TORCHLIGHT / Runic Games / PC

Torchlight is a pretty blatant clone of Diablo -- three samey characters classes, central town with one descending dungeon broken up into groups of four themed levels that you can teleport between, ridiculous quantities of loot, townspeople yelling dopey things when you talk to them, etc. But it gets away with it because when it came out it had been almost a decade since Diablo 2 and we weren't sure there was actually ever going to be a Diablo 3. Some of the original Diablo team also worked on it, for extra street cred.

If you're entirely new to Diablo -- and you well could be at this point since the first two are officially Old As Balls now and the third turned a lot of people off with its always-online DURM policies -- the appeal is somewhat similar to a lot of MMORPGS. You get a constant serotonin-morphine drip of Progress from the heaps of little treasures you find on each dungeon run that improve your character just a smidge each time. Contrast this to, say, a Zelda game, where you get one big honking major treasure/heart container per dungeon for every few hours of gameplay. It's all about level-grinding, but the grinding rewards are parceled out to you in constant little nibbles instead of in one big periodic bonbon.

For starters, if you have any sort of experience with games like these, take the title screen advice of the designers and start on Hard instead of Normal. Normal is just too much of a cakewalk, if you do any optional dungeon floors at all, your character will be overwhelmingly OP and just click-kill right through everything.

You're limited in your character selection, but this is done to reflect Diablo's classes -- choose from meaty Warrior, sexy Rogue or magic-ish guy wearing a bomb collar for some reason. And as with Diablo there's a real threadbare plot that hardly matters and just serves as excuse to push you further into the depths of the dungeon. A magical portal just kind of sitting haphazardly in the middle of town where little kids are running around takes you into the dungeon, and every four levels deep you find another portal that you can skip to. Once enemies are dead, they don't respawn for the most part, but there's a couple of side dungeon deals. There's a guy in town who periodically opens a portal to a one-or-two floor dungeon that's a little harder than what you're presently dealing with but has better loot, and then you can also find and buy magical maps that open a one-off portal to side dungeons of varying difficulties. Portal Guy lets you freely leave and enter his dungeons until you complete them, but the magical map dungeons have to be completed in one shot as you lose the map upon use and the portal shuts when you come back through it (and you can't use town portal in either type).

The relative ease of Torchlight will suck in newcomers, and for vets of the Diablo games, the more colorful and cartoony art style might (or might not) be a refreshing change of pace. It reminds me strongly of the style Free Radical went with when they split off from Rare and made the Timesplitters games. When all aspects of the game are still new and fresh, it's pretty engrossing. The trouble is when that newness and freshness wears off, the only appeal left is a Facebook-game-like OCD dynamic of leveling and grabbing more Shiny Lootz. Reaching the midpoint of the game and then deciding whether or not you want to bother continuing is essentially a test of whether you're addicted to this sort of thing or not.

From a sheer gameplay perspective, the game plays smoothly and there's really little to complain about. The menu system is a little scrunched up, cluttered and confusing at first, but hovering over everything gives you an explanation of what it is and you'll adapt to it pretty quickly. My one major gameplay complaint is that enemies can get lost under piles of loot descriptions when you're trying to target them, and certain types (like the bats) seem to be needlessly finicky to target. As far as the characters go, I'm hesitant to call any class "broken" since the game is clearly designed to be way more easy and forgiving than Diablo, but Rogues and Mages seem to have a much easier time of it since your omnipresent pet companion is always an effective tank and can hem up groups of enemies while you snipe at them. Mana (and potion drops) are also quite generous.

If you liked Diablo I don't see why you wouldn't like this, since it's designed by members of the original staff to be pretty much exactly the same thing (unless you're just completely burnt on the whole concept). Just jack the difficulty so it isn't a cakewalk. If you like Farmville or other similar OCD type quick-pace grindy games you might like this as well on the easier settings. The main appeal as compared to Diablo is that the Torchlight devs are firmly commited to keeping LAN play alive and not forcing you to be online to play the damn game.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video