Torchlight: This looks… familiar.

By Shamus
on Nov 5, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games

People are raving about Torchlight. I haven’t picked it up yet, but I’m a bit confused by the buzz. The game is apparently:

1. A “Diablo clone”
2. Whimsical art style
3. You can have a cat or dog companion, who can help you fight, has inventory space, and who can run back to town and sell for you.
4. You can feed your pet certain fish in order to transform it into other creatures.
5. Skill-point based leveling system that lets you mix & match powers.
6. You can pay to have a shopkeeper add a random spell effect to an existing weapon or item.

So, didn’t we see this exact same game two years ago?

Torchlight is basically a clone of Fate. Yet Fate was obscure enough that nobody seems to remember it now (or they’d be making comparisons) and Torchlight is causing a big fuss. I’m sort of confused as to how this happened.

In the long run I found Fate to be a fun diversion, but lacking in long-term appeal. I wonder if Torchlight has some ingredient that was missing in Fate, or if Torchlight is just benefiting from better marketing. Or perhaps Fate was ahead of its time, and the audience wasn’t there for it yet.

I’m going to have to get Torchlight so that I can do a proper comparison.

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From the Archives:

  1. Bonedancer says:

    The guy behind Fate is apparently also involved in Torchlight, and Eurogamer (at least) have made the connection as well.

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/torchlight-review

  2. katre says:

    I dunno, I read the description and immediately thought “Nethack had most of this 20 years ago”.

  3. radio_babylon says:

    torchlight is like Fate++… it is fan-freaking-tastic, and a steal at $20… and when TorchED (the developer tools) is released (soon, i hope) there should be a good bit of modding to be done (and played) as well…

    i especially appreciate some of the more roguelike touches, like monster vaults and treasure rooms… its great fun, i recommend it highly…

  4. I love sentences that sound utterly bizarre out of context. And new in the running for setting standards of sentences I love that way is
    “In the long run I found Fate to be a fun diversion, but lacking in long-term appeal.”

    • Shamus says:

      Purple Library Guy: That was a train wreck of a sentence. I’m glad you derived entertainment from it, because it now fills me with shame.

      If it helps, this was dashed off this morning.

      On the other hand, the sentence originally said:

      “In the long run I found Fate to be a fun diversion, but lacking in long-term fun.”

      And I changed the second “fun” to “appeal”, without fixing any of the other ten things wrong with it.

      Irony: The previous post is people graciously praising my writing. Ah well. I needed a dose of humility after that anyway.

  5. Primogenitor says:

    For me, the buzz is the next iteration which will (apparently) be an MMO. Which I guess is kind-of similar to Battle.NET, hmmm……

  6. Girl Gamer says:

    It does sound fun. I might pick it up in a Steam sale somewhere down the road; ten dollars is usually my can’t say no price point for this sort of thing.

    I didn’t make the connection to Fate, but maybe because I only played the demo of that and only briefly. I did the first quest and then couldn’t find the guy to report back when I came back to town, so I quit. Oops.

  7. Tesh says:

    Aye, Torchlight is an evolution of Fate. That’s enough to recommend it in my book, but neither is it anything revolutionary (the whole dungeon crawler genre is pretty WYSIWYG, for better or worse). I’m with Primogenitor the proposed transition to an MMO is the most interesting facet of the game to me.

  8. radio_babylon says:

    im the opposite… im soooo thankful that runic games is poor and needed to raise money for the MMO development by producing a single player game. if they had made the MMO right out of the gate, id never have played it and theyd never have gotten any of my money…

    i am SO not interested in a free-to-play nickle-and-dimed-to-death chock-full-of-tards variant of torchlight. if theyd let me give them $50 upfront once, and that allowed me to play the COMPLETE game in such a way that i never saw another person ever (unless i invited them to my party or something, in the case of my brother or a friend), then i might consider it. needless to say, im not holding my breath.

  9. Noah Lesgold says:

    I never played Fate or Mythos, so I can’t comment regarding those, but Torchlight is phenomenally entertaining. Torchlight is basically Diablo 2 with every single rough edge sanded off, so that all that is left is awesome. I have a few quibbles, admittedly – it doesn’t seem like there’s as much variety of character builds available, for one thing, and the melee class is noticeably less entertaining than the ranged or magic options. Still, and this is another big selling point, $20.00. Jeez.

    Also a selling point for me – totally runs on a netbook, which means the next time I’m going somewhere with just that along, I’ll have a fun as heck game to play.

    Also, the stats are noticeably different from D2 in one respect – the Magic stat is actually desirable to put points into for the alchemist, which oddly enough was not actually true of the sorceress because Energy didn’t affect magic damage, just the size of your mana pool.

  10. Khoram says:

    It reminds you of Fate because Fate’s lead designer designed this. It may also remind you of Diablo 1 because it has several developers from Diablo 1 that worked on it, including the musician that did the iconic guitar chords.

