torchlight, xbla, runic games, blizzard, diablo 3, block party, wonder russel,

Runic Games released their Diablo-style hack-and-slash role playing game Torchlight in late 2009 to the cheers of an approving PC gaming crowd.   And why not?  Torchlight was a brilliantly executed next-gen copy (ahem…”homage”) of Diablo, fixing many of the complaints from the previous game while charging less than $20 at release.

While the gaming world is still sitting around for Blizzard’s magnum opus that is Diablo 3, Runic Games is continuing to level up their status from “rag-tag underdog” to “legitimate contender” by porting Torchlight over to Xbox Live arcade next week for XBLA’s Block Party.  Does the game’s translation to Xbox hold up?

Having played entirely through the PC version of Torchlight on the hardest difficulty back in 2009, I was eager to get my hands on the XBLA version (derrr…achievements, of course). It was a great game, and I was interested to see if they could capture the same role playing game loot-whoring fun that chewed through so many of my gaming hours.

Coming from a small start-up studio, you can’t expect epic ten-minute Blizzard cutscenes here.  The story is told through speaking to villagers, getting a block of quickly scrolling text, and then moving on.  The deal is this: you are an adventurer drawn to the small village of Torchlight because of its sitting on top of a mine of the precious magical material Ember.  The mine is infested with all manner of creatures, and then Ember itself is wreaking havoc with the world.  You are drawn into a team of adventures trying to get to the bottom of the mine to stop the Ember’s corruption.That all sounds great, but the bottom line is that the village of Torchlight becomes a hub area for you to grab quests, sell gear, hear stories, and then quickly pop back down in the mines below for the button mashing.

torchlight, xbla, runic games, blizzard, diablo 3, block party, wonder russel,

You are given a choice of three character classes, which essentially breaks down into spell caster (alchemist), archer (vanquisher) and warrior (destroyer).  These classes are hardly restrictive as you can specialize your character absolutely any way you want to.  Want your spellslinger to carry a sword?  Go for it, as long as you maintain the stats needed to do so.  Want your archer to throw fireballs and cast healing spells?  No problem. You can even spend points on the separate talent trees to further focus your specialization.

As the game is out on console, you lose out on having your regular hotkey bar full of attacks.  Instead, you can map abilities to both triggers and the B and Y buttons, but the lack of buttons was never a problem for me.
Seeing as I focused on using only one special attack, there was never an issue for not having enough hotkey space.  However, I played as an archer; being a full on spell caster juggling between a half dozen spells might have been a little tricky.

One of the major differences from Torchlight and its competitors was the addition of a sidekick.  This pet not only plays as a pack mule which you can send back to town to sell off all your vendor trash, but you can also load him up with spells to help you out.  Many a time, a last minute “heal all” spell from my pup saved my bacon, but the time saving ability to not have to run to town every time your bags fill up is surprisingly awesome.

If you’re afraid of running out of things to do, fret not! Torchlight has you covered.  Should you complete the storyline but not want to stop playing, why not try it on “hardcore” mode, where your character is deleted upon death?  Or stay with your primary character and buy “treasure maps”, which open up brand new instances that contain 2-3 levels of randomly generated dungeon to siege (hah, see what I did there?).

If you ever played the Diablo series, the music is nearly carbon copied from the game.  Hauntingly so, to the point that as soon as you start wandering around, you will feel your subconscious picking out notes and melodies that you haven’t heard in years.

As for graphics, there was definitely inspiration drawn from the cartoony and color-splashed feel from World of Warcraft.  My 360 hitched significantly when the screen filled up with monsters and my subsequent counterattacks, but it only occurred a handful of times throughout my whole experience with the game.  And to be fair, there was a hell of a lot of stuff going on.

torchlight, xbla, runic games, blizzard, diablo 3, block party, wonder russel,
Sure, there are other hack-and-slash titles out there, but for 1200 Microsoft points ($15), this game is a steal.  Minor graphical hitches when the game gets busy were annoying but were quickly remedied, and this game had me begging for a multiplayer version to play with my XBLA buddies.  If you’re looking for something to do while you are waiting for Diablo 3 or even Torchlight 2 to come out on your PC, this game is a magnificent stopgap.  Do yourself a favor and pick this game up, but be warned: this game has that weird “time distortion” factor in place, where you can easily lose several hours and not notice.
Torchlight comes out on XBLA on March 9th for 1200 Microsoft points ($15).