Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Diablo III: The PG Version

Torchlight comes with some serious pedigree: Travis Baldree, designer of Fate, and Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer, co-designers of Diablo I & II put their heads together and came up with an action hack&slash isometric RPG game that can appeal to all ages. The result is a good game that will keep us hacking and summoning - until the ...3rd coming that is.

In fact, the game developers made sure to often pay tribute to the Diablo Series: from the background music while at the town-camp (you would recognize those Tristam guitar riffs anywhere!), to the draining health and mana fountains and to the voice announcing & warning, you cannot miss the timeless Diablo influences. Having said that, I found Torchlight to be something between a Diablo and a Fate game.

If you have experienced any of the Fate games you will be reminded of them often, although the heroes here are not children. The village NPCs will keep giving you straightforward quests (usually a go-and-fetch excuse to dwell deeper into the dungeon). Extra dungeons, however, can be accessed by accepting the extra quests of the male NPC in the south and by purchasing dungeon maps of various levels from the local merchants. Also, sometimes a spectral animal appears while in a dungeon: slaying it will open up a bonus dungeon where better equipment often becomes available. There is no traveling to/from town while in a bonus dungeon, so you better keep an empty inventory before entering it.
Yes, you do get a pet (a dog or a cat - but you can interchange them by purchasing and feeding them a special fish) and, yes, you can transform them by feeding them different types of fishes. Fishing is carried out in pretty much the same fashion: you wait for two concentric circles to merge and their color to change from pale blue to purple but it is less important than it was in Fate (so far I brought in nothing else but fish - no equipment or valuable items).

Now, when not playing an AD&D RPG (where I always choose to be a Paladin), I like to play other RPGs as a warlock, a fighting mage. The Alchemist class allows you to both cast powerful spells and exchange blows in the midst of the action (the other available classes is the Destroyer and the Vanquisher). The Destroyer is the up-close-and-personal tank warrior whereas the Vanquisher is the ranger.
When leveling up as an Alchemist, make sure to get both the (steampunk!) golems and the Ember Strike spell. Together with some good shielding spells, nothing can stand in your way.

Try not to go broke. At first I though, "finally, an RPG that is not stingy with its money". But that was only at first. Items are less expensive at the shops but (surprise!) they also sell for a pittance. The good news is that money drops like rain from slain foes. The money-hole is the enchanter: attempting to further enchant your equipment will deplete your funds faster than you would imagine! And you also run a considerable risk of having all of its enchantments removed. No post-dated checks are honored. No credit cards accepted. I tried.

You will get swarmed so be prepared. Place healing potions, defensive and knockback spells on quick-slots (1-0); equip your pet with self or group healing spells and a powerful summoning spell; and never forget to first stay alive and then keep pounding on your enemies. In the heat of the battle it is best to deactivate (Alt-key) the fallen-items labels (more on this later on) and to always keep an eye on your health and mana levels. Respawning is not free: it will cost you either time, money or experience.

The inventory seems small but, in fact, it is more than adequate. Potions and scrolls are stackable up to 20 and (more importantly) every item takes up only one inventory square (no, you do not have to carry your fishing pole, it is just there).
You can send your pet to town to sell off its inventory and the time it needs to return is much less that what it did in FATE.
And there are treasure rooms you can only access by finding and pulling levers (sometimes in specific sequence) to open doors or turn bridges.

Now, some negative points: first, the game is only a dungeon crawler, there are no outdoors locations. Moreover, the graphics of the the spells are very impressive but they can become really confusing as well. Even at maximum settings, unless the fallen-items labels are deactivated you will not be able to actually see much of the battle. That means alternating between fighting and looting - but it also means missing some important interactive objects (levers or ballistas). Also, when electric, fire, ice and poison spells get mixed the result is not something one can discern friend from foe in. It makes no tactical difference (you cannot harm yourself or your company) but it sure would be more enjoyable if you could aim more than...80% of the time.
Finally, the environments are beautifully designed but your path is often blocked by obstacles that visually you could easily bypass. Sometimes you find your hero running in place, stopped by a ...pebble.

Finally, some closing suggestions to the developers for a future patch: add the possibility to order our pet to bring back potions and identification scrolls when sent into town, and make it possible to change class in mid-game (keeping the level and redistributing the skill points).

All in all, Torchlight is a very enjoyable experience. It is easy to master, it is beautiful and it is fun for the whole family.

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