The Games Of Christmas: December 20th

By RPS on December 20th, 2009 at 5:27 pm.

This way please.
You’re probably wanting to open the latest door of our seasonally festive advent-o-calendar. But it’s a long way below. You’ve got a lengthy journey to go on, so follow the sure direction of the one true leader of the Autobots to begin a mystical clickery of timeless effect…

Torchlight!

John: I came to the Diablo party very late. I don’t know why I missed it at the time – I think no one invited me. I was at home while you lot where partying. I hate you. But I caught up, and discovered it was a party I would have loved to have been to at the time. Anyway, bygones. Torchlight! Join that party!

I can imagine trying to describe the game to my mum. “You left click until your finger falls off, then sell stuff in a shop.” But somehow that’s enough! It’s enough because Torchlight is a game more about obsessive compulsion than elite gaming skill. It’s about clearing this dungeon because there’s another one below to clear. And of course there’s lots of different reasons to left click, whether it’s firing of enormous spells, picking up loot, commanding your pet, or browsing the shops for the finest gear.

My complaint with Torchlight is a frustrating one, as it would have been so easily amended. I don’t understand why it’s just one contiguous dungeon. Why not a different dungeon for every environment? It wouldn’t change the content of the game, but simply create an aesthetic illusion of variety. But you keep clicking anyway because there’s another floor beneath this one, and it needs to be cleared.

It’s a joyful, bright and cheery thing. I love it for that. I love the way it seems to be a game that heard the whiny twits whining about Diablo 3 screenshots looking too colourful and said, “You think that’s too colourful?! Then take THIS! It’s silly, and light, and all the while compulsive. It manages to deliver what I want from a dungeon crawler – endless fighting and looting – without thinking it needs to decorate that in unnecessary story or complication. If you’re bored over Christmas, I highly suggest taking a trip down its stairs.

Alec:The odd thing with trying to write about Torchlight is that I can barely remember playing it. I can remember installing it, then darkness, and then about a week later. I didn’t feel sad or afraid come said week later – time had just blinked past, pleasurably if not terribly memorably. This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but really it’s a straight compliment – sometimes, it’s exactly this phenomenon that we play games for. We want something to take away time that we have no other purpose for. Not everything needs to fill our heads with tales of grand adventure, awe of digital entertainment’s great diversity or triumph over statistical adversity. Torchlight takes away time, quickly and painlessly, replacing it with a vague sense of achievement and a dim hunger for things that can be obtained with ease. If your life is overcomplicated, I can confidently prescribe Torchlight.

It isn’t this precise and effective medicine simply because it’s a decent Diablo clone. It’s because it ruthlessly removes the extraneous ingredients of what was already an incredibly simple formula. Anything that could waste your time or cause annoyance has been cleanly excised, leaving the perhaps cynical but absolute truth of why we play such games: we want constant reward from minimal effort. Click, kill, click, upgrade, click, kill, kill, kill, UPGRADE. It’s not even risk/reward – it’s just reward/reward. The skill and loot bump-ups are almost absurd: it’s become routine to reference giving your in-game pet cat/dog the ability to summon skeleton armies, but it’s the surest, finest way to summarise Torchlight’s everything louder than everything else philosophy.

It’s as deep as sports commentary, but it does its simple thing so very, very well, and in a way that Blizzard never could. They have to pander to long-term fans and lore, to the complicated and rare statistics that yield fansite upon fansite, to leaving space for paid extras and add-ons, to being Serious Business even though this model of game is, let’s be honest, absolutely ridiculous.

Torchlight, by contrast is free, absolutely unhindered and unfettered from everything except raw loot’n'kill’n'kill’n'loot. It’s the chemical formula for pure, simple Fun – a potion that may not last all that long, but it’s such a heady rush while it does.

Jim: The other week I had an unpleasant cold and ended up skipping a night’s sleep. Rather than keeping the lady Rossignol awake with pottering and coughing, I decided to work through the night and perhaps sleep the following evening. By the time it hit 6am I’d done most of the work I had planned for the next day and had that kind of fried-brain feeling that comes about from no sleep. Nevertheless I knew I needed to stay awake a little longer, and perhaps even push through for the whole of the next day. How would that be possible? Videogames!

