Cons: A little repetitive, lacking end-game itemization, no multiplayer of any kind
Torchlight was developed by Runic Games, which is a small team of people with some pretty noteworthy games under their belts such as Diablo, Fate and Mythos. I love the fact that they're a pretty small company, as you can actually talk to many of them on the forums at their website. They're usually good about keeping users informed about how things are going, and you never see this type of interaction with large companies.
As for the game, Torchlight is a single-player ARPG (action role-playing game). It was released through Steam and a couple of other digital distributors, as well as in a retail boxed version released by Encore a few months later. At the time of this writing you can pick it up for $14.99 on Steam, which is pretty good and well worth it. Right now however, you can download Torchlight free through Steam if you pre-order a copy of Torchlight II. I imagine this will end when Torchlight II is released, but you never know.
So there's this special ore known as "Ember" that has the power to enchant or corrupt. The mining town of Torchlight is at the top of the Ember mine, and adventurers go down in search of its power. When you arrive in Torchlight, you are recruited by a mage named Syl to go down in search of her master -- an alchemist named Alric -- whom you discover has been corrupted by the mysterious Ember and is now evil. That's really all there is to the story and the game; you just steadily travel further down killing everything in your way and collecting loot.
The main problem I have is the fact that everything is underground. Sure there's some variety here; you'll get mine tile sets for a few levels, islands in the dark floating around connected by wooden bridges, ancient ruins, castles in the lava... but it's all underground. The only open world area is the town, which is rather small and you are unable to leave it except into the mine. The world is like a giant vertical mineshaft connected by glowing portals you travel between to go up or down. Some of the levels may sprawl pretty far horizontally, but when you reach the end you're still going nowhere but down further.
Also, each level is randomly generated to an extent. Each different tile set has a number of "chunks" of the map, and these are randomly assembled to form the level. This is nice because it will be different the next time you play through, but the tile set will still be the same so it's not quite as impressive as it could have been. Still, I really like it and it does help. You may get some slightly different enemies, different items, treasure and secret rooms as well. Every few levels there is a "waypoint" portal that allows you to travel to any other waypoints you have activated, and this is certainly helpful to get back to town at least.
There are three different character classes you can play with; the Destroyer, the Vanquisher and the Alchemist. The Destroyer can only be a male character and acts as the melee/tank class of the game, getting up in the enemy's face and destroying him. The Vanquisher can only be a female character and is the archer type of class, mostly using different guns and bows to attack the enemy from a distance. The alchemist is a male character who relies on staves, wands and magic spells to get through the game. These are just the main roles for each class; you can play differently, like using a melee Alchemist or a magic using Vanquisher if that's what you want.
Any of the characters can equip just about anything since items require stat points and levels to use. However, pumping a pile of magic points into your Destroyer to equip a wand isn't going to be all that effective most of the time because his skills revolve around melee damage. The freedom to do this can make for some interesting character builds though, and they're occasionally fun to experiment with. Character stats consist of strength, dexterity, magic and defense. In addition, you have poison, fire, electrical and ice resistances which can be of immense help later in the game.
There are other stats that you can't directly view, which is another small negative. Things like 2% magic find, 15 knockback or 10% pet and minion speed you can only figure out by adding up how much is on each piece of equipment. The character screen could have used a little more fleshing out and polish to make all of these stats and bonuses easily visible.
Your character can equip a helmet, shoulders, armor, boots, gloves, belt, two rings, an amulet and a weapon (or two, or a weapon shield). There are tons of different pieces of equipment in the game, and that's where half of the fun comes in since this is a loot-whoring ARPG. Items come in different qualities, with different stats, sockets to place gems in to make them even stronger, etc. There are enchantment shrines in the dungeons to make them stronger (with a small but increasing percent chance to erase all of their stats!), and even an enchanter in town who will enchant your items for a fee (with double the percentage to erase stats as the shrines).
There's an item combiner in town too, with secret recipes to combine some items into other items. He can also combine gems, of which there are a lot. Say you have a few "cracked cold-ember" gems which give 3 ice damage if you put them in a weapon socket. Well, you can give two of them to the transmuter and get a "dull cold-ember" gem with 6 ice damage. This rather ends up leading to a hoarding of gems and a character with empty gem sockets though, because you don't want to use up the gems in hopes that you can get perfect gems. Since there are like 10 tiers of gems, this takes a long time to accomplish... and even when you get one, then you don't want to waste it on a sub-par piece of equipment!
There are NPCS (non-playable characters controlled by the computer) in town who will destroy a piece of equipment and give you the gems out of it. There's also a guy who will destroy the gem and leave you the piece of equipment, but often even if your character has found better equipment you will want to save the old piece for a future character by putting it in your shared stash chest.
The world itself is three-dimensional with a fixed camera. You can zoom the camera in and out with the mouse wheel, but you can't rotate it. You move by clicking on the ground, which took some getting used to because I typically prefer a WASD movement option when I play this type of game. The left mouse button attacks and the right mouse button executes a skill that you can assign to the key. You can also assign an alternate skill, so that when you hit the tab button it switches between them. The number buttons 1 through 0 act as hot keys that you can assign to other skills, potions, spells, etc.
Most of the other buttons are pretty standard as well. C to bring up your character pane, I for inventory, P for your pet, S for skills, etc. Pets are pretty nice in Torchlight, as they follow you around and can attack enemies. They also have their own inventory which you can fill up with goodies, and you can even click a button to send them back to town to automatically sell their inventory and bring you back the money. Pets can equip two rings and an amulet, as well as any two spells that you pick up along the way. This makes them pretty versatile and really helpful additions to your part since you're otherwise playing by yourself.
The game also has a little mini-game of sorts where you can fish at designated fishing holes. You catch various fish and then feed them to your pet to transform him temporarily (or permanently with the most rare fish) into another creature. This also fills up your pet's life and mana at the same time, so it's especially wonderful for boss fights to have different fish on hand to make your pet more useful. Otherwise, when your pet gets low health he runs around randomly away from the enemies and does nothing until he gets some health back. You can also fish up other items such as gems and boots, but they're much less common.
Matt Uelmen, who composed the music for Diablo, also composed original music for Torchlight and the results were spectacular. Sound effects are also good, with some pretty nice grunts and explosions. Different class skills are mostly varied as well, though there are a lot of passive skills that increase damage, armor, crit, etc. that are shared between classes.
You can't complete a review of Torchlight without mentioning TorchED and the modding capabilities. You see, the game is designed to be completely modable by players and there are a number of decent ones created. New maps, new enemies, new items, new skills, new character classes, you name it. Most of them were created using TorchED, the free mod tool that Runic released for creating game mods. It's mostly point and click and pretty easy to use. Some things like items are super easy while adding things like new classes is a lot more involved, but there's so much that's possible.
Torchlight has really low system requirements, including Windows XP or later, an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 400MB of hard drive space, and a DirectX-compatible 3D graphics card with at least 64MB of memory. There's even a checkbox to enable Netbook mode in the options, so even though this is a fun game that has decent looking graphics it will still run on some pretty low end hardware.
Overall Torchlight is a terrific game, though itemization does taper off at the end and it is a bit repetitive. The lack of multiplayer is probably the biggest down side, as it's a huge boon to this type of game. Still, certainly an above-average game and it's pretty cheap to pick up as well. If you catch it in time, go ahead and pre-order Torchlight II on Steam for $20 and get the free Torchlight download instead of purchasing it separately. If you miss the deal though, it's still worth buying on its own.