Saturday, December 5, 2009

Torchlight demo review

A while back I was getting excited about two new games: Torchlight and Borderlands. Recently I had the chance to sample Torchlight by playing the 2-hour demo that the developer offers.

Torchlight is a very cool concept because not only is it made by some of the people who created Diablo 1 and 2 but it also introduces a very interesting business model. The team who makes Torchlight (Runic Games) was formed from the remnants of the ill-fated Flagship Studios who were responsible for Hellgate: London and Mythos. In fact Torchlight is a sort of Mythos on steroids since it was built from the ashes of that game, which was never released.

A few words about this new business model that I was mentioning. These guys from Runic Games had the remarkable achievement of creating an entire game almost from scratch in about 18 months and then releasing it through digital distribution for only $20. A perfect Diablo clone for only $20. In my book that's an awesome way to do business. One of the reasons why I stopped buying games is that there hasn't been a genuinely great game that I felt was worth my $50. For me, Diablo 2 was one of the last games that really gave back a lot more than it cost.

I was very excited to get my hands on Torchlight, especially after all the reviews that I'd read, enthusing over every aspect of this new game. I was just about to pay for my copy of the game when Runic Studios released their free 2-hour demo. I decided I was gonna try the demo first, just to see what all the fuss is about. After all, I was going to buy the game anyway.

It was a good thing I tried the demo first. It saved me $20. Incredulous as it may sound, and despite all the excitement that I felt for this game, I'm sad to say that Torchlight disappointed me. All 2 hours of it. Let me try to explain.

I picked a Vanquisher, which is basically a ranged character. I don't understand why they choose to pick this name for a class, because "vanquisher" doesn't tell me anything about how the class plays. It could be anything from a melee to a ranged to a magic class. Anyway, I wanted to play with guns because guns are indeed plentiful in Torchlight.

The first disappointment came from the fact that there doesn't seem to be any difference between how a bow, a crossbow and a gun function. They feel identical and their stats are identical. I admit that there isn't much difference in WoW either, between these types, but to me they feel different.

One of the biggest negatives of Torchlight was the graphics. The game was touted to be very optimized and quick, running on very low-end PCs, including netbooks. That is indeed true, the interface feels snappy enough and the gameplay doesn't slow even for a fraction of a second but the loading screens were too long for my taste. Diablo 2 for example loads instantly on my machine and yes, I know it is a very old game but there's no reason why Torchlight, which doesn't exactly sport Crysis-like graphics, should load so slowly. Apparently it's something to do with the size of each level but whatever.

I tried to like the graphics, I really did, but I couldn't. Everything, from the interface to the characters, to the monsters and the weapons, is blocky. Big, hulking graphics that in a way look cute but feel annoying. Cartoony but not in a good way. WoW feels very advanced in comparison. To me, it felt like a kids' game.

I didn't like the interface either. I hated the way the character panel and inventory slid into the screen. I'm not a big fan of the font that was used throughout the game, which is another example of blockiness. Massive font, better suited to Zuma than Diablo. There's simply no graphic finesse to be had in Torchlight.

As for the weapons and items, they were lackluster. Drop after drop after drop of magic items but they all looked the same and felt the same. Minor variations in stats. Nothing to write home about. Yeah, I only played for 2 hours but I can't imagine playing longer than that. I doubt "epics" would make me reconsider. The weapons looked blocky, cartoony and not very appealing.

The monsters, once again, were blocky. You're probably tired by now of hearing this word but I swear that's what everything felt to me. Sadly, I can't say more about the monsters because they weren't memorable. There's nothing that I remember about them. Oh wait. I kinda liked the skeleton models but I'm sure small kids would also love with them. I don't know if that's a positive thing.

The levels... well, I can't say much about them either because the only level type I've experienced was the mine. Just a regular mine with several levels. You pass through each level killing monsters and then you find the portal to the next level. A very arcade-like experience. Some levels in Diablo 2 were similar, for example the Catacombs, where you'd go down through similar textures for 3-4 levels but I have a feeling Torchlight is entirely built around this system. Yes, as far as I'm aware, the whole game revolves around underground dungeons.

The biggest negative came from the "feel" of the game. It's very hard to define but something didn't click for me. I hated the way the character moved when I clicked a spot. I hated how the character attacked a monster when I clicked on it. Somehow, my clicks felt "cushioned". I can't describe the feeling though I wish I could. I would click in one spot and the character wouldn't quite move in that exact spot. I would click on a monster and it wouldn't register unless I pointed right in the middle of the monster. A very "mushy" and imprecise clicking experience. For a point-and-click game that's not a good quality.

One redeeming quality about Torchlight is the pet. You can choose between a cat or a dog (the difference is only aesthetic) which can fight for you and more importantly has its own inventory. Even cooler is the fact that you can send your pet to town to sell the trash you accumulate. It returns in a couple of minutes. That's all good but you will accumulate so much trash that you'll be sending your pet back all the time. In all, that's a very nice feature and I wish Diablo 3 had something similar.

The sound effects are pretty good and it seems that a lot of attention has been put into them, however it's hard to stand out from the crowd with just this feature. The music is eerily and instantly familiar and that's because the composer is the same guy who created the music for Diablo.

It's hard to come to a definite conclusion. My review was based on a 2-hour demo only and perhaps it is very unfair in this respect. It might be that if you play the full game you will come to like it. Many people do like it and many other reviewers as well. Since liking a game is a subjective matter, I am sad to report that Torchlight didn't click for me. As a rule, if a game doesn't win me over during the first 10 minutes of playing it, there are high chances that I won't enjoy it. It's either love at first sight or nothing at all.

I can't advise anyone whether they should buy Torchlight or not. What I do advise, if you are a fan of the genre and especially Diablo, is to give it a try. If you like the 2-hour demo, definitely buy it. It will probably be the best deal you've made in a long time. As for me, I'm giving it a pass.


Anonymous said...

Had the opportunity to play the full game and I got boered after a while. It's very boring and weapons, gear and npc's have zero appeal. It looks like a big sandbox game where you do the same thing again and again. It's nice for a while but this game comes too late on the gaming scenario.

Darth Solo said...

Yeah and the funny thing is that Diablo is also a very repetitive game, yet I played it for 5 years and I would still play it today if it wasn't for the eye-watering graphics.

Anonymous said...

I bought it and played through to the end and then wondered why. I really wanted to like this game, but it turned into a spamfest - just keep clicking and use one special attack every time it's off cooldown. The whole talent tree was a yawn. Too bad.

Darth Solo said...

@Anon at least you supported a good cause :) Seriously now, for the money there are worse games to be had. Torchlight just doesn't have that special *something* that Diablo had.