It’s awesome when we can apply videogames like psychic-medicine. I had to stay awake, but couldn’t rely on any high-level brain work. Torchlight was perfect. There’s a back-handed compliment for the ages, but I don’t mean it to denigrate the game, which was the most appropriate salve to my overheated cortex. Plunging into Torchlight’s myriad dungeons was a beautiful thing. The videogame equivalent of leaping into a warm pool and having a swim.

There’s a weird sense of order to these kinds of Diablo games. It’s as if the loot-collection process is a kind of tidying up. The game world is a mess of monsters and you have to put it all in order, getting better and brighter as you go. The game is strong precisely because it is simple, and straightforward. It reaffirms that you don’t have to worry too much about innovation, as long as the design-craft is good.

Kieron: Torchlight is a delight.

It’s a word I don’t often get to use about PC Games. My favourite PC games stir many things in the black thing that sits in my chest which passes for a heart – but “delight” is rarely among them. That’s more the domain of the sort of console esoterica which fills the DS and similar, really – and that I don’t touch them at the moment, delight is pretty much absent.

But Torchlight delighted me. I stomped my way through the whole actual campaign on normal, then straight back in with a different character with the difficulty maxed out. “Character”: there’s another word which comes to mind with Torchlight. I like the people I’m playing in a way which I’ve never felt for Titan Quest’s cold classes. My first rogue’s demented trap-based build turned whole rooms into some kind of washing machine designed for removing the stubborn stains of all monstrous life. The chick-chick-chick of the shrapnel trap is one of my favourite sound-effects of the year. I initially thought the approach a little overpowered… but I swiftly came to the idea that being overpowered was a big part of the point. When enemy spiders emerge in wave, the joy of setting yourself to counter them felt a little like the perfect corner-side-step-and-shotgun-blast-to-an-imp in Doom, or the Gun-fu-eque positioning of your Victorian gentlemen to maximise damage in The Chaos Engine. It says a lot that what I’m reaching for as references aren’t RPGs, but action-games. Torchlight very comfortable that the root of its inspirations is really Gauntlet.

There’s a lot of the delightful Fate in it too, of course. Those of us who played it will be familiar with the joy of the pet who’ll run back to town and sell your stuff for you (my favourite addition to an RPG since Dungeon Siege’s Donkey. Or Dungeon Siege letting you immediately sell back for the same price you’ve bought something for – as, of course, a real shopkeeper would probably let you if it became immediately clear your hat of sexiness +4 was a little too small. And… oh, let’s shut up about Dungeon Siege. So many awesome ideas in a game which really wasn’t). But the detail is the thing here – all those little buttons and things to play with. Blowing all your gold on enchanting your already existent weapons, so old-warhorses don’t need to be put out to seed. Being able to train your pet to cast any of the two spells – my zombie-summoning group-healing dog is very much man’s best friend. And…

Delight! So many baubles to play with and promise of so many more to come. Diablo III is almost certainly more than a year away. And with Torchlight here, I really don’t care.

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58 Comments »

  1. Schaulustiger says:

    I found Torchlight to be way more entertaining than Diablo 1 + 2. Singleplayer-wise, that is.

  2. Morti says:

    am I the onlyone to whom the falling snow makes the web sluggish and frame-droppy when scrolling?

    it’s really annoying.

    Also, Torchlight. Nice game, for a few hours. All the mindless clicking becomes repetitive far too soonish, and I’m a Diablo 2 veteran…

    • ChaK_ says:

      same feeling here, loved D2, but couldn’t play that one past 10H.

      still installed, I’ll see later

    • Dean says:

      Yep, turned back on Adblock and filtered the script though, fixes it.

    • Wulf says:

      I think that’s because a Diablo II veteran probably couldn’t hack the original either, as Diablo I was a very different beast, and the more challenging game, in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of this sentiment from people, they’ve played Diablo II, they’ve played Titan Quest, and they want more of that. But that’s not what Torchlight is, and if you’re going in with expectations that are massively incorrect, then this is what you’re going to get.

