Friday, May 7, 2010

Torchlight first impressions

Back in November, Carolina told me about Runic Games' dungeon-crawling hack & slash game Torchlight. I looked around, and found some screenshots and some info, and it looked pretty good, though the screenshots weren't large enough for me to see how cartoony the graphical style is. From what I could tell, it looked like a nicely-made game that resembled the Diablo 3 demo footage I'd been watching around that time. But, I was deeply immersed in Dragon Age, and so I didn't try the demo or investigate it any further. Now that I have some more free time, and she reminded me of it again, I took another look. This time I looked at some gameplay videos, and the appealing graphical style became much clearer to me. Reviews were generally positive. Yahtzee hated it, but Yahtzee hates everything. ;) To me, someone who was looking forward to Diablo 3, it looked great, so I downloaded the demo and tried it out.

The demo was surprisingly lightweight for a modern game, where anything under 1GB feels small. Of the three character choices, I was torn between the only female (the Vanquisher, a kind of rogue), or the only magic-user (the Alchemist). I ended up picking the Alchemist.

Since the demo was time-limited to 2 hours, I felt a little rushed and didn't explore the areas as carefully as I usually would, or investigate what all the merchants and town service providers did. Consequently, I made a few mistakes that caused me to accidentally destroy some useful items.

In the 2 hours I played, the procedurally-generated dungeons did not feel dull as I was expecting, and things felt cohesive and logical, for a mine. And of course, since the game comes with modding tools, if I get tired of random dungeons, the modding community can provide some planned-out dungeons and locations. I've found there are indeed some available currently, as well as some additional playable characters and classes.

Speaking of Diablo 3 demo videos as I was above, I found this amusing fan-made video, where someone made a mod for Torchlight that resembles the beginning of the Diablo 3 demo.

Purchasing experience

I bought Torchlight off Direct2Drive because it was the cheapest option available, and I'm sort of sorry I did. If I'd known what a hassle it would be to buy off of D2D, I probably would have paid a little extra for a hassle-free and less invasive buying experience. It's hard to see myself buying anything from D2D again. I should have bought it on Steam -- not just for the ease of buying, but the activation would have been more convenient as well, I suspect. My copy has an annoying DRM with a limited number of activations before it'll stop working.

I wish GoG carried games as current as this, and not just "old games", because GoG's purchasing experience is smooth sailing all the way, like Amazon.

Talent Trees

Actually more like talent bushes, since you aren't required to pick up a talent you don't want just to obtain a talent in front of it that you do want. The only limiting factor for taking a talent deeper in the tree is that there are some level requirements.

There are three talent trees for your character, called Arcane, Lore, and Battle, each with its own kind of specialisation. Since I've only played the Alchemist so far, that's what I'll talk about.

So far, I've invested the most points into the Lore tree, because that's the one that focuses on summoned minions. All character types get a dog or cat, of course, but a weak magic user needs help to distract the huge waves of mobs that come to attack! You can pick up spell scrolls throughout the game which let you summon temporary additional minions, but the ones you learn from the talent tree stay with you until they die (at which point you can summon new ones).

I have a fair number of points invested in the Arcane tree as well, which provides you with magical attacks and skill buffs as any magic user should have. The Battle tree, however, has talents in it that seem to aim to turn the alchemist into more of a warrior, with physical damage buffs, shielding, and expertise added into non-mage weapons like clubs, axes, etc. I haven't invested any points into the Battle tree.

These talents have multiple ranks, like other games I've played, but these go up to rank 10, which is much higher than I've experienced before.

Look and feel

The levels feel really huge, with high ceilings and sublevels that you can see below the floors you're standing on. Improbably huge, really, making me wonder who could have carved out such large spaces underground and filled them with such nicely carved stone buildings and decorations. But overall, it appeals to my sense of wonder and exploration, seeing these awe-inspiring ruins that go on forever.


As polished as it is, there are some things that I think could stand improving. Primarily the number of quick slots. Since this is a realtime game, quick slots are at a premium, and I only have numbers 0-9 to assign to spells and abilities.

The isometric-only view I can handle, since I've had to get used to it in games like Baldur's Gate, though in a 3D game like this I always feel like I should be able to rotate the view around to see where I'm running, if I happen to be heading toward the lower side of the screen. Camera controls are limited to zooming in and out, though if you hit Enter to pause the game, it rotates the camera slowly around your character. So rotation is possible in the game, but they present it in an isometric format anyway.

The click-to-move control scheme was irritating to me for the first few hours of play, but I finally noticed that you don't actually have to click over and over. You can click once, and hold the mouse button down, and the character will follow the cursor wherever you move it, without stopping. By keeping the cursor near the character (very close) and just moving it around when I want him to change direction, I have good control over when he stops moving, because I can just release the mouse button and he'll stop. No more accidentally running into a crowd of enemies because I clicked too far into the distance!

