers, or lay traps like Diablo II’s assassin. That’s three totally different types of gameplay in one class, greatly increasing replay potential. I don’t know if the other two classes offer similar diversity.

Boss fights
In Diablo (I say this a lot, don’t I. The games are just that similar.) having a character adept at killing many monsters at once often meant a hard time killing bosses. Generally, boss fights in these kinds of games often involve dodging whatever abilities the boss uses, running away from it and shooting it from a distance. (For ranged classes that is. Melee works differently.) Torchlight fixes, or at least reduces the issues by introducing adds in boss fights. Lots of them. Rarely do you fight a boss alone, they usually either start with helpers or summon them periodically throughout the fight. This means that your WMDs still have their place when fighting bosses and that the fights don’t just require you to dodge whatever the boss does to you, but also deal with all its helpers around you.

Torchlight gives you your normal class abilities, just as in other games. Depending on your skill allocation you get different abilities to use for monster extermination. So far, so normal. Torchlight monsters also drop spell scrolls that you can use to teach your character (and your pet!) further abilities. These can be used by every class, giving game designers a space for spells that shouldn’t be limited to just one class while at the same time creating an opportunity for players to customize their characters. Also, teaching your pet spells can automate a couple of actions that you’d otherwise have to do manually. i.e. My pet currently uses a heal spell to keep it going without me constantly having to throw potions at it. Also, finding a new spell you didn’t know about yet is fun – as opposed to the careful planning of talent trees.

Alternate advancement
Beside the normal experience and levels, you can collect fame in Torchlight. Killing special monsters and completing quests gains you fame which in turn makes your character more powerful.
This isn’t really a “good thing about Torchlight” as such because its implementation is pretty lame. You don’t go out of your way to collect fame, it just happens as you mow down monsters. In the end, fame is just like a second experience bar that fills in a more chunky manner. The rewards are about as lame – you just get additional skill points to spend in your talent trees. No difference to experience here either.
The reason why I included this point is that I like the idea of it. Especially if the game gets extended with an online experience, fame should be rewarded for heroic actions that are not just part of the regular levelling process. Fame rewards should also be different from experience rewards. Transferring such a system into WoW you would earn fame for killing Mekgineer Thermaplugg for example,but not for farming Tyr’s Hand all day.

Attention to detail
This is really weird to say about a game with procedurally created content – but I love the attention to detail the game has. Especially on the first levels. My character enters a room with a bit of gold on the floor, a chest on the side and no monsters to be seen. Greedy me runs in, collects all the cash opens the chest and fifteen monsters appear. In Diablo, there would be a zombie spawning from a grave that you just opened, barely worth noticing. Torchlight gives you a carefully prepared trap of fifteen zombies laying in wait for you to open than chest and give you a nice scare.
There are little puzzles around. Nothing hard mind you, just the “pull these levers in the right order to open the hidden doorway.” Easy enough not to stop your flow, but nice little distractions from just spamming fireballs or what have you. Don’t get me wrong, the game could use a lot more of these (see tomorrow) but what there is, is quite good.

Difficulty settings
Right at the start of the game you can choose between four difficulty settings, which I think is something that has been lost in a lot of games these days. Yeah, playing the game on normal difficulty (the second of four) is very easy – but I can live with that if I have hard and very hard to choose from. There’s also a hardcore mode like the one in Diablo II, where your character isn’t allowed to die. That’s a lot of customization to set the game to your optimal level of difficulty. I’m just unsure how they will continue this when going multiplayer. We’ll see.

There you have it, ten good things about Torchlight. Before you call me a fanboy though, wait for tomorrow’s ten bad things!

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