Publisher: Microsoft / Developer: Runic Games/ Platform: XBLA

Torchlight, a top-down Diablo-esque RPG by Runic Games, had originally been released on PC back in October of 2009.  I never had a chance to play the game myself, but was intrigued when I learned that it would be released onto the Xbox 360 as an Xbox Live Arcade title, and decided this was a game I didn’t want to miss twice.

Even from the main menu, it was obvious that Torchlight’s art style was heavily influenced by World of Warcraft.  The comic book-esque character proportions, the bright colors and the slightly steampunk-meets-magic time period all are very similar to the same art style of the popular MMORPG.  While the game does resemble WoW visually and plays a lot like Blizzard’s other big title, Diablo, there are a few things that keep Torchlight from becoming the next must-have RPG.

From the start you choose one of three standard RPG character classes: Fighter, Archer, or Mage.  From there you get to choose what kind of pet you want to follow you around.  Initially you can choose from a wolf, a bobcat, or some strange fish-lizard thing, but during your travels you might stumble upon some magical fish that can transform your pet, either temporarily or permanently.  The three choices for your starter animal have no statistical differences that I’ve noticed, but transforming your pet into various monsters may lead to interesting results.  Unfortunately for fans of character customization, this is about as much as you get to personalize the physical appearance of your character.  Other than the armor your character wears, every Fighter is the same burly bald weightlifter, every Archer is a lithe, dark-haired woman, and every Mage is a mad scientist-looking guy with a big metal glove.

Each of the three character classes has a unique skill set, with new skills unlocking every five levels, but other than that how you want your character’s abilities to unfold is completely up to you.  Each time your character gains a new level, you get to put five points into whatever mixture of Strength, Dexterity, Magic, and Defense you want, as well as one point to add to the skill of your choice.  This allows someone like a frail Mage to gain an abnormally high Strength and start using a gigantic battleaxe, or have your Warrior sit back and dual-wield pistols if you desire.

While the openness of the stat system is refreshing, the skills themselves seem a little unbalanced.  New skills are opened up for you to learn every five levels, regardless of which of the previous skills you may or may not have chosen.  While you can spend skill points to upgrade skills you already know, the difference between one level of a skill and the next are almost negligible.  At every fifth level, however, the new set of skills is usually more of a significant upgrade from the last, rendering many of your previous skills obsolete.  Thankfully there are also a considerable amount of passive skills, making your character more powerful as a whole as opposed to focusing on one specific skill that may become useless when you get far enough.  The annoying part of this, however, is the fact that many of these passive skills aren’t explained very well.  For example, there is a passive skill for Mages called Offensive Spell Mastery.  The description reads “+1 to all offensive spells”.  I thought this meant it would essentially add one skill point to any offensive skill I had learned, which would really help balance things out.  Instead, it adds another level to any spell scrolls I’ve picked up in my travels (scrolls can be found as rare loot and offer extra spells to either teach yourself or your pet).  Useful, but I usually find myself using my own class skills rather than the spell scrolls.

Like many dungeon crawling RPGs, throughout your adventure you’ll amass a rather large pile of loot, only about 10% of it being of any use to you whatsoever.  While many RPGs will force you at this point to return to a town and dump everything into a shop, Torchlight makes things a little easier.  Your pet has its own inventory in which you can dump up to 50 items.  At any time, you can tell your pet to travel back to town to sell all of the items in its inventory and return the gold to you.  During this time you are without your pet, which is your only other party member unless you have learned a summoning skill or two, although this is rarely a problem due to the game’s low difficulty.

Playing through the game on the Normal difficulty setting, I rarely ran into any sort of danger.  By about the halfway point of the game I had well over one hundred health and mana potions and had only died once due to a trapped treasure chest I had opened while I was distracted, so veteran gamers may want to start at a higher difficulty.

While Torchlight’s art style is very pretty, I did encounter a few issues while playing.  For the most part the game runs smoothly, but when there is a large enough crowd of enemies onscreen there is a noticeable drop in framerate.  I also noticed that when there is a large amount of enemies around it becomes increasingly harder to find your character amongst the hordes of enemies.  Since I never really found my character in any real danger despite him being a squishy mage-type, I really needed to do little more than mash the attack button and throw out a fireball from time to time.

Despite its shortcomings, I find myself continuously returning to Torchlight. The main story (which is unfortunately a single-player only experience) will take roughly 15-20 hours and take your character to about level 30.  The level cap I believe is 100 and the last set of skills is unlocked at 25, giving players an ample amount of room to experiment with new skills.  In addition to the multi-leveled dungeon visited for the main quest, players will explore a few side quest and even hidden dungeons, as well as an “Infinite Dungeon” once the main game is finished.  Despite the fact that Torchlight never really does anything new or exciting after the first couple hours, it’s fun to level up your character and experiment with new builds.  Fans of RPGs will find Torchlight to be a long, enjoyable XBLA title best played in chunks and left to revisit from time to time, but gamers looking for a fresh new game to test the limits of the genre might want to look elsewhere.