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Retrospective Review: Torchlight

December 5th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

As much as i tried to resist its charismatic visual charm and overt Diablo nostalgia, Torchlight finally baited me into downloading the XBLA demo. Before i knew it, i’d purchased both the full XBLA version and the discounted PC version, and sunk quite a few hours into the game.

combovid-screenshot-torchlight-destroyer-02Now that i’ve seen almost everything there is to see in Torchlight, i have to say that i’m extremely disappointed with how unnecessarily long it took to reach this point. Don’t get me wrong, the game is expertly crafted in many ways, but my lasting impression of the experience is frustration.

As much as i want to show off screenshots of Torchlight’s compelling atmosphere, i can’t bring myself to recommend the game to anyone – for the simple reason that it quickly turns into addictive torture by design.

Believe it or not, the whole reason i played the demo was because the XBLA description promised that i could transform my pet into various creatures, including elementals. I’ve had a soft spot for elementals since the original Warcraft.

What that marketing blurb didn’t explain is that you have to “play” their braindead fishing “mini-game” for 5-10 hours straight in order to catch one extremely rare fish to permanently transform a single character’s pet into a (random!) elemental. I mean, why??

Can you imagine how many productive hours have been utterly wasted in search of that tiny speck of satisfaction? It’s not even a challenge. It’s just dumb, pointless grinding. How could Runic Games get so many things right, yet still relapse into that old sadistic routine, which sadly still permeates the open-ended RPG genre?

The truth is, Torchlight is a great game until your character reaches lvl40. Beyond that point, it has nothing of substance to offer – but it’s terrified to admit that. As long as you stop at lvl40, you’ll remember it fondly. If you keep going, what little you find won’t justify the growing time investment.

If you want to continue playing, you’re far better off starting a new character. All three classes are interesting in their own way, so there’s no wrong choice between them. Instead of replaying the main campaign, you might want to try heading directly to the Shadow Vault in the southeast corner of town.

Maybe the coolest part of taking the Shadow Vault route is that you never have to lose Brink. Normally he accompanies you from the second level of the main campaign until the first boss battle on the fourth floor. As long as you avoid that fourth level, he’ll never leave your side. Brink isn’t exactly dominant in later stages, but he’s free and it’s still fun having him around.

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  1. December 5th, 2011 at 23:55 | #1

    By the way, i found a couple of strange things you can do in Torchlight to amuse yourself once you get (really) bored.

    Holding the Shift key normally allows you to target attacks and spells without moving. Turns out you can hold Shift and spin the mouse around your character to make them rotate in place. It looks kind of funny.

    After you click on Syl or any other walking NPC in town, exit out of the dialogue prompt without moving and stand still. Your character will automatically rotate to track the NPC until you move again.

    When you’re in town, click on any walking NPC to initiate conversation, then press ESC almost simultaneously to bring up the Options menu. The game won’t pause and the camera will continue following the NPC’s path.

  2. Anatidaus
    December 5th, 2011 at 23:58 | #2

    Do you suppose Diablo 3 might suffer a similar endgame fate? Perhaps that’s hard to say before it actually comes out, but I wonder regardless…

  3. December 6th, 2011 at 01:02 | #3

    Yes, absolutely. Diablo is what started this whole mess, and Diablo 3 seems no different. In fact, Runic Games (the company that made Torchlight) was founded by ex-Diablo people from Blizzard.

    I think any open-ended RPG that pretends to provide “infinite replay value” beyond the natural end of the game – without any new gameplay – is inevitably going to end up committing the same sins.

    People who played Diablo 2 reached the end of the game, then played the same three levels over and over. Not because we were expecting new enemies to kill. Not because we were expecting those enemies to use different spells. Not because we wanted to try out some creative new strategy every time.

    We did it strictly because we wanted two more pieces of armor to complete a set – so we could play the same exact levels, the same exact way, looking slightly cooler.

    My disappointment with Torchlight comes from the fact that it’s a single-player game, so it didn’t have to impose this artificial item scarcity on us. There was no multi-player server ecosystem to maintain. All they had to worry about was one individual player being happy.

    But they screwed us over anyway, for no good reason other than laziness.

    If Torchlight can’t get it right, then Diablo 3 (with a built-in auction house) has no hope whatsoever. Hope you’re ready for Grindfest 2012.

  4. onreload
    December 7th, 2011 at 13:27 | #4

    What’s weird is, I love grinding when it’s not mandatory. In Fallout3, the PC version let me raise the level cap to whatever I wanted, so even though my character hit his level cap (of 20 or 25, I don’t remember) before the end of the game, I think I finished all the DLC with a character level somewhere in the 70s, because I was always fighting things *on my way to other quests or points of interest*. You might say it was cheating, since you get perks with each level, but the enemy difficulty also scales with your own level, so I was totaly overpowered.

    Either way, I could have beaten everything with my character under level 20, but I like to take on every quest, which makes everything feel a lot less like a “grind.” I am worried about Skyrim, though, since it has “infinitely” generated quests – though I’m sure that if those are fun enough, I won’t mind…or starve to death in front of the computer.

    But I recently played this rhythm/RPG (how could I resist that genre mash-up?) called Sequence, and while it was fun despite being unpolished, you HAD to farm random drops in order to advance onto the next floor. That kind of exploitation is visible to a smart player as soon as it starts.

    You’d think with the consistent appearance of DLC, or as we used to call them, expansion packs, (though I don’t know how well they work in terms of sales), that they wouldn’t be so afraid to say “You play these games at a speed you like, since the game’s various challenges and their number of possible solutions are large enough, and when it’s over, congratulations.”

    …so I’ll just keep playing Deus Ex every year. and banning myself from MMOs

  1. December 13th, 2011 at 09:12 | #1
  2. December 15th, 2011 at 23:57 | #2
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