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Review: Torchlight (XBLA)

Torchlight xbla review.png

For reasons I still have trouble fathoming, consoles have not enjoyed the same wealth of loot-grinding RPGs that have graced the PC. Runic Games looks to rectify that, with the release of its PC hit Torchlight on Xbox Live Arcade. For PC gamers, Torchlight has been a bastion of dungeon-crawling goodness while Blizzard takes its sweet time between Diablo releases. Does the console port of this two year old PC RPG still have the magic, or has the ember fizzled out?

I think it's pretty safe to say that if you play games on your PC and have even a passing interest in RPGs, you're at least somewhat familiar with Torchlight. But for the uninitiated, Torchlight follows closely the blueprints set by games like Diablo. Players select one of three character classes and venture deep into the mines, catacombs, caverns, and ruins beneath the town of Torchlight in search of riches and loot with which to arm yourself. Sure, there is a story, but it's mostly present as window dressing with scant dialog every few floors and scrolling text boxes when entering a new area. The real motivation is in acquiring new items, venturing deeper into new areas, and building your character's skill set.

I'm tempted to simply write "the XBLA port of Torchlight is, in fact, still Torchlight" and leave the review there. The dungeon levels and equipment are randomly generated, but you'll still traverse the same number of floors, fight the same bosses, complete the same side-quests, and use the same classes and skills as the PC version. The Destroyer is your warrior class, Alchemist plays the part of the mage, and Vanquisher is the ranged rogue. A loyal pet accompanies your character, able to attack, equip spells, and carry excess loot back to town and sell it without interrupting your adventure. There is even a new XBLA-exclusive lizard/serpent/ostrich creature available alongside the wolf and lynx pets from the PC version. Items can be augmented with magic runes, or enchanted in town for a price. Fishing even returns, transforming your pet into powerful elementals depending on the type of fish it is fed. However, as much as the content has remained mostly unchanged, the XBLA port of Torchlight still lays claim to its fair share of distinctions.

Most immediately apparent is the change in controls from the mouse and keyboard to the Xbox 360 controller. On PC, all control was performed through clicking. Click somewhere to move there, click on an enemy to attack, click on loot to pick it up, etc. But for the shift to a controller, players now have direct control over their character with the left analog stick. This may sound like an obvious change, but it actually makes a fairly large difference in the gameplay. First, it puts players in a much more active role as they control every movement, rather than clicking far away and waiting as the game's path finding automatically moved the character to that spot. But more importantly, it makes enemy encounters much easier to manage, especially when trying to fight a swarm of melee enemies while dodging enemy projectiles. As someone who played Torchlight on PC often wishing I could use the WASD keys to move my character, this is a much welcomed change.

Attacking too has undergone significant alterations. Namely, there is no longer any cursor for attacking or selecting enemies. Pressing the X button attacks in whichever direction your character is facing. For melee weapons, this means the ability to now hit multiple enemies in a single swing rather than targeting one enemy at a time. For ranged weapons and magic, this means that a limited auto-aim feature has been implemented. The auto-aim does a good job for the most part, though I often had difficulty targeting barrels from afar, making the explosive barrels scattered throughout the floors less viable as a tactical option. The targeting also became an issue when trying to pick up loot, as I often had several summoned minions that would walk within range, highlighting them for a spell rather than the equipment I was standing on top of. I could usually solve the loot issue by walking in a tight circle while mashing the A button, but it was the one aspect of the port that really made me miss the precision of a mouse.

The menus and HUD have also been completely redone for Torchlight's console debut. Rather than the row of number keys, Torchlight on XBLA uses the left and right shoulder triggers as well as the Y and B buttons for hotkeys. This is somewhat rectified by the fact that pressing up or down on the D-pad toggles between a second set of hotkeys, however it seems like a missed opportunity. The D-pad serves no other purpose than to change between hotkeys, so I would have much preferred simply using the four D-pad directions as hotkeys, or at least used right and left on the D-pad to make even more hotkeys available. The current setup works fine, but it could have been even better with a minimal amount of extra work. Less excusable is that the option to have two weapon loadouts has been removed. Right and left on the D-pad would have been perfect for swapping weapon loadouts, but those buttons remain unused and the feature removed from the game.

The menus are the largest departure from the PC version, filling the screen with three columns for your character, inventory, and pet's inventory when the Back button is pressed. At first glance I thought the new menus were ridiculously cluttered, especially with item stats covering neighboring columns when an item is highlighted. However, as I continued to play I got used to the new menus. Scrolling through columns is quick and easy using the controller, and pressing the right and left bumpers gives access to your stat screen, skill tree, and quest log. After only a short time I was going through the menus even faster than I did in the PC version; so while they may not be as attractive, the menus certainly are functional enough.

Probably the nicest new addition is the option to send anyone on your friends list a "respect" potion, allowing them to reassign their character's skill points. It's a small thing, but it opens up a lot of experimentation in which skills you use since there doesn't seem to be any limit to the number of potions you can send or receive.

On a final note, I can't help but mention the difficulty level in Torchlight, or rather, the lack thereof. Playing on the exact same difficulty level as on the PC, I had a much easier time with Torchlight on the Xbox 360. In large part this was because of the controls, as I mentioned earlier, but it also seemed like the game was far more willing to give out powerful equipment than I remember. I was able to complete the game with only purchasing 2 items from the town, and ended up with well over 200 health and mana potions without ever dying or buying more than I found from normal questing. Granted, this was on the Normal difficulty setting, but using that same setting on the PC offered much more of a challenge. I strongly suggest choosing one of the two harder difficulty settings, even if this is your first time playing Torchlight.

Overall, Torchlight is still a fantastic dungeon-crawling RPG. The gameplay is every bit as addictive on the Xbox 360, if perhaps a bit easier than its PC counterpart. It's unfortunate that multiple weapon loadouts were removed, and the new menus are downright ugly, but neither are enough to take away from the finely tuned core gameplay. The real question is: do you already own Torchlight on the PC? If yes, then the new pet and a few new armor sets aren't really enough to justify a second purchase. But if you're primarily a console gamer and have wondered what all the hubbub is about, Torchlight on XBLA is a faithful adaptation that will more than satisfy your urge to hack up goblins for decked out purple armor.

A review copy of Torchlight was provided by the developers for this review. I played for 9 hours, reaching the 29th floor of 35 playing as the Alchemist class on Normal difficulty.

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