Mar 04 2011

Review of Torchlight (XBLA Edition)

Well unfortunately we were unable to secure a copy of this week’s XBLA House Party title (Beyond Good and Evil HD) for review, so to apologize here is an early review of next week’s title, Torchlight. This console remake of the 2009 indie darling of the same name, looks to expand the audience of one of the best dungeon crawlers since Diablo 2. To do this Runic Games has gone in and done a complete overhaul of the controls adapting them for consoles and streamlining some of the more obtuse aspects of gameplay; with these kinds of additions this just might be the definitive version of Torchlight. That said PC to console conversions aren’t exactly renowned for their high success rates and something with the control finesse of a dungeon crawler like Torchlight can be hard to adapt. So is this the version of Torchlight that can truly considered accessible to all or this is the Bizarro to the PC version’s Superman.

Thanks to the fantastic new controls combat is just as easy and fun as it looks.

The first and by far the most important thing to talk about when discussing this version of the game is the controls which through some divine magic by the guys over at Runic Games actually manage to work just as well if not better in some situations than the PC’s did. Rather than go with the standard “just replace the hot key bar with switchable hot key slots on the D-pad and face buttons” model most PC action-RPG’s that are ported console use they go with a more specialized approach. For one your basic attack and interacting with objects are mapped to separate buttons (X and A respectively) and while that may seem like a minor detail it keeps things organized in an unimaginably large way. Even more important your attack button isn’t simply “press it and your dude will hack at the highlighted baddy till they’re dead” instead each button press is a strike (though you can hold it for a continuous assault) and rather than having to highlight a foe you just attack in whatever direction you’re facing. These minor changes allow you to switch up targets, change-up tactics, or even retreat if necessary with absolute ease, things which can be vital in the game’s later-more hectic-levels. Special abilities also have been adapted quite well, you can place abilities on the LT, RT, Y, and B buttons and you execute them in the same way as attacks. You can also change between a second set of special abilities via the D-pad if you’re the type that really likes to vary the way they fight.

As you can see the skill path remains massive. Each skill can be trained up to ten times; allowing you to be a focused fighter or a fully prepared jack of all trades.

The UI has been revamped as well and while it does a great job it’s not nearly as well done as the controls. Rather than having separate menus for everything like in the PC version, all of the inventory, stat, and quest management has been blended into one Zelda-esque menu that works through pages. This menu flows very well and it allows you to stop gameplay for a few moments and get organized far better the PC’s one ever did, however some things have been omitted that were kind of necessary. In an effort streamline things they have combined you and your pet’s inventory screens, which while this makes for easier swapping of items, it removes the “paper doll” of your character and your pet that the PC had which better showed what you had and could equip. This is particularly troublesome when equipping your pet because if you didn’t have the fore-knowledge from the PC version to know pets can be equipped with accessories and spells it’ll hard to figure out that it’s possible until you tips from the loading screen. A more pressing issue is this game’s hatred of anyone without an HD TV. Similar to Dead Rising a lot of the text on-screen is incredibly tiny if viewed on a standard definition set; this strikes particularly hard when it comes to equipment stats. This was so bad on my set that smaller text was so blurry and tiny that I often had to just guess what the requirements for the more powerful equipment I was hoarding might be and I had to level my skills accordingly hoping I was plopping points into the proper categories. While you can often figure out what it’s saying by squinting hard enough it always feels like a jab in the ribs and a “Haw-Haw, you’re poor” when a game can’t show something (even if it’s unimportant text) because your definition isn’t ridiculously high enough. That said you’ll still be able to read everything that’s vitally important just fine and despite its faults the UI does its job admirably and never disrupts the fun of the game.

Torchlight's greatest strength? Hilariously awesome boss names, of course.

The gameplay itself is unchanged but for those who never played the original, it’s basically Diablo. The game works pretty much like every dungeon crawler ever made at its core, a convoluted and ultimately unnecessary story (in this case being some asshole is abusing some magic rock candy, go kick his ass) tasks you with delving into a dungeon with more floors than your average NY skyscraper and a pest infestation of irate goblins, undead minions, and rats carrying an ungodly amount of weapons and armor of varying but usually poor quality; simple enough it’s not like every game needs to be Bioshock. What Torchlight does differently is refine the gameplay of that formula (kill, loot, next floor) while keeping things surprisingly varied for this type of game.

Some of the later levels get kind of crazy and metal.

Generally when I play a dungeon crawler I’m used to things looking primarily the same throughout the entirety of the game but Torchlight does things a little differently. Every five or so floors the entire theme of the environment and enemy design changes and every theme ends with a big boss that represents that theme. This level structure is reminiscent of worlds style of design the Mario games use and similar to those each theme has a distinct feel and flavor to it. That variety really helps keep you wanting to move forward as you’ll always be curious to see what the next style is going to be. This kind attention to detail and effort to keep things fresh shows a real dedication on the part of the developer, they very easily could have said “well its taking place underground, so just make it all look brown and dirty” instead they gave us a well-defined and diverse underground universe that is oddly far more developed than the surface world it resides below.

Fishing is still here and chances are you'll still do twice and then ignore for the rest of the game.

Now I’m not going to go into detail on the specifics of the game here because honestly the game has been out on PC for a year and change now, if you really have absolutely no clue about what Torchlight looks, sounds, and generally plays like go look at its Steam page or forum and educate yourself; go on I’ll wait. Back? OK good now you know what Torchlight was like on the PC so I can talk about what’s different in this new version. The biggest change here is that there’s no mod support and to be fair they couldn’t really be expected to try to put that in, such things just don’t work well on a console. To make up for it though they have added some new stuff but none of it is so immediately impactful that you’ll notice it. There a few new sets of weapons and armor (though I have no clue which ones are new and which ones aren’t, at some point it’s all just a blur of numbers) as well some other new unique items. Perhaps the biggest addition is that of a “respec” potion which allows you to reassign skill points and an item that permanently changes your pet into a big ass ogre. You can receive the former item through sending a message to a friend through the game, if they have (or ending up buying) the game you both get the potion of respec. That said you can receive both items upon beating the main story and starting a new character which while at that point you may feel no want to take advantage of them, as you’ll have just played 20 or so hours of Torchlight and will probably want a break, this way you won’t have to bug your friends with messages that are essentially just ads for Torchlight.

All in all this is pretty much a perfect port of an already fantastic game and if you haven’t yet bought a copy of Torchlight, this is the one I would I recommend. That said if you aren’t a fan of dungeon crawlers this game certainly won’t change your mind and if you already own a copy on the PC and prefer PC controls there is really is no reason for you to pick this up. However for everyone else, even if you already own it but find PC controls a little finicky or have beaten it and want an excuse to play it again, this game is a clear must buy and it will entertain you for far longer than almost any other XBLA game could. For an outstanding dungeon crawling experience despite a mildly unintuitive UI Torchlight (XBLA Edition) gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars, if you delve deep enough into its depths the game will grab you and never let go.

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