Holding down the button also works for attacks. If you're hitting something over and over with the same attack, all you have to do is click and hold, and your character will even turn around to face the enemy you're attacking, if it moves behind you.

The pet

This is the most useful pet I've ever seen. I've played warlocks and hunters with pets that fight with/for you before, but this pet has several additional abilities that make it an extra-useful part of the game.

Most people already know that the pet acts as a pack animal, holding extra items for you, and running back to town to sell them off if you want it to, while you're deep in a dungeon. That alone is a fantastic feature, really encouraging the kind of treasure-amassing tomb-raiding that other games seek to limit with small inventory space or weight limits.

More amazingly, this pet can wear up to 3 magic trinkets (2 rings and 1 necklace), and learn up to 2 spells, which it will cast periodically at all times! When I found a "heal all" spell scroll, I promptly gave it to my dog, turning him into an even more valuable support character. Extremely useful!

I'll have more to say about this game as I level up and try out new abilities.


  1. Glad you like what you see! If you want a couple REALLY well designed dungeons, try these two:

    Starch the Monster Hunter:
    (The new dungeon is at the end of the quest chain, which includes a boss that never made it into the final game's storyline)

    Baement Mini-Dungeon:
    (Just a side dungeon from town which has a completely different feel from anything else in the game)

    And there is a great tool called TorchLeech that a community member made to allows people to install mods with a single button click and also check for conflicts between mods:

    It's also worth mentioning that this game is a prequel to an MMO which should be released in a couple years.

  2. It's a fun little game for sure, but its lasting appeal is rather limited in my opinion. The presentation is very nice with clean graphics and nice music, but the dungeons get very repetitive. The fact that they're linear doesn't help.

    One of my main peeves though is the talent trees. I just find the skills to be lacklustre and bland. As you'll see if you make a vanquisher or destroyer, there's also a fair bit of overlapping skills between the classes, especially the passive ones. For a game that sports only 3 classes I think they should have put more effort into that.

    Overall, I'd say it's a cute game to fire up once in a while. But it feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

  3. It's one of the big points about this game... very light weight. And still a good game. From a company I never heard before. To me they did a wonderful job. I remember playing games that did and looked much less and "loaded" my machine more.

    Oh... <3 the pet.

    Did you do any fishing? I just played the demo yet... and didn't have much time to explore that. As a fisher in WoW I gotta know more :)

    The modd possibility I consider to be something golden the developers do. I can't make mods, but when a game supports them, it means to me that the developers are not affraid to have others improve the experience... just makes their games live longer in the end, in my opinion.

  4. Heh, this post seems to have been more popular than some others.

    @Webbstre: I have downloaded those mods, as well as a number of others. I haven't installed any mods yet, but I'll probably write about my impressions of the mods at some point.

    @PPB: Well, a fun game to fire up once in a while will suit me in this case. I'm at level 32 now, and still enjoying it. Perhaps I'll also try the MMO version when it comes out.

    @Carolina: Yes, I have done some fishing, and it's very simple. Similar to WoW's fishing, where you find a fishing hole, click to cast, and wait for the signal to pull up, except you don't need to buy a fishing pole or lures, and there's no fishing stat bonus gear that I've found so far. Also, the signal to pull up is easier to expect than in WoW, because the indicator shows how close you're getting. I had taken a screenshot showing me fishing, but I ended up not using it in this post. :)

    I'm not sure if the fishing holes in the dungeons give any rarer fish than the one on the docks in town. A few fish contain items, some fish can be eaten by the player to provide temporary buffs, but most of the fish are for feeding to your pet, and most of those transform your pet into different creatures with different abilities. I like the ones that turn the dog into a fire elemental or a poison elemental, because its abilities are great in a fight.

  5. Bah now I want to play it. Turning a cat into a fire elemental doesn't sound right, but hey, it's a game ;)

    How is the game story going, by the way? Interesting? Just there? Not worth reading, just keep killing?

    And I'm here hoping you join their mod community. Your Oblivion mod for the house is still one of the prettiest out there. I am still amazed how dedicated people are to Oblivion, and what wonderful things they make.

  6. I would say the story is "just there". It's a very simple story of a man trying to find the key to immortality, finding that his power source is corrupted, and searching for a cure for the corruption before it overwhelms him. It's done pretty well, though, told in the form of journal entries and occasional cutscenes as you progress.

    I have taken a look into the editor, and built a simple room with a staircase and hallway, just to try it out, but I'm not sure what I could really do with it. I doubt there's much need in the game for a house, though it might be nice to have a little display area where you can place some of your unique gear that you no longer use, instead of storing them in the chest in town. A quest-oriented dungeon might be nice, with multiple objectives, and a non-linear layout.

    Oblivion probably endures because you can play it in many different ways. I saw a whole page on their wiki listing dozens of different ways you can make up your own objectives and play it as if it's a different kind of game.