Diablo III, by the look of it, is a long way out. Developmental limbo has meant that those craving for some dungeon looting action are left unfulfilled. That was until 2009 when a little game by the name of Torchlight was released for the PC. Developed by Runic Games, which features designers from the Diablo series, it was pretty much the sleeper hit of the year. It came out of nowhere and many many hours were poured into it. I spent many an hour roaming the dungeons trying to get the best weappons possible. And now this instant classic has been ported over to Xbox 360, but it has had it's sacrifices.
For those uninitiated with Torchlight, for starters, where have you been? You've managed to avoid nearly every major gaming news outlet that has talked about this for the past, forever! In all seriousness, Torchlight is your standard dungeon crawler. The plot is very wishy washy. There are monsters underneath the town of Torchlight and you, as one of three adventurers, must explore the mines below the town in order to free the town from the clutches of evil. The story is told mainly through quest text and interactions with other characters, but that's not where the fun of Torchlight lies...
That is reserved for the 35 floors that make up the caverns beneath Torchlight. These floors can range from simple mines to sprawling castles and forts, all hidden away under this quaint little village, all filled with a variety of monsters and loot. Each floor is of differing sizes with multiple routes around them. A lot of time can be spent simply traversing these interesting caverns although, after a while, the formula of platform-bridge-platform-room-platform-bridge-room can get kind of grating.
But back to the 3 classes you can choose from. Like Diablo, each has their own set of skills. You have the all out brawler who uses pure strength to beat seven shades of loot out of the enemies, the ranged specialist who will let you pick off enemies from afar, and the magic user who can use area attacks as well as heal without the need of potions. Like any other class based game, your character can be levelled up. Although the skill tree might not be as complex as something in Diablo, there are still a variety of routes to take in order to find the skill that will make you unstoppable, with many of the more advances Alchemist area attacks helping you achieve just that.
You're not alone in your travels. Although there is no multiplayer and thus no co-op (Torchlight feels like it is born to have a buddy hop in and help you loot the dungeons so it's slightly disappointing), you still have a companion to keep you company. Before you begin you can choose either a dog, cat or a weird creature thing that is exclusive to Xbox 360. Your pet then follows you around and helps you in battles, helps carry inventory and even takes items back to town whilst you're in the dungeon for sale. You can even teach your pet spells so it can essentially become another weapon for you to wield. Even by feeding it a fish, you can transform your pet into a powerful monster. The pet system is definitely something that sets Torchlight apart from other dungeon crawlers. Even though it has been done before in Fate, it works a lot better here.
Torchlight isn't difficult. On the lowest difficulty you can probably breeze through in about 10 hours but, being able to start a new character and retain loot or carry on with all the side quests, you can easily pump a few more hours out of it. It's best played on the highest difficulty levels so there is actually an element of challenge here. It's a game both suited to beginners and DIablo veterans, without alienating either which is a rarity.
The major problem with Torchlight, however, is the translation of controls. On the whole, everything seems OK. Attacks are mapped to certain buttons and spells can be mapped to any remaining ones. It's when you get to the menu system that things start to get a little bit messy. Everything is buried underneath everything else. It's hard to tell which body parts are free of weapons, so fully equipping your character becomes a guessing game. The pet inventory is also pretty difficult to find at first glance. Whereas on the PC everything was smooth and easy, here, more effort is needed to get the most out of Torchlight. Maybe a little too much.
Other than that problem, the translation is otherwise smooth. The graphics, for budget visuals, still look surprisingly good and it can handle a large number of enemies onscreen reasonably well with only minimal slow down. For those looking for something to tide them over until Diablo III finally comes out, Torchlight should be your first port of call. However, if you already played the PC version, there is little here to make you buy it again.