      Those of us, howeever, who can accept Torchlight for what it is (a spiritual successor to the original Diablo) are having a blast! Myself included.

    • mrmud says:

      Agreed, Im also a diablo and diablo 2 vet and torchlight held my interest for a short time before it became dull and repetetive.

  3. Frosty says:

    There’s snow on this page. -ing snow.

    Damn it RPS. I’m a christmas grouch. Take away this sign of happiness right now!

  4. Javaguy says:

    My netbook struggles with both Torchlight and RPSnow :( I never really got very far with the torchlight demo though, I have a feeling its one of those things I need to go back to and suddenly become totally addicted to.

  5. Hermit says:

    What’s also impressive is the way the devs opened up Torchlight to modding thoroughly. Already there’s a slew of smaller balancing or tweaking mods. Want respec potions for sale? Or permanent transformations for your pet? Or for the enchanter to only give you good enchants? It’s all there.

    Not to mention the promise of new adventures, or entirely new classes. How’s about a giant stompy robot that wields a sword and a rather nasty looking cannon? It’s well on the way: http://forums.runicgames.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=7162

    Plus, we’re not that far from release and some folks already have rudimentary multiplayer code working. There’s still a long way to go before it’s playable, but already they’ve got two PCs in the same town hub running around using spells and whatnot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROi_PoWQThc&feature=related

  6. RickDeckardCain says:

    I love this game. It has lots of polish and a Blizzard-y aesthetic.

    My only complaints are that there could be more distinct skills and that there’s too much loot with too many properties to sort through and compare to see if you can upgrade a certain property. Brings out the OCD min/maxer beast. You find something that increases X but would like Y also, so you find a piece that does Y but not X and lowers Z, so you wait until you find something that does Y and Z, etc. etc.

    Also the netbook mode was a nice to have but misleading much like minimum system requirements. Yeah you can run it on a netbook, technically, but 5 frames per second is no way to play it.

    • Starky says:

      @RickDeckardCain

      Gotta agree with Shalrath (who fail replies below), if your netbook cannot run Torchlight in netbook mode, it is time for a new one. The game runs on max on my laptop (2.2 Turion X2 and AMD HD 3200 – a cheap very much none gaming laptop) and in netbook mode on my NC10.

      It really would not surprise me to find out a PSP or Iphone could run torchlight.

    • Wulf says:

      Rule of thumb: Before you whine and snootily dismiss, check the bloody forum.

      There’s a half-size resolution pack mod out there, released by Runic themselves, which has helped a lot of netbook users with their performance issues.

  7. Vinraith says:

    It’s a fun little game, that’s for sure. Having played all the way through the campaign (around 20 hours for me) I certainly had a good time, but lost interest after about 2 floors of the infinity dungeon and couldn’t muster up the interest to retire/replay with another class. It certainly didn’t entertain me for as long as Diablo/Diablo 2, Titan Quest, or Dungeon Siege 2 in single player, and it’s lack of co-op is genuinely unfortunate, but I’ll be interested to see if I come back to it anyway.

    Oh, and yes, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of the modding. It’s always good to see devs massively extending the lifetime of their game by opening it up this way.

  8. David Gentle says:

    Never played it but i do know it makes use of the open source Ogre3d graphics engine. Which is an interesting thing in itself.

    • DrazharLn says:

      Now, that is interesting. I was looking at Ogre for one of my own projects.

      Compulsory comment on coolness of edit function.

  9. Martin Edelius says:

    This never clicked for me either (pun oh so very much intended).

  10. malkav11 says:

    The modding is unquestionably the most inspired decision that went into Torchlight. I mean, just look at how much effort some people have put into Diablo II mods, and those involved pretty much raw black magic hackery as there was no provision at all by the developers for mod support.

  11. Down Rodeo says:

    I bought this last night and am having a fun time. I am already overpowered, both my weapons drain health, but it is nice to charge around gibbing most monsters. I have only played for a couple of hours, looking forward to the rest of them though!

  12. DMJ says:

    Waitasecond… No co-op? Bummer. That’s a dealbreaker.

  13. StalinsGhost says:

    Got it last night.

