Endgame: Torchlight

March 20, 2010

In a beautifully thought out and reasoned post for his own blog, the probably-way-smarter-than-me fellow known as gatmog writes of Torchlight:

The praise [in the enthusiast press] for Torchlight becomes highly suspect when there are no heavy references to Fate, because the similarities are obvious throughout the game’s proceedings…Torchlight limits itself to improving Fate‘s groundwork to make a game based on randomly generated content feel like a game, instead of the transient experience it actually is.

It’s true, too — I reviewed Torchlight for PopMatters and for the N&O, and there is but a single offhanded reference to Fate in each review — both of them likely inspired by the gentle scolding of the above blog post (I didn’t get a hold of Torchlight until its box release, hence the late reviews).

This is Fate...

gatmog points out that Fate also landed on a number of year-end best-ofs when it came out, for mostly the same reasons that Torchlight did last year, which involve ways in which the former game refined the genre: a pet that will run to town and sell your stuff, a “shared stash” which allows multiple characters to share particularly powerful items, and fishing holes that allow you to kick back and find food for your pet were among the most obvious. Also like Fate, one of the most serious knocks against it is a lack of multiplayer. The huge similarity does beg the question — how did so many of us miss this?

I think the answer lies in the function of games like Fate and Torchlight: that of stopgap. It’s been well-publicized that Torchlight serves best as a stopgap on the way to the long-coming release of Diablo III, a way to scratch the action RPG itch until the undoubtedly more full-featured big boy of the genre finally decides to show itself.

I had never played Fate — all I know of it is what I’ve read. Truth is, I hadn’t played a Diablo-style hack-slash-‘n-loot game with any sort of regularity since, well, Diablo. The first one. This made me a prime target for Torchlight, and the buzz around it combined with an incredibly cheap price (I bought it during one of Steam’s ridiculous holiday sales) was enough for me to pick it up and fall in love with the charms it brought to the genre. It was easy to play, a casual game dressed up as a hardcore-ish dungeon crawler, and it made me remember just how much I loved Diablo so many years ago.

...and this is Torchlight. Would you know which was which if I didn't tell you?

If I had played Fate, I can’t imagine being nearly as drawn to Torchlight, low price or not. The scratch would have been itched. Despite Torchlight‘s superiority to Fate in terms of narrative drive and presentation (a superiority that gatmog himself acknowledges), I probably would have spent that $2.99 on, oh, a couple of Rock Band tracks or something.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everybody. The types of people who managed to pull off some of Torchlight‘s more obsessive Steam achievements (100 levels in the post-game dungeon? 50 Hatch quests? Golly, it’s a fine line between dungeon crawling and S&M sometimes.) are the same people who might get into both Fate and Torchlight. There just aren’t all that many of those people — people for whom the hacking and slashing never loses its appeal — out there, and as such, those who missed Fate are the ones most drawn to Torchlight.

[mild spoilers to follow.]

How do I know I’m not one of these people? Because I beat Torchlight. Do you know how Torchlight ends? You beat the final boss — a boss that you sit there and hack at for what seems like years before he actually keels over and dies — and you’re rewarded with…the knowledge that things still suck. Hooray, you beat the living embodiment of evil in the mines, but hey, look over here, there’s all this OTHER evil for you to deal with. HAVE FUN, SUCKER.

When I beat Torchlight, I was convinced I was going to be one of those people, the ones who picked up all those obscure Steam achievements and played Torchlight intermittently for the entire length of time until Diablo III arrived. Then, once I beat the game, I played two levels of the new, unlimited-depth dungeon that opened up, and then proceeded to never play the thing ever again. It’s only been a month and a half or so since I last played it, but it may as well have been a year ago; truth is, it’s hard to find the motivation for dungeon crawling when there’s no defined goal other than whatever I make up, and I have plenty of great games with actual goals left to accomplish that I could play instead. My itch has been scratched. Bring on Diablo III.


One comment

  1. I would really like to think that I was on top of games but I’m really not – how come I’d not heard of this until now? Nice review – I like games that hve extras once you beat them so I might check this out!
    Ciao, lovely blog (I’m also listening to Massive Attack right now, btw)

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