Torchlite: Diablo 3 Lite

Torchlight Title

After being barraged by a flurry of game announcements on Steam the other day, I decided I’d try out the demo for one of the more interesting looking titles, Torchlight.  I was pleasantly surprised with the game, however — what initially looked to be merely a poor man’s Diablo 3 turned out to be a fun and addictive, if somewhat simple, dungeon crawler.  After playing the demo for an hour or two, I purchased the full version, and have since descended into the mines many levels below the village of Torchlight, in search of fame, experience, and of course, fantastic piles of loot.  Read on for my quick review!

Anyone familiar with Blizzard’s dungeon-based role playing franchises (Diablo, World of Warcraft) will be right at home with Torchlight.  Just as in Diablo, you click to move your character around, click (ad infinitum) to attack, you can add items to numbered slots and trigger them with the numbers on your keyboard, and as you play you earn experience points that allow you to increase the base skills of your character, as well as select talents from a tiered tree of abilities.  Quest-givers are indicated with floating exclamation points and question marks, items come in different levels of rarity and some can be slotted.  And scrolls can be used to identify new items before you can use them, as well as create town portals for you to bounce back and forth between the village of Torchlight and the dungeons below.


At times, things can seem almost too familiar.  But if you enjoyed the Diablo games and are aching for Diablo 3, that’s not always a bad thing.  Runic Games borrows elements from Diablo and WoW liberally, and works under the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

So as you might expect, the game progresses pretty similarly to Diablo games; you begin the game in the town of Torchlight, you’re informed of a growing menace originating from the mines below, and then you spend hours and hours going into the mine, click-fighting a bunch of bad guys, and occasionally returning to the surface to empty your bags and replenish your potions.  Thankfully, Runic Games has made a few appropriate changes to this formula, which have improved the classic dungeon crawling experience immensely.

Dual Inventories

One of the biggest changes you’ll notice appears right on the character creation screen: no matter which class you choose, each one comes with a pet (either a cat or a dog).  This computer-controlled companion has two primary functions.  First, he (or she, depending on your naming preference) will attack any enemies you encounter, helping you punch through waves of bad guys with ease.  Your pet also has a separate inventory from your fighter, so you can use him to store your excess items, and even equip a few items for extra effects beyond those offered by your main characters’  gear.  That brings me to the second, and arguably more important function of your pet — using the extra pet inventory, you can send the little guy back up to the surface to sell your extra junk while you continue to fight through the dungeons.  This prevents you from breaking up the action every few minutes to empty your bags, so you really only need to go back up to the town whenever you want to turn in a quest or buy new supplies.  Along with other changes, like the ability to remove slotted gems, and upgrade gems and spells, your pet is a great example of how Runic Games has streamlined the classic dungeon crawler formula in order to make the game more accessible and more fun.

This allows you to concentrate on the finer points of dungeon running, like loot.  Loot drops often, and lots of time is spent comparing new gear to old.  Enchanted gear can affect a great number of attributes, and the game contains gear sets that offer bonus attributes when you equip multiple pieces of the same set.  Gear names are also color-coated according to rarity (the same color coding as seen in World of Warcraft) and as mentioned above, newly found gear often needs to be identified before it can be used.

In Town

Gear is one of the few things I have to gripe about with Torchlight, however.  While there is indeed a huge variety of gear, multiple gear sets, and a great amount of possibilities granted by gem slots, I find it slightly annoying that I have to mouse over each one to know what it is.  Games like Diablo or World of Warcraft use naming schemes to hint at the abilities gear can offer.  Any piece of armor in World of Warcraft that has the suffix “of the Monkey,” for example, will grant the player increased agility.  Armor with the suffix “of the Whale” grants spirit.  “Of the Bear” grants strength, and so on.  Though the naming scheme in Torchlight shares some characteristics with this system, it’s not quite as precise.  The result is that sometimes, you’ll find two pieces of gear that have similar (or in one case I’ve encountered, identical) names, and yet the stats for the item will be different.  It isn’t a deal-break by any means, but it’s not good, either.

