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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

March 10, 2011

An Arcade Title to Rival Them All

Okay, I originally planned on doing a Playstation post here, talking about how Sony's first system brought me waves of enjoyment when it came out back in the day, and that post will in fact be written at some point in the near future...but first, I have to rave about another title that just got released yesterday on X-Box Live Arcade that is bringing me more fun and enjoyment than I thought previously possible from an arcade title.  The fact that it feels exactly like a previous full-on PC title that spawned a very successful franchise only adds to that happiness.  That previous franchise starter was "Diablo," and the arcade title is named "Torchlight."

First off, a little background history on the newer title at hand.  "Torchlight" is by no means a new title, as far as release date is concerned anyway.  The game was first available digitally in October 2009 and then on a 'disc in a box' (any SNL references regarding anything Justin Timberlake has ever sung on that show are strictly intentional) for PCs in January 2010 (European release in April 2010), and therefore my introduction to it via the X-Box Live Arcade release is quite late in terms of calling it a new title.  Additionally, this game won Best Debut Game Award of 2010 at the Game Developers Choice Awards, and both a sequel and an MMORPG are planned for the future, with the PC release of the sequel scheduled for July 2011.

As to my comparing it to "Diablo," well so did a lot of the critics when the title first came out, and all of the comments were about how well it captured the best of what "Diablo" was about.  For all you people who don't know about "Diablo," let me fill you in on that game's storyline.  This next paragraph WILL contain spoilers for those who aren't familiar with this story, so if my recommendation towards purchase of the original classic game that begat "Torchlight" leads you to follow the link provided, I strongly suggest skipping ahead so that the big plot points aren't ruined here.

"Diablo" took place under the town of Tristram, allowing the players to delve through 16 levels of dungeons in order to reach their goal: a confrontation with Diablo himself.  The reason for doing so involved a war between Heaven and Hell, and the Lord Of Terror is hidden deep under this unassuming town, built around a monastery which was itself built to keep watch on the beast beneath.  In order to ultimately save the world itself, the adventurer must go to the depths of Hell to kill this beast, one of the three Prime Evils (the others being Baal, Lord Of Destruction, and Mephisto, Lord Of Hatred), whose form had been previously trapped within a Soulstone, but which has been released by a possessed archbishop.  The demon has then possessed first the king, and then the king's son, and thus the adventurer arrives and is given the task of returning Diablo back into the Soulstone.  The hero does this, but then is forced to drive the stone into his own skull in order to attempt to keep Diablo at bay by the sheer force of his will.  There is much more of a backstory to this game, but for the purposes of storyline I have covered the basics.

As for gameplay mechanics, there are a few things that are needed to be known so that the comparison to "Torchlight" can be seen objectively.  "Diablo" was broken down into groups of four levels, each group having a graphical theme to the levels within, and located somewhere within the first level of each of the four groups was a method to get back to the surface directly, the first being the main entrance from the monastery.  Otherwise, the only way to return to the surface without an enormous amount of time-consuming backtracking was via a Scroll Of Town Portal which, kind of obviously, opened a portal back to town that could be used for a single two-way trip to the surface.  A player had a choice of three characters, a warrior type, a magical type, and an archer and trap using type (named as the Warrior, Sorcerer and Rogue respectively).  Attacking creatures was simply a matter of placing the mouse cursor over them and clicking, though in order to stay in one place whilst doing so one would have to hold down the control or alt button on the keyboard, can't remember which at the moment.  The adventurer generated light, and by moving around would reveal the level's map, which could be on-screen at all times.  Hidden outside the town was a poor beggar, Wirt The Peg-Legged Boy, who sold magical unrevealed items at outrageous prices.  Items not revealed could be revealed by use of an identify spell or by taking the items to Cain, the last surviving member of the church (with a deep dark storyline of his own).  Characters had skill trees into which points gained at level ups could be put in order to increase either the number of skills or the level of the skills at hand.  The entire game itself was a 'dungeon-crawl' and kept players underground for the extent of their adventuring, facing tons of monsters, unique named bosses, fountains which altered abilities and bestowed effects both good and bad upon the adventurer, and myriad items and equipment falling to the ground upon the death of a creature or the opening of a repository for goods.  This game could be played by up to four characters with internet connection.

That pretty much describes "Diablo" concisely and encompassing all major aspects of the title.  For "Torchlight," and this is the key point I'm trying to make, it will be easier to list what ISN'T the same.  This game is singleplayer only, though you do have a pet that travels with you.  That's it.  Oh, and instead of pointing a mouse cursor, you just face the direction of that which you are attacking and hit the attack button; depending on what you have equipped, and the range of what you are attempting to do damage to, you'll either approach and swing a weapon or attack from afar while standing still, no other button presses needed.

This is where people who are reading this ask 'Seriously, those are the big differences?'  Well, yes...and no.  Obviously the storyline isn't the same, and in "Torchlight" you're going underground via a mine...oh, and the quick way back to the surface occurs on the fourth level rather than the fifth...and Wirt isn't named Wirt, nor has he a peg leg.  Other than that, yeah, this is "Diablo" for consoles.  Oh, there are certainly other things I didn't mention - for example, socketable items (a mainstay of "Diablo II") are included here.  Oh, and the inventory is different, with 50 slots for gear found in the dungeons rather than the 'fill in the space "Tetris"-style inventory of "Diablo."  Everything else is pretty much exact, and I do mean exact:  the method of getting back to town using a scroll is even called a Scroll Of Town Portal.  Heck, even the makers are the same people who made "Diablo..." wait a tick, that might explain it!

The thing is, the original game worked, and the newer game released thirteen years later works just as well if not better.  I honestly have not had this much fun with an arcade title up to this point, and I have purchased a LOT of arcade titles.  In fact, I have had a great time playing the other titles I've purchased, but for both nostalgia and pure RPG greatness, "Torchlight" has it over all the other titles hands-down.  I personally am only working on dungeon level five at the moment, but I've been loving every minute of the game, and look eagerly forward to the sequel and probable MMORPG that will follow.  No word as to whether the sequel will in fact come to the 360, but given the fact that the game is incredible I expect that sales will tilt the scales steeply towards 'Hell yes!'  And, of course, all is not lost on the PC gamers side of things either.  See, you guys are the real lucky ones, because not only do you get to play "Torchlight II" before those who only play games on consoles, you're also getting close to a major release by the company that brought you the game it was modelled after...