As fantastic as the game plays, and as much as it does look and feel like a spiritual successor to action-RPG classics Diablo and Fate, one can't shake the feeling that Torchlight is the product of compromise. From a small and experienced development team featuring key members who worked on the above mentioned action-RPG classics, Torchlight is a well realised entry into the genre that simply begs to be expanded upon. As a single-player game this action-RPG feels stunted, and without a co-operative buddy playing along-side you, as you loot and storm your way through dungeons, the experience although enjoyable, is definitely lacking. And this is a fact that the marketing of the game has taken into consideration, with a modest price tag and information stating that a Torchlight MMO is on the way.
Perhaps that was an overly harsh opening paragraph, and to be fair Torchlight is far from being a generic entry into the action-RPG genre. Even with such a small development team, the game is incredibly polished and features a visual engine that although won't break any new records in the number of polygons it pushes, is incredibly vibrant. At a first glance the visual style is very reminiscent of the art styles deployed by Blizzard in the 'sometime this century' Diablo 3, and with such a vibrant and well animated world to explore, a natural first impression might be something along the lines of "hey this is awesome, and should tide me over until Diablo 3." And the mechanics in Torchlight are well honed, and realised. The game itself follows a very simple structure - the town of Torchlight sits on-top a mine, one that is overrun by a mysterious element called Ember. The basic premise of the game is to explore the mines, and the deeper you go the more ancient the foe and environment. This means completing story and side quests, levelling up and distributing your skill and attribute points, and probably most importantly, looting enemy corpses and treasure chests in the search for rare and awesome items.
As an action-RPG from people who worked on Diablo, the gameplay is exactly what you'd expect. This is a mouse workout in the truest sense, but has enough additions and modifications to keep things feeling a little fresher. With three classes to choose from, warrior guy, ranger girl, and magic dude, thankfully a robust skill/spell system was implemented to keep things from being bogged down too much in class variation. This is definitely the result of the game itself being single player only, and means that although you can wield two-handed pole arm as a warrior, you can also cast elemental spells, buffs, and fire ranged weaponry.
But it's always a worry when a game features randomly generated dungeons, and although this allows for a more unique play experience from player to player, it usually results in generic designs that follow simple and obvious patterns. Torchlight, however, manages to do quite a bit to minimise this, and although there are still moments when the dungeon designs feel randomly generated, there's enough variation within each tile-set to keep this to a minimum. And as a welcome bonus the game features robust level design tools that should pave the way to some great user created content.
However, the game itself has its flaws, which hamper the overall game as a single-player experience. For one the main town is fairly rudimentary with fairly generic NPCs that dispense quests as simple as the premise. Kill this guy on Floor 6. OK so you've done that, now kill this guy on Floor 7. Right so you've done that too, how about we try something different, and get you to kill this guy on Floor 8? In the end this means that Torchlight coasts on its gameplay mechanics which are incredibly well realised and polished. With such a small development team, the focus for this game seems pretty clear, and that was to create a great action-RPG in the vein of Diablo and Fate that plays every bit as well as those classics. The end result is essentially just that. Expect one that is missing a great storyline, an interesting cast of secondary characters, and co-operative gameplay. Sure you may have three pieces of an awesome purple armour set, but without someone to show them off too, who's going to know?