Somewhere in the angry mob that was screaming out for Diablo III from the bottom of their lungs, raging harder than The Queen of Hearts demanding the removal of Alice’s head, some got struck by the nostalgia of the nights spent hacking and slashing. In anticipation of the Devil’s third offspring, part of the mob got invited to stroll around familiar catacombs in the cartoonish skin of one out of three heroes.
To make things clear from the start, Torchlight, which is crafted by the same people who brought us Fate (another hack’nslash that borrows, in a more mild manner, elements from the Diablo series) is a Diablo II clone. And when I say clone I don’t mean a few stranded „borrowed” elements or a similar endoskeleton, but Dolly, Sam Bell or Jango Fett: the equivalent of placing transparent paper on top of a drawing and copying it line by line.
Which isn’t necesarilly bad when you don’t promote yourself as a revolutionary creation and don’t pretend like you’re actually a show of innovation. From this point of view, Torchlight doesn’t take itself very seriously – just like Diablo, it’s a clickfest that lasts until you drop to the cellar’s bottom floor (with a slight twist, you’ll see), while promoting a less morbid and dark atmosphere.
Extremely familiar and accessible, Torchlight lacks, however, a pretty critical element to the genre nowadays: multiplayer. Although the producers promise releasing an MMORPG that takes place in the same universe, I fail to see why a form, albeit a basic one, of multiplayer butchery could not be implemented.
To set aside obvious questions, here’s what was taken from Diablo II: the majority of monsters are adaptations of the ones found in Blizzard’s popular hack’n’slash – from the little bastards walking around in gangs, sometimes with a leader/shaman to ressurect them and cast fireballs at the hero, to Wraiths that drain mana and the antropomorphic felines dressed in oriental clothing.
The labyrinths are randomly generated, and the system works really well. In regard to the complexity, I dare say that the dungeons in Torchlight surpass the ones in Diablo 2 – we’ve got ledges hanging above other ledges, all kinds of bridges and suspended platforms on top of placed you get to eventually. The effect of seeing waves of monsters walking around under you and then seeing alcoves circling the chasm in a manner reminiscent of Escher’s drawings.
The items are split into the same categories (which also applies to most, if not all hack’n’slash games) and can form sets with bonuses of their own. Obviously, some need to be identified and there’s an NPC that enchants them with magical properties in exchange for a fitting sum of gold. Additionally, we’ve got an NPC that transmutes objects – plainly put, he fills in for a talking Horadric Cube and, as it was expected after so many common elements, an NPC who sells you unidentified objects for obnoxious prices, while you’re rubbing your fists hoping that you’re actually purchasing Excalibur or some other legendary blade that shakes the very foundations the caves you’re in. In other words, gamble.
Even the music is a variation of the Tristram theme – which is not all that surprising if I’ll tell you that it’s the same Matt Uelmen who composed it (or modified it, if you will). That’s not all that bad considering I always thought that the music in Diablo is a key element in the special rendering of that particulat mood – and it would be pretty lame for me to complain that I’m hearing a sort of remix for one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. As if it weren’t enough, the sounds effects themselves are „borrowed” from the Blizzard franchise: whether we’re talking about spells, potions or the gems, if you turned off your monitor, a bystanding gamer who doesn’t know what you’re actually playing will most likely assume you’re killing the mobs in Diablo II.
A handful of elements got snatched from Fate as well. Like the ability to fish, a pet and a system that makes you more and more popular, earning new titles in the process, once you complete quests or eliminate elite foes. The reward for this is a skillpoint for every such „promotion”, in addition to the 5 points you can spread through stats and the skillpoint you get for every level up.
Three little basement dwellers
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are three playable characters – Destroyer, Alchemist and Vanquisher. Staying true to the patterns, the Destroyer is the Barbarian’s equivalent, the Alchemist is the classic wizard, while the Vanquisher represents the Rogue/Ranger stereotype.
The specialization trees will determine your playing style, and thus the same character may use radically different mechanics for every development line accessed. However, it has to be said that there is no requirement other than a certain level when you want to invest into a new ability, which breaks the game’s balance somewhat.
In other words, if you’re down to the last level of a certain spec, you can also invest into the last tier of any of the other two specs. Which in certain cases offers the player a monstruous advantage over the mobs.
Aside from specific abilities, we also have spell scrolls that can be used regardless of the character’s class or specialization – and these often complete your basic abilities with gruesome efficiency.
The characters themselves are versatile – in the sense that your weapons and armors don’t have any other requirement than level and stats. So you can create and develop a character atypical to his class – for instance, an Alchemis that can put up a melee fight or a Destroyer whose high mana pool allows him the magic hissy fits of the Titan tree. Despite this variation however, the stereotypes you’re probably expecting are more efficient – a casting Destroyer might be fun to play, but at least on the higher levels of difficulty will encounter numerous obstacles in becoming the same killing machine that the Berserker butcher is.