Video game reviews: Torchlight
XBox Live Arcade
Despite the pages of statistics, thousands of different items to collect, spells to learn, and enemies to slay, Torchlight’s appeal lies entirely in two aspects: mindless killing and the acquisition of goods. This approach has its merits, but don’t go into Torchlight expecting anything to mean anything.
You name your warrior and choose from three different classes: the up-close and personal melee warrior, the ranged weapons expert, and the mage. From there, you have to set out into the catacombs beneath the town of Torchlight and discover the source of the “ember poisoning” that is killing both the town and yourself.
This story is told entirely through portentous narration and scrolling text, recalling the heyday of PC RPGs from the mid-90s. That’s a very deliberate choice, as Runic Games (the creators of Torchlight) are comprised of several ex-staffers from Blizzard and seem to have a real affinity for Diablo.
Ultimately, though, Torchlight is pretty underwhelming, mainly because of its staunch refusal to do anything new. Besides the addition of an animal companion and a far less dark aesthetic, as well as the almost-complete gutting of anything resembling a narrative thrust for your actions, Torchlight simply is Diablo (and Diablo, of course, was only a slightly more complicated evolution of the formula laid down by the arcade classic Gauntlet). It’s a completely mindless experience, as you kill wave after wave of enemy, not really requiring very much skill or foresight, only persistence.
That’s not to say it’s not strangely satisfying. Much like Diablo, the real “carrot” for gamers is the collection of the various pieces of armor and weaponry that you gain by killing enemies. Unfortunately, Torchlight lacks any multiplayer (an oversight being rectified in the sequel), so this acquisition is a fairly meaningless affair. It’s only cursorily tied to your progression, and it basically turns what should be an epic quest into a scavenger hunt.
And just like Diablo, Torchlight is defined by how mindless it is. It’s a really good way to blow off steam after work. The problem is that there’s literally nothing in this game that hasn’t been done better by Diablo, except that Diablo isn’t on the 360 (yet). If you’re jonesing for a simple hack-and-slash, you could certainly do worse, but don’t expect anything resembling an intellectual experience.