Last night, I downloaded a copy of Torchlight, on the recommendation of a number of sources, most notably Penny Arcade and my girlfriend. I was expecting it be a fun little romp, a cute little hack-n-slash to keep me sated until moving on to bigger and better games. So I booted it up, figuring “oh, I’ll just play for a few minutes then go watch Mythbusters.”
“A few minutes” turned out to be 3 straight hours.
To say that this game is “addictive” is to understate the narcotic power of its lures. Games are often compared to crack cocaine in jest, but here it is not sufficient to describe the level to which it consumes your senses.
Torchlight is perhaps better described as the gaming equivalent of black-tar heroin: it dulls the senses to all but the euphoric daze felt as one scavenges through the corpses of foes, picking the choicest morsels from the fountains of loot that cascade from their bodies like grotesque pinatas. Your perception of time distorts, as minutes stretch into hours stretch into days and conceivably weeks, months, years… even when not riding the high of the experience, it dominates your thoughts. It consumes you, controls you, it makes you know you are a junkie from the moment that first hit begins to flow through your veins.
How does it accomplish such feats, even when games as classic as Diablo II have left me cold in the end? Attentiveness to the genre’s problems. Runic Games has even gone a good ways towards solving the major annoyance of the genre, namely that of having to leave loot behind.
Inventory space is no longer at a premium, since your pet has their own inventory you can use as a secondary pack. You can even send your pet back up the surface to sell the contents, letting you easily cherry-pick the good stuff and toss out the bad WITHOUT having to worry about missing out on a few extra gold from the junk pile. Not being forced to waste a town portal and time spent actually playing on dumping the vendor trash means this game is already far superior to Diablo II’s single player experience, and the pet is actually a damn useful and downright lovable sidekick, it’s strange transmutative reactions to fish notwithstanding.
Character growth is pretty basic, if you’ve ever played an action RPG or MMO ever you know what to expect. This was made by a bunch of the Diablo guys, so expect upgradeable stats and skill trees, though mercifully the skill trees in Torchlight are based entirely upon level, not a minimum number of points in a “prerequisite” ability. No wasting points on things you know you’ll never use.
Visually it’s a gorgeous game, with a luridly cartoonish and chunky style that manages to be charming without ripping off WoW too much, with a nifty steampunk aesthetic permeating the experience: I’ll just say my character is a sharpshooting black-haired bombshell who slings around an enchanted blunderbuss while wearing a red leather corset and leave it at that. Graphically-speaking, even with the settings turned all the way down for my clunker of a PC, it still manages to create some nifty looking particle effects and lightshows with minimal lag. And if your machine is a TOTAL piece of junk, there’s always the Netbook Mode option to save your virtual memory from choking on its own tears.
It’s a shockingly fun timewaster, and for $20 there’s not a whole lot of reasons you shouldn’t own this game. And with the demo easily available it’s no trouble to give it a try before you commit.
So don’t worry… after all, the first hit is free.