Carrying a Torchlight For You

Torchlight is a strange game, given its heritage. It’s clearly a Diablo-clone, and Diablo is itself an actioned-up version of the roguelike genre. Roguelikes getting their name, of course, from the original Rogue. The primary characteristics of these games are randomly generated dungeons and loot, and a death penalty. In the truest of roguelikes, death is permanent. If you die you must make a new character and start from the beginning. Diablo is more forgiving out of necessity. You lose everything you had equipped and must make it back to your corpse(s) to recover it.

I say out of necessity because most roguelikes are turn-based. For every action a Player makes, the enemies in the dungeon also make an action. This includes moving around the dungeon. If the Player moves forward, the enemies move as well. The driving concept is that with each death you learn something more about the nearly endless types of items at your disposal and the dangers that you can face. Did you get petrified by an enemy and then starve to death because your character couldn’t move and therefore couldn’t eat? Next time you know to invest in resistances against petrifaction. Because the dungeons are often randomly generated, the act of repeating the levels remains interesting: it’s not about dungeon layout so much as it is about throwing new challenges in the Player’s path. In a more action-oriented game like Diablo, where a death might not teach the Player much at all about how to play the game (hint: keep clicking), the death penalty is naturally lighter.

Torchlight eschews pretty much everything that’s characteristically difficult about both Diablo and roguelikes. Inventory management is less of a challenge because your pet can be sent back to town to sell extra equipment while you remain in the dungeon. And at the default difficulty, the game is frankly a breeze. The goal of Torchlight is the sheer joy of seeing hundreds of enemies die in rapid succession, the feverish greedy excitement of seeing fountains of loot spring from fallen enemies, and the rapid accrual of experience. It’s mindless, it preys on perhaps the worst gamer instinct–offering the most satisfaction for the least challenge, in the form of constantly rising numbers.

Which is why I decided to try out “Hardcore Mode.” This mode sets permadeath on. And it’s a strange juxtaposition. This really easy game that encourages you to turn off your brain and just click, coupled with the knowledge that one death will be your character’s last.

My first character, Timothy the alchemist, was level 14 when he died, the consequence of my own lapse of attention. I have yet to start my second character, but I’m already daunted by the prospect of replaying as much of the game as I’ve already played. So little of the gameplay cycle changes from one level to the next, that one wonders if it really matters if you’re playing level 1 or level 14. And if that’s the case, what’s the point of playing at all? Perhaps on a harder difficulty level, hardcore mode (or the game itself, in its vanilla form) will have more teeth. But as it is, Torchlight is the gaming equivalent of junk food, or a day slumped in front of the television. It’s tasty (and diverting) at the time, but afterward, the experience feels a bit empty.

Verdict: Torchlight is more of a day trip, worth making from time to time for some light, quick fun, but not as a long-term destination.

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