    Easily one of the finest ways to idly pass time all year. It’s easy enough to relax and just get into it in between chores, and deep enough to remain compulsive. Excellent buy.

  14. terry says:

    Yeah, I got it from the weekend sale on Steam and its perfect for just jumping into and playing for an idle hour (and then realising that idle hour somehow became three idle hours…)

    The mod scene seems to be picking up too, Torchleech ( http://www.devsource.de/torchleech/ ) is becoming more packed by the day – the support by the devs post release is very encouraging.

  15. Ian says:

    I need a game to install on the ol’ laptop for spending Christmas and new year at home with the familials. I think Torchlight might be that game.

    • Phil H says:

      Its absolutely that game, especially with the new Steam Cloud support, its working perfectly for me between my :cough: work laptop and the beastly desktop at home (though you’ll need to make sure you have your mods in place on both).

    • Vinraith says:

      @Ian: It’s a great game for that purpose. I have to disagree with Phil, though, about getting it on Steam. If your family lacks broadband (like mine does) you never know when Steam’s going to decide to stop working and randomly deny you access to your games. Better to pick it up off any of the other download services without a “phone home” requirement, or direct from the developer.

    • invisiblejesus says:

      @Vinraith: If your family lacks broadband. For someone with broadband and who plays on multiple computers, Steam Cloud’s a pretty awesome feature.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      @Vinraith
      Phone home requirement? Only for installing and updating. If you allow Steam to store some acount information on your computer, you can always play the game in offline mode.

  16. Dubbill says:

    They patched in 60-odd achievements and Cloud support for sharing savegames via Steam just last week. Bless them.

  17. Ponderous Ordo says:

    @Dubbill

    Which is giving a fair number of people problems from what I’ve been reading on the Runic forums.

    (I’m trying to justify spending twice as much on this game and through another distribution site which isn’t Steam.)

  18. Arathain says:

    I’m really pleased with this game. It has so many nice ideas wrapped around a solid core of delighted compulsion.

    Playing on Hard it does get a bit tricky after a while. Fragile characters get messed up pretty well by charging thingies.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Arathain: Yup, hard is at least challenging enough to keep you on your toes, and the last boss fight is actually quite a bitch.

  19. Nero says:

    I remember just seeing a few videos before it was out and thought it looked like a nice Diablo clone, but after reading up about it who was behind the game etc, I did buy it the day it was out and while not perfect it’s probably my top game of 2009.

  20. Shalrath says:

    Not trying to pick a fight here, but if you can’t run Torchlight in Netbook mode above 5 frames it’s PROBABLY time to pick up a new one ;)

  21. McNubbins says:

    Great game. I do wish that there was a choice other than hardcore mode to make death a bit more punishing, but not so completely unforgiving as to perma-die. Maybe some of the mods will take care of this.

  22. RickDeckardCain says:

    RE: Netbook mode

    I definitely appreciate the effort Runic made with the option, but from what I’ve experience it seems wasted and a bit misleading. Of course it all depends on your definition of “netbook” as well.

    I’ve tried it on an Eee PC 701 and HP Mini 2140. The HP had better performance (15-20 FPS). Both of these can run older games like Guild Wars without too many hiccups and option disabling.

    The game is playable in the town area…just running around for a couple of minutes in there will give the impression the whole game will run fine, but once the groups of enemies start appearing on screen, the game chugs.

    Granted, I didn’t spend much time testing or optimizing, but based on other orum posts at Runic, I’m not alone in my netbook mode experience.

    Anyways, kudos to Runic for trying. But thanks for nothing.

  23. Carra says:

    Torchlight is a nice game. It’s fun to spend a few hours in it with my dual wielding power horse.

    But… I don’t think it’s a great game. It’s all a bit too simple and repetitive for my tastes. Only one spell I have to use and that’s an aoe spell. Sure there are four aoe spells but what’s the point in having more then one if they all do the same? I miss having to choose between a myriad of spells. And of course it’s all in underground and I greatly prefer to fight outside. Switching between indoors and outdoors might have made this a classic game for me. Now it’s a fun game to waste a few hours with from time to time.

