Since the official announcement of Diablo III by Blizzard, the Schaefer brothers - creators of the original Diablo games - have founded a company, released a critically acclaimed game, announced a sequel and an MMO version, and ported the game to Xbox Live Arcade. The Xbox 360 version arrived this week, and we're now taking a look at the digitally downloadable console port to see how it holds up against the critically acclaimed PC version.
For those unaware, Torchlight is an Action-RPG much like the game the Schaefer brothers created - the entire loot-driven Action RPG genre is definied by the Diablo series. Torchlight very much takes it’s inspiration from the first Diablo, where you start in a single town and then work your way deeper and deeper into randomly generated dungeons, building up your character and collecting items as you go.
You choose between three different characters, all of whom fill different class tropes that'll be familiar to fans of the RPG genre. There's the melee-focused Destroyer, the ranged attacker Vanquisher, and the wizardly Alchemist. Each of these have completely different fighting styles, as well as three different specialisations for each one, allowing you to choose freely from the abilities of each skill tree.
The core gameplay involves taking control of one of these classes and heading down into the randomly generated dungeon to fight monsters, complete quests and pick up loot, and as you progress you'll unlock new abilities for your character and more options in combat. The combat is somewhat strangely cathartic - it's so simple that it doesn't require too much concentration, but it's certainly addictive and fun as well - the simplicity manages to not become boring. In fact, it's some of the most fun gameplay you can find - simplicity, in this case, is bliss.
The focus of Action-RPGs is usually on the loot, and Torchlight is no exception. Every enemy you kill usually drops something, whether it’s a healing potion or a giant axe that’s on fire. You continue to iterate on your gear, making your character look more and more ridiculous as you advance in levels.
This gives a nice sense of progression and goes a long way to let the loot bug bite down on you, mimicing the best Massively Multiplayer online games. For a game with only three character types and classes, there's a great deal of customization available thanks to the manner in which you replace your gear.
It's not just the loot grabbing that matches MMOs - the game has a very similar art style to Blizzard's World of Warcraft. On PCs this allowed the game to not demand a lot of graphical power but still look interesting and stylized, yet strangely the Xbox 360 version still seems to struggle in spots with the framerate dropping when there's a lot of graphical flourish on the screen.
That's a minor, negative difference, but the biggest difference between the platforms is in the control scheme. Thumbsticks instead of a mouse means that you control your chosen character directly instead of clicking to move. Your skills and attacks can be freely assigned to the triggers and face buttons, while potions are mapped to the bumpers. This works out well, because in Torchlight you never end up using more than two or three skills actively in combat, and if you’re hurting for more buttons (like if you’re playing a summoner Alchemist), you can switch skill sets using the D-Pad.
But as well crafted as this port is, I still found that a few things got lost in translation. For example, since the left stick controls the character directly, it’s sometimes tricky to face in the exact right direction to fire of a spell, and I sometimes ended up getting killed because I was chopping viciously at the air with my axe.
Another thing I missed was the highlight function. On the PC, you can hold the Alt button to highlight loot on the ground and everything else you can interact with. My immediate instinct was to click in the left stick, only to find it not bound to anything. It seems like a trivial feature, but I found myself really missing it when I was scouring for dropped items, and something they could easily implement.
The inventory is also radically changed. There’s no visible item slots, and no so-called “inventory tetris”. Instead, there’s a simple list where items you have equipped are marked. This works well enough, and it’s certainly a relief to be able to carry more loot without worrying about how big they are. But also in that there's some things that feel like they've got lost in the streamlining process from the PC version.
That you are able to equip armor on your character is obvious enough, even without slots, but I doubt I would have realized that you can equip rings and necklaces on your pet unless I already was aware of this. In addition, the ability to send your pet back to town, as well as it’s spell slots are both hidden several layers deep.
It’s a shame that these features have been diminished, because the pet is arguably the best innovation that Torchlight brought to the genre. Being able to send it to town to sell off unwanted loot, is still a great and ingeniously simple mechanic that streamlines the clunkiest part of Diablo and its ilk. As if that wasn’t enough your pet also fights along your side and with spells you can teach it anything from throwing fireballs to summoning skeletons to even healing both of you.
The XBLA version of the game comes with an exclusive pet (The “Chakawary”, a lizard/dragon thingy), as well as the ability to turn it into a troll with a potion. This is purely cosmetic of course, but goes a long way to make it feel fresh. Another exclusive is the ability to send a re-spec potion to a friend, and doing this gives you one of these yourself. Re-speccing was something that was missed in the original game, as you were almost forced to spend your skill at the bottom of the tree, but this was quickly added in a user-created mod.
And herein lies the perhaps the biggest difference between the PC and Xbox version. From the start, Runic made a lot of effort to make mods easy to make, and easy to install. They even included Steam achievements for having a certain number of mods installed. This paid off, and mods soon popped up, altering little things like re-speccing or making fishing not mind-numbingly boring, to packs full of completely new classes.
I do find myself missing some of my favourite mods. It doesn’t make the game worse in any way, but it would be good to be able to avoid the more tedious stuff like fishing, or not being able to send your pet to auto-sell stuff when you are in town yourself.
Even with all the differences I have pointed out, make no mistake, this is still Torchlight. The game is still as fun and addictive as it ever was. It retains the good old l’ll-just-jump-in-and-play-a-bit-oh-god-it’s-two-hours-later-where-did-the-time-go feeling that Torchlight and Diablo have always nailed. The randomly generated dungeons combined with such a wide array of abilities and the infinite amount of items, means that the game will continue to provide you with a literally endless amount of new experiences, something few other XBLA titles can promise.
The gameplay is still fun and addictive as hell and while the frame drops are unfortunate it still looks great and runs well, and Runic have really made an admirable job of handling the transfer of a game like this to a console. For the price, this is definitely a very complete and worthwhile package - even when you consider how cheaply the PC version has been sold in the past!
If you have the choice, I would still recommend getting the PC version, as it runs on just about every computer you can find (It has netbook mode, and even a Mac version). However, if you don’t have one, or if you just prefer your gaming couch-based, this is still a great version of a great game.
On, one last thing - I can't wait for Torchlight II to come out later this year. Heck yes.