The only other gripe I have about gear is that there don’t seem to be enough different models / textures for all the stuff you pick up.  Supposedly, Torchlight only had 11 months of development time from start to finish, so I suppose this can be overlooked.  It’s a shame, but most games with the amount of different gear to be found as Torchlight suffer similar limitations, so I guess I can’t complain too loudly.

Big Monster

The graphics in Torchlight seem a little cheap at first, but they get the job done, and once you get into the action and the camera pulls away from your character, you’ll completely forget how simple they are.  If you squint your eyes a little, it even looks a bit like all the Diablo 3 screens / videos we’ve seen so far, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.   It’s not going to wow your friends like Crysis might, but the graphics are consistantly good, and that’s what’s important.  Player and enemy models are nice, and have a broad range of animations.  Color is used well and spell effects are appropriately awesome.  The cartoonish graphics are nice to look at, and the world is vibrant and detailed.  Actually, sometimes it’s so detailed that you might lose some of the dropped loot in the background of the dungeons, but luckily Runic Games included another all-too-familiar feature, which lets you toggle nameplates for all the items on the screen.  I should also mention that the game runs great on my machine.

Sound and music are nothing to write home about, but get the job done as well.  The music is dungeon-ish and serves it’s purpose; it fills in the gaps between sword slashes and enemy grunts.  And speaking of sword slashes and grunts, those effects are decent as well.  There is even a little bit of voice acting sprinkled here and there, between levels where the story progresses, as well as when you talk to merchants in the town.


This is yet another area of Torchlight that crosses dangerously over into Blizzard’s realm.  Some of the music, like the town theme and the library theme, actually sounds like they were lifted straight from Diablo.  And the first time you leave the blacksmith behind, and he yells “watch yer back” in his Scottish accent, you’ll wonder if Runic Games didn’t cast the same guy who did all the dwarven male for World of Warcraft.  All of this makes the game seem, again, familiar to anyone who has played these other games, but I still wish Runic had gone the extra mile and not been quite so blatant in lifting ideas from Blizzard.

Reading the Wikipedia entry for Torchlight, I’ve found that Runic actually hired on a sound designer from the Diablo team to do work for Torchlight, so I guess that mystery is solved.


I’ve not beaten Torchlight yet, but I’ve spent many hours with it so far, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  It’s not entirely original, but everything it’s borrowed from other games adds to the experience so well, it’s really hard to complain about it too loudly.  At only $20, with three character classes to play, and a near infinite number of levels to play through, thanks to the random level generator and upcoming level editor, Torchlight it a great value.  I’m not sure if the game will last me until Diablo 3’s eventual release, but it should be good for at least partially filling the gap we’ve been in since Diablo 2.  The Torchlight MMO that’s in development might also be good for filling the void, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, go try the Torchlight demo.  If you like these types of games, or if you’re a loot whore in training, you’ll probably like it a lot.


  1. Mattthew_H - Over a year ago

    My friend got it the other day too, he said it was very much like what Diablo 3 would be like… although, he is more of a gamer, and not much of a tech person.

    But you’ve confirmed that for me :P Good review BTW

    1. Martin - Over a year ago

      Thanks! But yeah, it should be a lot like what Diablo 3 will be like, except I expect Diablo 3 will look much better and the gameplay will have a little more depth to it, especially since you’ll be able to play with friends.

  2. SunnyKatt - Over a year ago

    On an unrelated note, congrats for making it to the finals of the YYG logo design comp. Your yoyo one is the only one of the finalists I saw that looked decent – the others weren’t even logos!

    1. Martin - Over a year ago

      Hehe, thanks SunnyKatt. I wish YYG had posted more information about all this though – I had to go read about it on the Game Maker Blog!

      As for the other logos, I think the first one is really the only other one that I would consider for the final logo (other than mine, of course), if I were making the call. It’s a nice graphic, but I’m not particularly sure if it would work well for a logo, especially as an icon for GM — a lot of the detail would be lost in aliasing hell.

      Anyway, I’m rooting for mine, hehe. I hope YYG makes the decision soon!