    As for Dungeon Siege, I picked up its standalone expansion for €2 this year. It’s a brilliant game in my book. This game does have nice outdoors and a group to play with. Sure I just have to send in my team and they’ll do the rest but I find that to be very entertaining. But there’s also the option to micromanage a bit more. I can change the spells of your characters, send in my tank, click the aoe when there’s multiple mobs etc.

    • Arathain says:

      While it’s definitely possible to make a one trick pony and do quite well with it, you don’t have to. I have an Alchemist who uses Ember Lightning as his only active skill (barring the occasional Phase in and out of trouble) but even he maxed out Offensive Spell Mastery so he can chuck out Frost Bolt, Dervish, Elemental Overload and Flaming Sword whenever they’re up. My Vanquisher, on the other hand, has a bunch of traps to throw out, then blasts out some Richocets, refreshes the traps, uses whatever spells I feel like, and it’s all pretty active and varied. My summoner Alchemist is always charging around fearing things, resummoning, and all sorts of stuff.

      There are plenty of viable builds that lean less on single skill focus, and you always have your four spell slots to mix things up.

  24. RickDeckardCain says:

    @Wulf

    I did not know that there was a pack out (I tried running it on the netbooks when the game was first released and checked the forums at the time…didn’t bother since then since I’ve just been playing it on my desktop…) I imagine they’ll probably patch it in when you have the netbook mode option enabled in the future. Good job Runic!

  25. DarkNoghri says:

    Haven’t seen this mentioned thus far, but Torchlight is currently half off on Steam right now.

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/41500/

    EDIT: HOLY CRAP THE RETURN OF THE EDIT BUTTON?!!!!

  26. RedCraig says:

    I’m liking Torchlight a lot, but it’s environments and monsters are a tad monotonous – I think Dungeon Siege had more variety – it also felt like you were travelling / discovering more with the separation in those environments, whereas Torchlight is just one big dungeon.

    Does anyone know are there plans to make it coop / multiplayer?
    That would definitely add a lot to it for me, dungeon crawlers are more fun with friends :)

    • SuperNashwan says:

      Well it’s sort of going to be multiplayer. This near perfectly formed little dungeon crawl is now funding development into an MMO game much like Mythos was to be, now based on this ‘new’ game world.

  27. Chris D says:

    I would probably have picked this up it had come out at another time but as it fell between Borderlands and Dragon Age my looting and dungeon crawling urges have been taken care of for the time being. I feel bad though, as mostly I’ve heard good things about this but I have to remind myself that I can’t provide a home for all the games in the world. Sorry Torchlight.

  28. EaterOfCheese says:

    I’ve bought Torchlight, but haven’t played it yet.

    Really, I just posted to see if the edit button thingy really REALLY works.

    Let’s see if I can edit the following out, thus saving me embarassment:

    POOS AND WEES

    • EaterOfCheese says:

      ok.

      cant find the edit button.

      crap.

    • Starky says:

      You need to be logged into the forums (not sure if it also works on wordpress login?), I just wish you could log into the forum from the main page, rather than needing to click forum then come back to RPS.

  29. Vinraith says:

    @RC-1290′Dreadnought’

    “If you allow Steam to store some acount information on your computer, you can always play the game in offline mode.”

    Wrong. If you allow Steam to store some account information on your computer SOMETIMES you can play the game in offline mode. Other times you get stuck at “updating” indefinitely. I’d have far fewer problems with Steam if offline mode actually worked reliably.

    • Blather Blob says:

      I also have had Steam’s offline mode just stop working and demand to go online. Could be because I’m usually connected to the internet, just running in offline mode, so maybe it still checks for updates and stuff, even when “offline”. On the other hand, when my internet went out for two or three days a month ago, Steam just happily restarted into offline mode and continued to successfully start up in offline mode throughout that weekend. But that was only for two or three days in a row, and it might have been a different matter if it had been in the middle of getting an update when I lost my connection, since it would have known one was out there.

      In the torchlight for the remote holidays situation, I’d probably go ahead and buy the Steam copy anyway, what with it being on sale, and download a crack to have around just in case Steam got angry.

