It might appear to the discerning reader that there’s something of a theme going on with Tech’s reviews this week. After putting the hyperkinetic gun-gathering extravaganza Borderlands through its paces, we come to an equally over-the-top role-playing-game with similarly cartoony visuals and an identical premise of crushing any semblance of plot and character development with a massive hammer that does +50 fire damage and replacing it with an endless cascade of enemy-bashing, weapon-hoarding, mouse-breaking mayhem.
So I’ll forgive you for calling me pedantic when I say Torchlight is nothing whatsoever like Borderlands.
Whereas Borderlands takes this insanely addictive gameplay style into brave new territories and stumbles somewhat along the way, Torchlight retains the traditional look and feel of the action-RPG genre and concentrates on distilling it into its purest form, and the result is arguably the most casual fun you can have without risking an infection from the waist down.
You begin your manic adventure by selecting one of three basic characters: the hulking Destroyer, the ranged-weapons expert known as the Vanquisher, or the spellcasting Alchemist. From there you are dumped unceremoniously in the centre of Torchlight – part mining town, part base of operations for wannabe heroes – where you pick up a few basic items and vaguely listen to the by-the-numbers storyline of an insane wizard causing mayhem in the nearby mines before trotting off to stop said wizard, destroying an enormous number of supernatural critters along the way.
Proceeding with the obliteration of all things weird and fantastical is a straightforward affair. Sticking firmly to convention, left clicking your mouse results in a basic attack, and right clicking unleashes your chosen special ability, which can be switched by pressing TAB or allocating them to the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Each character has an impressive array of abilities which can be gradually unlocked, all of which are satisfyingly explosive when unleashed. My personal favourite is the Destroyer’s absurdly named Doomquake, which he executes by throwing himself on the ground, causing huge orange cracks to appear across it. Imagine standing on Gordon Ramsay’s face and you’ll get the idea.
Killing monsters earns you bigger weapons and better abilities, which in turn allow you to kill bigger and better monsters. It’s an addictive cycle, but nothing that hasn’t been done before in the Diablo or Titan Quest series. Torchlight’s biggest triumph however lies in your companion pet, which can be either a wolf or puma-cat-thing depending on your preference. For starters, the pet is incredibly useful. Should your inventory become full of unwanted goodies, you can transfer them to your pet and send it back to Torchlight to sell it all, allowing you to carry on your genocidal quest without interruption.
You can also teach your pet spells. I gave mine the ability to summon a horde of thuggish zombies and skeleton archers, resulting in a small army following me into every battle. Finally, should you become tired of your pet’s appearance, you can feed it magical fish to temporarily turn it into various other creatures such as a giant spider or a puddle of electric goo (seriously).
In a way it’s a shame that Torchlight sticks so determinedly to being a mindless action-fest, because everything it does it does so well and I’m left wondering how great it could have been with some added depth to the plot and perhaps a few slightly more intriguing quests that couldn’t be generalised as “go here, kill this, steal that”, instead of completely ignoring that side of things.
As it stands though, Torchlight a fun little timewaster, with an expansive list of neat ideas and clever touches, many of which I simply don’t have space to mention.