    However, it is a lot better than Fate – the graphics, mechanics, dungeon layouts, and art direction are much, much better. I found it to be very fun, whereas I did not like Fate at all. I’ve already moved on since Dragon Age just came out and I don’t see myself playing anything else for a long while, but it’s $20, plus the editor and knowledge that in a couple months and for a few years crazy modders will be releasing all kinds of good stuff for free.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ah,but torchlight has firearms(pistols and muskets),and fun with elemental damage.Thats different,right?

  12. I actually didn’t mean it was bad writing, just that if one heard it out of context it would seem like a rather counterintuitive evaluation of Fate the phenomenon rather than Fate the game.

    Although thinking about it . . . yeah, “long run” and “long-term” both being in there acting sort of redundant does make it a little clunky.

  13. Jason says:

    Travis Baldree (said dude) was the one man shop behind Fate.

    He’s not “involved” in the creation of it – he’s the president of Runic and one of the founders. He was snapped up by Flagship to do Mythos because of Fate, and for their new venture they apparently decided to do Fate 2.0.

    Nothing bad about that though, it’s Fate polished to a blinding sheen, which is awesome.

  14. Aquarion says:

    Between Fate and Dungeon Runners,

    Between Flagship:The Shatttering and Torchlight:The MMO

    Between Diablo II and III

    Is a Torchlight in the darkness.

    Or something. It reminds me a lot of dungeon runners, whilst being a lot more fun to actually play. I never encountered Fate, but the thing that Torchlight does so very well is the Single Simple Mechanic. It has the “Five more minutes” thing that kept people playing D2, but the thing I’m most surprised by is that nobody noticed the art style and gameplay is almost exactly the same as DR.

  15. Cockatrice Lips says:

    Most of the similarities you pointed out are fairly generic, but then I saw “You can feed your pet cat or dog fish to transform it into other creatures.” If it wasn’t made by the same company, it’s impossible for that to be a coincidence.

  16. Alastair says:

    Having played both, I can say that one of things that makes Torchlight waaaaaaaay better than Fate is the fact that Torchlight has a plot. I lost interest in Fate very quickly since there was no real stated reason for me to keep going.

  17. radio_babylon says:

    re: motivation…

    Ow the loot!
    Bloomin’ loot!
    That’s the thing to make the boys git up an’ shoot!

  18. Yonder says:

    Purple Library Guy (4):

    Video games in general are great for bizarre sentences. This actually came up in conversation when discussing the recent Eufloria. Two good examples are “I just played the level with the laser mines, they are amazing against leaves but you need to give them backup if there are missile trees, just to give the missile trees more targets to shoot at other than the mines.” And “You watch the battles taking place too, the seeds have noticeably different sized wings, stingers, and bodies based on their properties, and it’s fun to watch them swoop around and shoot laser beams at each other.”

  19. LintMan says:

    Personally, I never played Fate or had even heard of it until I came across it in the bargain section at a Best Buy (and decided not to risk it). Torchlight has the marketing advantage of being headlined on Steam, and being sold for $20.

    The good: It looks great and plays great. Loot drops constantly. The pet companion to fight and carry loot is cool. The pet selling and frequent ident scroll drops remove the annoyance of making constant shop runs to town, keeping you clicking away on the monsters.

    The bad: Shallow story and NPC interactions, even by Diablo 2 standards. The game is set in a single town and the dungeons start to all feel the same after a while.

    To me, Torchlight feels more like a Diablo I clone than Diablo II in that you’re stuck in the one town with a small handful of NPC’s and the whole main quest takes place in a single giant dungeon. It does have some D2 elements (ie: skill trees and socketed items), but it still seems more like a D1-D2 hybrid than a true D2 clone like, say, Titan Quest. This a Single-Player-only game with equivalent SP content as you’d get in a Multiplayer-centric game (ie: minimal)

    I’m still playing my second run-through, to try a new class, but it’s not quite as compelling or fun as it initially was. Overall, I’m left feeling disappointed that the game developers didn’t aspire to produce something more than “The best version of Diablo I yet”. Not that I feel ripped off: it’s just that the game is otherwise so well made that it seems a shame to have been so unambitious. And with their future plans focusing on making it an MMO, (which has no appeal for me), this is the best it’s gonna get for me.

  20. Josh says:

    It’s fun, it’s new. I haven’t heard much actual raving.

    Observations:

    – The difficulty is extremely low. “Very Difficult” is equivalent to “Easy” or “Normal”.

    – The polish of the game is about what you’d expect from a small development team. The grammar is terrible. The graphics and sound are pretty good, though.

    – The originality is very low. It’s a Diablo II clone all the way.

    Still, it’s fun enough to justify the $20 price tag.

