I can’t really explain why, but I could just never get into dungeon crawler games. I bought the Diablo Battle Chest back in The Day for cheap and put an hour into it before the constant clicking to do anything and everything drove me mad. I wanted to love Silicon Knights’ Too Human, but its repetitive enemies and other fatal flaws made it one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever played. Even watching footage of Torchlight wasn’t endearing, but the 30 minutes I experienced with the demo? Well, needless to say, I pulled out the card and bought 1600 points immediately. And then bought the game with those 1600 points. (Yes, it was that drawn out).
For those who’ve never played a dungeon crawler before, the concept is easy: you hack and slash through hundreds of enemies, gathering the loot that constantly falls off them and equip the best of it while building your characters’ stats to gain new abilities. Torchlight adheres pretty close to the formula established by Diablo 14 years ago (made, coincidentally, by the same guys), but it’s so polished and enjoyable that it stands alone. Before I start, let me make this bold point: DO NOT PLAY ON ANY DIFFICULTY LESS THAN “VERY HARD” OR YOU WILL WALK RIGHT OVER THIS GAME. I spent three hours building a character to level 9 and didn’t die once on “normal” difficulty, it was only when I started a whole new character on the highest difficulty that I was offered a genuine challenge. I’ve also never played the PC version, so I won’t be making any comparisons thereof.
You start the game out in the appropriately-titled town of Torchlight. A brief blurb of text is all you get prior to being sent pounding through the levels of dungeons that lie below. You begin to learn something about ember something, something, corrupt, whatever, keep pounding those bad guys and getting loot. The graphics almost perfectly emulate World of Warcraft‘s cartoon-ish look and as you push deeper down, the thematic changes from straight-up mining excavation to temples overgrown with vegetation, you never feel like the game is skimping on production. Some small effects niggle though: dropped gold, while automatically picked up by the avatar as you pass it, still pops up with an ‘A to pick up’ prompt from time to time.
Being a port from the PC, some concessions had to be made as far as controls, but a lack of imagination on Runic’s part makes them the weakest part of the game. Rather than taking advantage of the two-stick setup of a standard controller and perfecting Too Human‘s move-with-the-left, fight-with-the-right controls, you’re still stuck in the ‘fight in the direction you aim’ model from a billion years ago. This forces you to move in U-shapes away, then toward the enemy you’re fighting in order to evade them and continue your assault. If you play as the ranged Alchemist class, your conjurable minions assist to a degree, but those gamers used to most any XBLA action title, like Geometry Wars, will have to adapt. On the flip side, while the menus initially feel a little clunky, using them on a regular basis is a smooth experience as you equip, drop, and swap equipment. (A clever wrinkle in the game is being able to send your dedicated pet back to town to sell goods without having to make the journey yourself each time.)
Being an Xbox Live Arcade title, it almost feels like cheating to get this much content from a game: one can spend easily 15 to 60 hours playing the title building up their character to a cap of level 100. As fun and simple as the game is, it can be a bit of a grind at times and the lack of a cooperative mode is disappointing. Regardless, the game is a fun, polished hack-and-slash with a ton of content – something sorely lacking on the Xbox 360 – at a price that just can’t be beat.