  3. xot - Over a year ago

    Nice review. I played the demo a couple of times. Since I’m working on a similar design, I consider it research. It sort of left me cold, I’m not sure why. Maybe one of the reasons I haven’t gone back to it is because I’d rather spend time playing some other similar games. I do want to play it some more, and if this goes on sale, I will probably buy it. You know, for research. :P

    There is a lot to like. I’m not a WoW player and I’ve only watched Diablo being played a handful of times. Even with my limited exposure I instantly thought of Diablo when I saw this game. One thing I was surprised I liked is the absurd pet system. Pets are something I was planning to use as well. I was imagining doing something a lot more realistic but this idea of sending you pet back to cash in your loot neatly handles a problem that plagues most RPGs. Something you didn’t talk about is that you can feed your pet a fish to temporarily transform them into another creature. That’s a really interesting strategic feature.

    The main thing I didn’t like, which is a Diablo trademark as far as I can tell, is the click-clickity-click-click-click gameplay. I wish this game could be played with a gamepad.

    When I saw on Steam that you had bought the game it also said something about you getting a level editor. That got my attention. I’d love to hear something about it as it is not part of the demo as far as I can tell.

    1. xot - Over a year ago

      Oops, you did mention the level editor. It’s not available yet?

    2. Martin - Over a year ago

      Yeah, I kind of overlooked a few things, including the pet transformation thing.

      Currently, I’ve made it to somewhere around level 35, and I haven’t used that feature yet – it’s a neat idea in theory, but after playing through the game for many more hours, my pet has been reduced to a loot mule, occasional distraction for enemies, and that’s about it. I’ve got a few fish to give him too, but since the actions of my pet seem so inconsequential, I just haven’t thought to try it yet.

      The editor is actually available, but I haven’t installed it yet. I’ve been too busy with the actual game, and it’s a pretty hefty download (1.26gb) so I’m holding off for now. Once I beat the main quest I’ll probably give it a shot.

      I have to agree on the clickety-clickety gameplay; Torchlight is pretty similar in that regard. You can actually hold shift and hold the left mouse button to stand in place and continually attack, but fights usually involve a tiny bit more strategy than just standing there, so it’s hard to make use of this too much.

      I’ll report back once I’ve beaten the game and played with the editor – and I’m looking forward to that game of yours Xot… especially after you showed me that light engine you were working on some months ago! :)

    3. xot - Over a year ago

      I went ahead and bought it on sale for $10. I’m having a good time with it, and it’s educational (research!), but it’s not without its faults.

      Normal difficulty is far too easy and I’m not sure I want to start over at this point. This is why games should allow the changing of difficulty on the fly.

      I’m also having some problems keeping track of my mouse pointer during big fights. That’s very annoying. I really dislike it in games when player characters do incredibly dangerous things because of an interface problem.

      I’ve installed the TorchEd editor. It looks pretty deep. You can change everything and test your changes quickly, which is nice. Not that I’ve managed to create a single thing yet. I can’t seem to find any sort of help guide and TorchEd is not exactly intuitive. I haven’t hit the modding sites yet.

    4. Martin - Over a year ago

      Being able to change the difficulty on the fly is indeed good (I don’t think I would have been able to beat Oblivion without that feature, sadly), but I always feel like I’m cheating when I do that. I also feel that forcing the player to go into the difficulty now and then is a signal that you’ve not balanced your game very well, but that’s just me. I’ve played through just about all of Torchlight as a warrior, who is parked on the last level right now.

      I had the same problems keeping track of my mouse in really large fights. I found myself having to moving it around the screen or in small concentric circles to get my eyes back on it, and often I had to eat a potion or two in the meantime just to prevent myself from dying. Which brings me to two other complaints I have – that often, the game just boils down to having enough potions to heal yourself through fights, and that unlike WoW, you can’t just press the button for your heal spell and expect it to work; your character seems to have to be in between other actions to cast spells, which makes logical sense, but makes it almost impossible to depend on spells for anything important.

