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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Torchlight.

Transcript Edit

I have a lot of respect for the fantasy peasant village economic model. It seems like those guys have got a good scam going on. First you accidentally build your settlement within easy walking distance of the local gnoll encampment or dragon cave, or directly on top of a gateway to hell, and all you have to do is build a big fat checkpoint in the village square and keep giving birth to potential kidnap victims, and your storekeeper, your blacksmith, your tailor, and your innkeeper, they'll all be set for fucking life. OK, someone's pretty daughter gets dragged off by kobolds every other night but hey, you've cornered the lucrative adventurer market, just buy another one.

I bet this is why NPCs in RPG peasant villages never move from a single spot directly in front of their place of business. If they move all their adventurer money in their pockets would pull their trousers down. Presumably they pay a helper gnome to come along every morning to shovel breakfast cereal into their mouths. Torchlight is an action RPG in which you play one of three adventurers who arrive at a small town who went for the "build directly on top of Satan" option, and then you embark on an epic quest to keep the town economy stimulated. And you have to go hunt down an evil wizard as well, I think. No one in the town seems to be that bothered by him, but as long as you're the one with big sword running around buying souvenir t-shirts you can do what the fuck you like I guess.

The graphical style owes a lot to World of Warcraft, but while World of Warcraft continuously expands the standard array of character classes into one huge mess that's about as easy to keep balanced as a stilt walker with one leg on a treadmill, Torchlight takes the Dragon Age route to boiling them down back to the big three: The Warrior, the melee class looking strongly like Ving Rhames; The Alchemist, the skinny white dude who fills the role of mage, warlock, shaman, and everything else where you don't actually have to do any physical work; and a pair of big titties filling in for The Rouge. And since this is a fantasy game, big titties apparently do the exact opposite of what they do in the real world, that is they make you more dexterous and skilled in the use of bows and long ranged weapons without even smacking you across the chops every time you pull the string back.

Character customization is extremely intuitive: there isn't any! So unless you happen to be Ving Rhames don't expect to roleplay much. Torchlight is a Steam game currently exclusive to PC, and I wouldn't hold your breathe for a console port. It would lose a lot of the atmosphere of the original, since you wouldn't be able to hear your mouse button clicking about fifty times a second. This is something the game has in common with Diablo, along with absolutely fucking everything else. You click around town, click your way into some quests, click down to the dungeons, click all the enemies to death, and then click back home again. There's more clicks than a school for dolphin telegraph operators. You'd think clicking on an enemy would indicate you want to smack them about until they die, but your character assumes you want to give them a chance to say they're sorry, and you have to click again for each smack, a bad habit I'd assumed had been bred out of RPGs.

The other reason why you probably won't see a console port is because we'd need to wait for a console with 50 buttons and a controller the size of a tea tray. With all the number keys assigned to different skills and having to switch between two functions for each mouse button, the controls aren't exactly streamlined. At one point, I accidentally pressed a button that made the map fill the whole screen, and I actually had to wait for one of the fucking loading screen hints to tell me how to get rid of it!

At first, I played as a Warrior on Normal difficulty, and the first thing I discovered is that Torchlight is big on hordes. Large numbers of enemies tend to gather around you, each picking at your Ving Rhames-shaped arse like small guinea pigs wielding toothpicks. Fortunately, by the end of the first dungeon I had a couple of clearing attacks that sent the guinea pigs flying like a little furry firework. "Holy shit," I exclaimed, "I am so fucking bored! And I haven't used a single health potion, despite having collected 37!" Apparently Torchlight interprets Normal difficulty as "normal for someone who has spent most of their life chained to a basement wall."

So I restarted as an Alchemist on Hard difficulty. Perhaps the guinea pigs would pose a greater challenge to my skinny, white, scholarly body. I imagine they would have done, had they been able to get near it, but my area effect spells and summoned minions kept them at bay. Ten hours later, I'd sold about twenty times as many health potions as I'd actually used and acquired a spell called "Giant Laser Beam Face Melty Death" that gave the enemies even less of a chance. It did eat up mana like nobody's business, but I was practically brushing my teeth with mana potion at that stage.

There was one thing that gave me difficulty, for want of a better, more profane word, and that's NPC pathfinding. Perhaps this is another reason why most of the NPCs spend their whole lives standing perfectly still: because they get easily confused by any movement more complex than walking a straight line! My class choice meant I had a constant entourage of imps and robots, and I lost count of how many times I'd emerge from an unusually difficult battle to find that half my assistants were fifty feet back attempting to navigate their way through a foot-high wall.

Besides that, every character gets either a dog or a cat—in another testament to the phrase, "spoilt for choice"—whose job is to hold spare armor and weapons and take them to the surface to sell them for you to the surprisingly unconcerned shopkeepers. And it doesn't take long until you realize how necessary this is. Monsters constantly drop equipment, most of which needs to be "identified" in the most egregious example of needless busywork, and the vast majority's unusable or worse than what you already have, so it gets filed under "Dog" like you're playing Fantasy Buckaroo. It turns the gameplay into one part action to two parts accounting.

Torchlight attended the Too Human school of level design: make about three rooms for each setting, throw in a few modest hordes, then copy and paste them until your processor melts. Overall, then, the process is like sawing a bunch of logs with overclocked power tools, so the actual sawing's blisteringly easy, but you have to stop every ten seconds to sweep up the sawdust. But then again, I did only pay three bucks for it over the Steam sale, so I guess the question is, did have have the amount of fun equal to or greater than I would have had had I just used the money to buy an ice cream sandwich? And the answer is "definitely," as long as the ice cream sandwich was first buried at the bottom of a gravel pit and I have to eat it with a drinking straw.

AddendaEdit

  • Our country's only hope: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • And if the ice cream sandwich gets covered in bits of grit you could just feed it to birds instead
  • And if the dungeon thing doesn't work out just build a Wal-Mart


ScreenshotsEdit

Torchlight 1

Directly on top of a gateway to hell

Torchlight 2

By the end of the first dungeon I had a couple of clearing attacks that sent the guinea pigs flying like a little furry firework

Torchlight 3

Perhaps the guinea pigs would pose a greater challenge to my skinny, white, scholarly body

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
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2008
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
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Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
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2012
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2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
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2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
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Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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