ReviewEver since Blizzard’s action RPG epic Diablo II and its expansion Lord of Destruction left us with sleepless nights, broken mice and sore index fingers, many similar games have tried to fill the void until the inevitable sequel to the series. Torchlight from developer Runic Games is the latest in the long line of Diablo-like action RPGs and for what it’s worth, it’s probably the best ‘Diablo clone’ to grace PCs since Titan Quest. Available as a digital download only for the moment, Torchlight hits almost all the right notes and is certainly the best way to get your loot mongering fix until Diablo III comes out (whenever it does).

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Rising up from the ashes of Flagship Studios (makers of the promising but never released Mythos), Runic Games is a team formed by folks who previously worked on the first two Diablo games and makers of the light-hearted dungeon crawler Fate. With that kind of talent on board, Torchlight certainly feels like an amazingly polished effort despite the absence of any pre-release hype or publicity. It’s surprisingly lightweight (capable of running even on netbooks), looks gorgeous and is simply a blast to play.

The game is a ‘Diablo clone’ in every sense of the term. It plays almost exactly like the Diablo games, but also has a few neat tricks of its own. For starters, the vibrant, colorful and almost cartoony art-style, which wouldn’t look out of place in games like Fable or World of WarCraft, is in stark contrast to the dark gothic visuals of Diablo. The game is set in the small mining town of Torchlight. Things haven’t been going so well since the discovery of a strange new powerful-but-deadly substance called Ember. The town is constantly under siege from dangerous creatures lurking deep beneath the ground and the friendly-neighborhood mage has gone missing. And that’s where you come in.

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The plot is extremely barebones and feels tacked on just to give some sort of purpose to all the clicking and looting that you’ll be doing for the countless hours to come. Much like Diablo, the game offers multiple character classes for you to choose from. There are only three classes – the Destroyer, who is your standard issue Barbarian-like tough melee warrior, the Vanquisher, a sassy ranger type chick who prefers using bows and guns, and rounding things off is the Alchemist, who is some sort of steampunk-ish mage who, among other things, can summon minions to aid him. While the class selection may seem limited at first, the individual skill trees for each class allow you to take multiple skill paths, making it far more diverse than it initially appears.

For example, the Alchemist can either become a pure caster with an arsenal of devastating offensive spells or a summoner, who lets his robotic minions do his dirty work while he hangs back sorting out loot drops and casting the occasional buff. The skill trees and character progression are surprisingly deep and a lot of fun to explore. While the leveling up works exactly like in Diablo, the game also throws in a ‘fame’ mechanic. Basically, your character earns fame every time you kill a boss, mini-boss or complete a quest. Each level of fame grants you a title and an extra skill point.

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Another addition to the standard formula is the presence of your character’s ‘pet’, a mechanic that was originally featured in the game Fate. Your pet can either be a dog or a cat and will follow you around wherever you go. The pet itself is quite capable during combat and can also learn spells and equip rings and necklaces for bonuses. You can also send the pet back to town to sell unwanted items, thus eliminating the need of constantly taking a portal back to town every time your inventory gets full. You can also temporarily or permanently transform your pet into a new creature by feeding it different types of fish that you catch during a fishing mini-game. The transformations grant your pet new strengths and bonuses. But if you ever want the dog or cat back, you can always do so by buying a special type of fish at a vendor. The pet itself cannot die and will simply avoid combat and retreat if its health goes down, something which you can always treat by helping it with a healing potion.

The gameplay itself is your standard dungeon crawling fare. You explore several large randomly generated multi-level dungeons, kill hundreds upon hundreds of monsters, open crates and smash a bunch of barrels and urns. Enemies grant you experience as well as drop loot. Speaking of which, the game is very heavy on loot drops, perhaps even more than Diablo was. It even feels overdone at times. There are standard items, rare items, unique items, epic items and various item sets to be found. The colour coding makes it a little easy to figure out which items you may want to pick up. Still, the amount of loot you’ll find is staggering, leaving you to constantly shuffle your inventory and make sure you’re always stocked up on identity scrolls. Thankfully, you can pick up gold by simply walking near it and also send items directly to your pet’s inventory, rather than yours, by shift-clicking on them.

Next page: IVG verdict

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