  30. Psychopomp says:

    It just got patched with steam cloud support, and steam achievements. There’s even a few achievements for modding the game, which amused me greatly.

  31. Clovis says:

    Anyone else get routine crashes on high levels? It is really driving me nuts. I absolutely hate repeating a level in these kinds of games since they are so repetitive already.

  32. Torgen says:

    This article reminded me that I’d installed the demo via Steam that last time it was talked about here, but I was in the iron grip of Borderlands at the time. I think I really like the retro-y, console-y, colorful artwork, just played the gunner chick down to the end of the first “chapter”, I guess it is.

    I suppose that that will be the ending of the demo, and it was a rather enjoyable evening. Definately something to put on the laptop if I start traveling again.

    (Oh look! Captcha!)

  33. Karry says:

    Oh god, people are sticking a halo on that bag of bugs, Torchlight, AGAIN…

    • Psychopomp says:

      What exactly would make Torchlight a “bag of bugs?”

    • Wulf says:

      And silence, AGAIN

      You know, I got sick of this kind of idiocy on the forums and it’s wearing thin elsewhere. Where someone will complain in a nebulous and vague way about some element of Torchlight, possibly a bug or generally an element they’re not satisfied with. And if one examines the comment from all angles, and even asks the person what they’re on about, they’ll get no elucidation at all.

      Many a time has someone complained about a bug which many people have pointed out isn’t a bug, and those idiots have gone on to try to troll other parts of the forum, every time lacking in any amount of success. And it’s… I don’t know, the only metaphor I can think of is a race of barbarians that isn’t particularly bright, throwing themselves, along with their wooden shields and clumsy steel swords against a high-tech fortress with very precise lasor weaponry, they die, they die in waves, and they just keep coming. They haven’t dented the fortress, they haven’t even managed to scratch or tarnish it, and yet still they come, wave after wave, with the only losses being their own.

      There are a couple of bugs in Torchlight, but people who really want to see the game improve have filed bug reports, and Runic has been very communicative about such things, and they tend to cram as much as they can in ever patch, not only that but there’s a community there, of gamers sand modders, who’re always eager to help anyone who has even one, sole, single valid concern. But for every one person with a bug or a valid concern, there are tens of idiots who’re just stirring the pot, like the one we have right here. Just another barbarian throwing himself against the wall, pointlessly.

      If there’s a valid complaint to be made, make it, make it specifically so that the community and Runic Games can try and fix it. But for the love of all that is decent, stop acting like blithering imbeciles, if you don’t have a point, it’s going to be immediately apparent, if you don’t have a bug or a valid concern to present, then… perhaps don’t say anything at all? If you don’t like the game, that’s your business, but don’t try and dress up simply not liking the game as the game being bug-ridden, or the game being really flawed, because neither of these is true and trying to argue that point when you don’t have a leg to stand on will only make you look like a total fool.

      So really, how is Torchlight a bag of bugs? Tell me. Tell me please. I’m all ears.

  34. Jiki says:

    Surprisingly much love for such an inherently empty game. Still, all is relative and it did look quite pretty.

  35. jsutcliffe says:

    I said at the start of the advent calendar that I thought 2009 was underwhelming for PC gaming, and this is the first game in the list I think that I’m enthusiastic about, though I haven’t really played Torchlight as much as I’d expected to — it came out a few days before I went on holiday and when I came back Dragon Age was out, and I’ve barely played anything else since.

    I did find Torchlight disappointing in some ways though — this is a genre that has never particularly appealed to me, but I loved TL’s art style, and the idea that it was put together by a small and devoted team. I also suck at it on “hard” difficulty, and feel like a loser for sticking to a lower difficulty setting. It does a very large amount of stuff right though, and it is so utterly streamlined that it really is “click-click-loot-click-loot” with the occasional “send dog to town” thrown in, and that is splendid.

    It’s one of my PC games of the year, but this year that’s not really saying much, sadly.

  36. Ian says:

    So I went and bought Torchlight. Should be a splendid Christmas timekiller. :)

  37. Krupo says:

    5 buck sale? Reasonably positive comments on RPS? Sold… (on top of Armoured Princess… damn you Steam, and your wonderful sales).

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