If you’re a fan at all of having pets and stabbing monsters, well, we have a classic for you right now.
The Best You Can Do (Right Now)
Torchlight is an action-RPG in the smash-and-loot mould, a game that follows in Diablo 2’s footprints, if not blueprints. I’m never one to complain about the inherent property of a game copying another game’s notes, let alone my own games copying someone else’s notes, because every work is a synthesis of remixed components and blah blah blah. The point is, if you know what any of the games I’ve mentioned are like, you know what Torchlight is like.
For everyone else, Torchlight is a game that puts you at a bit of a distance from your character, and then uses instant-response action to move around and do things. You want to swing your sword, you click your mouse. You want to move to a spot, you move your mouse there and click your mouse. The entire game’s emergent complexity and design flows from this simple, real-time, responsive space. Literally everything the game is doing is about facilitating that simple interaction.
Torchlight is a pretty interesting little gem of a game because it very much is the best game that the people involved could make at the time with what they had. A lot of the ideas in Torchlight were straight-up implemented in Diablo 3, three years later. Of course, those ideas were also further evolved in the design of Torchlight 2, which also included a bunch of customisation and all the good ideas in Torchlight were evolved. It’s a smaller game, with fewer levels, and zones, and character classes andoptions.The game is responsive and it’s vivid and it’s varied enough to keep you clicking but also completely unvaried in how you play, constantly click-click-click-clicking your way through rhythmic cycles and using potions and recharging powers to keep yourself caught up as you overdo it.
It’s a cheaper game, too, but only by five dollars. And that brings us around to the question of why this. Why Torchlight, and not Diablo 3? Why not Diablo 2, or Torchlight 2? Diablo 2 is $12. Torchlight is $15. Torchlight 2 is $20, and Diablo 3 is premium, but the price range between them isn’t so varied.
So why play Torchlight?
What unique thing has it to recommend it?
A principle I try to hold to when I talk about videogames is that every single one is someone’s favourite game. Someone out there had nothing but Barbie’s Horse Adventures and it spoke to their experience and they loved it and it became a big deal for them, and they know the game’s ins and outs and nooks and crannies and it’s important to them. What’s more, these strange loves are also sometimes, loves of circumstance: my own deep and abiding appreciation of oddball games of yore like Eco Quest and Zeliard are born as much out of long periods of times with games that could fit on a 3.5 inch floppy disk swapped around after church as they were about any inhernt value those games had.
With that in mind then I don’t think there’s anything remarkable to suggest that someone, out there, likes Torchlight 1 better than 2, and I don’t have any real insight into why. There are so many reasons they might prefer one to the other. It could be colours or a particular piece of gear or a voiced line or the pet behaviour or anything. To those people, those who do the rare work of loving something, I salute you.
I always want to bear those people in mind when I talk about games. I want to remember that for all I have my takes and my feelings about games, that there’s always going to be someone out there who loves the game more than I do and perhaps more importantly, someone who knows them better because of that love.
Torchlight 1 is a completely functional game with a suite of mods available to it – indeed, the official screenshots I used for this seem to use some unofficial mods to change the interface a bit, which I find very funny – and a coding system and for all I know, out there, some kid has made their own sprawling leviathan remake of Torchlight using its modding system and their limited self-taught understanding of how the game works. Someone out there is playing the best Torchlight and they are loving it, and I want that person to be happy.
Even with that principle, though I try to stick to the idea that I can still, with some empathy, successfully sort out a good list of pros and cons for almost any game. I can, myself, construct a rationale and metric for why someone could connect to a game. Not necessarily the only reason someone can – that idea is what works at the root of numeric scores and Gamer™ Culture, where there’s seen as a ‘correct’ opinion about a game. There’s no such thing. Nobody’s right or wrong, but some opinions are usefully expressed.
Seeing Things End
It was impossible, at its core, for me to really click with Torchlight. It was a slog for me, in no small part because I had also only recently played Diablo 3 recently. For me, I don’t need this kind of game very often. This isn’t to say they’re indistinctly similar to one another – that kind of thinking is really meanspirited and reductive. The games have stuff in common, but you can say the same thing of first person shooters.
I think when it comes to a game like this, a meditative game you soak in, everyone has a good enough. Very few people, for any reason, are going to become scholars of the field, and each game is reasonably a substitute for one another.
One of the things the games in this genre are good at is endlessness. They can always just increment the numbers a little, make the experience of the now a little longer. That’s what I needed, when I was playing Diablo 3, barfing huge piles of gunk on enemies and running around surrounded by flaming dogs and passing around diseases: A game that was always there to give me another forward step. It didn’t really matter what that step was, because it was more or less like the last step and it was meaningfully satisfying. As I struggled with the way some things ended, I could at least sit back and feel the way this game didn’t end.
There is one final, sad note about Torchlight.
In 2017, Runic, the company that made Torchlight was shuttered, after the release of their final game, Hob. That game was a well-intentioned and thoughtful explorer that maybe I’ll wind up making an article about – but it was still nonetheless, the last work of a company that knew they were going away
Torchlight is a game with its own stuff going on. It’s got some shades of the poor mountain town, the creatures in the deep, the dispensation of power. There’s a plot working down underneath all this, something that justifies what you’re doing and speaks to an author who has long since set the project aside. The company that made it won’t get money from it – the same way at least – as they would when you paid for it.
At the end of Torchlight’s endless path, there is Torchlight 2. It’s a good game. It’s a fun game! It is still a game where you can stuff your dog’s bags with stuff and send it off to go sell stuff for you. It will give you as much as you ask of it.
Torchlight was a stepping stone to Torchlight 2, which was a stepping stone to Hob. It’s a part of a story of a company that wanted to make something, tried it, and spent fifteen years getting almost there. And when you play Torchlight, you are enjoying something they made for you to enjoy.
Get it if:
- You want something meditative, but also cartoony
- You want to see the evolution of a genre
- You want a stable, moddable game you can play with under the hood
Avoid it if:
- You’re already playing one of those other games and you’re pretty happy with it