      Haven’t touched TorchEd yet, but I probably will once I get through the whole game. I took a break from Torchlight to play through Plants vs. Zombies (another fantastic game, by the way), and I’ve yet to really get back into it. It’s a good dungeon crawler though, and for $10, you really can’t go wrong.

    5. xot - Over a year ago

      Definitely wait until you finish the game before installing or running TorchEd. Besides the spoiler factor, it could ruin your current game if you aren’t careful.

      The first time you fire up TorchEd, it forces you to create a new project. This “mod” is automatically installed with no simple or obvious way of removing it. The problem is, the game will accuse you of cheating because you’ve installed a mod, regardless of whether you’ve changed anything or not. Simply not saving won’t help here. From what I’ve read, the main problem with getting the “cheater bit” set for your character is that you can’t use the shared loot chest. They don’t make fixing it easy.

      What you say about health is too true. The heal spell is pretty useless in battle, yet it’s too powerful when you’re at rest because it doesn’t cost anything but time. For the most part time is an unlimited resource in this game.

      As for potions, I’ve never run out of them and I feel more or less invincible at all times. In fact I collect so many potions during a quest that it usually becomes burden to carry them all, even when stacked 20 high (I wish I could say the same about Identify scrolls).

      Nevertheless I have died a few times because I wasn’t paying attention to my health meter. That’s another one of those dangerous interface problems. Dying in a game should never come as a surprise. It’s a bit unfair and it takes the tension right out of the game. A game like Left 4 Dead always makes your player status clear and the limited opportunities for healing keep the tension up.

    6. xot - Over a year ago

      I’ve just restarted on Very Hard difficulty and it is much more challenging. I still think the Portal scroll is a bit of a game breaker. There should be a bigger penalty for using one, they cost peanuts! At the very least they should be one-way and force the monsters to respawn. I guess that’s what mods are for.

    7. Martin - Over a year ago

      Oh, and I’ll have to try out the harder difficulty setting once I’ve finished my first play-through. I’m not into lots of death and backtracking, but on the normal difficulty level, the game has been a bit of a pushover so far.

    8. Martin - Over a year ago

      Wow, I’m glad you mentioned that Xot – I might have turned it on just to make sure it was all working correctly, not knowing that it might screw up my save game. Does it still do this even after they changed the profile to “cloud” storage?

      I’ve found the same thing to be true with the health potions – whenever I got to a floor where a higher tier of potion dropped, I didn’t have to use them until 1-2 floors into that level of potions, and by that time I usually had a stack or two of them, so I could sell my remaining lower level potions.

      I usually have a feeling of invincibility as well. Actually, I’m on the last floor or so before the end (I assume) and I’ve yet to die. I’ve had a few close calls, but with no time-delay penalty between drinking potions, it’s easy to just spam them and live through what would otherwise be deadly encounters.

      The identity scroll issue is similar, but by the time I fill up my inventory, I almost always seem to have picked up enough of those to identify all the new items I’ve got. Most of the time, I don’t use them though – I found a spell scroll pretty early in the game for identifying items, so I usually just use that and sell all my ID scrolls. As with the healing spell, the mana regen makes time the only limitation in how much I can use this ability – and I usually have so many mana potions available, I don’t need to worry about that either.

      My perception of games has changed over the years as I’ve spent more time considering the development / design side of things. Years ago, I might have looked at random deaths in games as just a mistake made by me – I should have heeded more caution. But now I find myself getting angry at developers whenever something like this happens. It’s a flaw in the game’s design when the player isn’t given a fair warning before death becomes imminent.

      For the most part, this doesn’t happen in dungeon crawlers except for when you plunge into a group of enemies without being careful about how many you draw. But it does happen occasionally in Torchlight, when you press the heal button and your character doesn’t react, or you get hit with an unexpectedly large amount of damage by one character in a horde of others, with no prior warning that you might get into trouble.

      I’m not sure how Torchlight could be fixed in this regard – but it is a problem that should be addressed somehow by the developer. It could be especially frustrating when the Torchlight MMO is introduced, and these issues result in bad blood between dungeon-crawling party members.

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