Runic Games’ $20 loot-leavened action-roleplaying game Torchlight just went live across a slew of digital download services. You can grab it immediately from Perfect World Entertainment, Steam, GamersGate, Encore, Gameware.at, WildTangent and Direct2Drive. Judging from my time with the game so far, I’d say you probably should (buy it, that is) verging on an enthusiastic “definitely.”
Runic’s CEO Max Schaefer calls Torchlight’s gameplay “satisfying and snappy.” That describes it perfectly, the sort of game that comes itching to please like a hyper-caffeinated pet. It’s paced to keep you looting and leveling as well as recovering from low health or mana reserves on up to out-and-out death without tedious camp-and-wait interludes. It pulls that off while sustaining fail states punitive enough to reward tactical thinking in lieu of thoughtless bulldozing. The levels iterate randomly, but don’t let that put you off: The rock tunnels and castle corridors I’ve been grinding through come stitched together with intelligence and cunning, and doors that cloak caches of easy treasure can harbor surprise boss areas shunted off the main channels into grueling micro-arenas.
Hack-and-slash? Sure, though it’s probably more fitting to call Torchlight “click-hold-and-execute.” You plays as a destroyer (tank), vanquisher (ranged DPS), or alchemist (nuker). You left-click-and-hold to pull off melee attacks or right-click-and-hold to execute magical ones. Magic consumes mana, which reconstitutes automatically, whereas depleted health can only be replenished with potions. Your pet (yes, you get a pet, immediately and for free) regains health automatically, can be tinkered with tactically, and–get this–can be deployed back to town to sell your inventory contents.
Still not convinced? Let me fix that.
1. It’s by the guys who co-designed Diablo and Diablo II (and, consequently, plays a lot like a more streamlined version of those two). Take a bow, Max and Erich Schaefer, as well as Travis Baldtree, the guy responsible for WildTangent’s laudable 2005 action-RPG Fate. Forget the absent Blizzard “seal of approval,” these are the guys that made Blizzard.
2. It’s a PC-only game. Well, PC in the “personal computing” sense anyway (there’s a Mac port in the works). Point is, here’s one to throw at all those consoles-do-or-diers, who’ll be dropping $60 or more on games half as cool (okay, maybe two-thirds) through the holidays.
3. It’s built to run like a turbo-charged super-car beamed back from the future. Everything about this thing cooks. The interface snaps to attention when you interact with vendors or drag items around, levels load in microseconds, and your character books across the screen like a magic-laden cruise missile.
4. The story begins “I have always been a wanderer,” which is only slightly more cliched than “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” though not as racy as “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins” or as astonishing as “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” The magic realism version next time, eh Runic?
5. There’s an optional ultra ‘hardcore’ tick box above and beyond the “very hard” difficulty setting. It makes death permanent. My level two destroyer croaked earlier, and that’s all he’ll ever write–no reloading or resurrecting. New character or bust. Brutal, Runic, simply brutal.
6. The music sounds just like the pensive, finger-plucking, steel-sliding twelve-string dirge that practically defined the original Diablo. That’s because Matt Uelman wrote it, and–you guessed it–Uelman’s the guy behind Diablo, as well Diablo 2, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. Diablo’s soundtrack was great. Torchlight’s is even better.
7. It’s not Diablo 3. Sick of all the slobbering Diablo 3-worship? Here’s your chance to vote “not Blizzard.” Until Diablo 3 arrives next year, anyway, and you scream like a little child all the way to the store to buy a copy.
8. It runs on a Netbook. Seriously. It even has a “netbook mode.”
9. Runic says it’ll release Torchlight’s entire suite of development tools as a free gift to the modding community, available from the game’s official site. Did I mention the part about the toolset being free?