  21. Jazmeister says:

    I emailed the devs when the review code hit for this (it took most of us 23 hours to download it from their poor little server) and asked about the team, what they’d worked on before. Here’s what the PR guy said:

    “-President Travis Baldree was the Project Lead and essentially creator of Fate;

    -Max and Erich Schaefer founded Condor and started creating Diablo – which became Blizzard North. They put out D1 &2.

    -Peter Hu was nearly single-handedly responsible for the Diablo 2 patch, Lord of Destruction (http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=1210)

    -Matt Uelmen was the original composer, and people are still in love with his music (see his Shacknews interview here: http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=1212)

    This is also handy: http://www.runicgamesfansite.com/2009/03/who-works-at-runic-games/

    I didn’t get to fit that in my review at all, but Alec Meer reviewed it for Eurogamer and made note of it.

  22. Galenor says:

    I grabbed the demo off of Steam a little while back. I rolled a mage, entered the first dungeon after grabbing quests, and proceeded to destroy the dungeon and its many bosses with melee. “That’s not right!”, I thought, “Melee should be tickling the enemies with their melee powers!”. I got bored of beating things with a stick (it was more effective than the actual magic) and quit.

    Now I’m looking at a ton of favorable reviews, and an 83% on Metacritic. I think I need to have a more serious replay :P

  23. Tuck says:

    I’ve never played Diablo II, but Torchlight has almost exactly the same gameplay as the original Diablo. Even down to the same three classes.

    You can ignore gem-slotting, you can ignore the pet feeding, you can ignore everything except hitting monsters, selling loot and levelling up. :D

    The tomb-type level design coupled with some of my destroyer’s attacks immediately made me think of the Diablo III trailer.

    One of the best points about this game? It runs well on older machines!

  24. Ingvar says:

    Shamus says: Irony: The previous post is people graciously praising my writing. Ah well. I needed a dose of humility after that anyway.

    Writing is easy. Writing well is hard. Especially without an intervening editing round.

    But, on the whole, unrevised Shamusprose tends towards the higher end of the quality and entertainment spectrum, from what I can tell of my 18-odd months of reading what you write (no, not all of it, but…).

  25. Sydney says:

    It is a sign of how much I re-read your archives that by Point 2, I was thinking “Heeyyy…this sounds like that Fate game…”

    Also, @katre [post 2]:

    And if you count Slash’EM, we’ve basically got everything except feeding pets to give them special powers. If you count apport as a special power, that’s everything covered.

  26. J Greely says:

    Am I going blind, or did the Escapist review not only fail to link to the game’s web site, but fail to even mention the publisher? You have to click on the “related links”, or just be hip enough to know.

    -j

  27. Carra says:

    It feels an awful lot like fate.

    Fate was taken, some novelties were added and the game waspolished. But more important: it’s been given some nice marketing this time.

    Too bad Mythos never got to see daylight. Torchlight must mean a light in the darkness for its developers. I’m glad to see things worked out.

  28. T-Boy says:

    Actually…

    The reason I didn’t buy Fate was because it was tied to this totally skeezy gaming platform I couldn’t trust.

    Is Torchlight the same?

  29. Zedar says:

    As someone who has played Fate to death and bought Torchlight the day it came out, I was rather disappointed. Torchlight plays almost exactly the same as Fate, with character development being based on talent tree style affairs rather than directly allocating to skills. I don’t understand why people are so awed by this game, I can only assume they never actually played the original Fate. Every feature they declare as “so awesome and original” was ripped directly from fate. So if you liked Fate and want a variation of the same game, then go ahead. I’ll no doubt finish Torchlight, but I’m not nearly as impressed as I was hoping to be.

  30. vukodlak says:

    As a standard bearer of the ‘iteration not innovation’ principle of gaming design, Torchlight has no peers. It hasn’t got an original idea at all – except that everything is polished to a gloriously shiny finish. Bill Harris calls it ‘drinking candy’ – couldn’t agree more…

  31. Josh says:

    Has anyone discovered a good way to keep your pet healed? Dragging potions into its dish is a pain, especially in the heat of battle. Dragging fish over is better, since it heals the pet entirely, but it’s still cumbersome and I may not want to transform it. The spell of heal self+pet is pitifully weak.

    I’m battling some level 15 enemies on ‘very hard’ and my pet is fleeing pretty much all the time.

  32. Freykin says:

    Torchlight is pretty much a polished copy of Fate that isn’t sold through Wildtangent. I’ve been having a blast playing it, and the editor they are releasing for it looks amazing from the three videos they’ve put up so far. As someone who avidly played Diablo 2 mods for 7 years, I’m really hoping someone from the Diablo 2 modding scene such as Brother Laz, Perfect Cell, or Tsuru notices the game and gives it a shot. The core game will make the sales, the mods will keep it alive.

  33. Greg says:

    Torchlight feels like a cross between Fate and Mythos, with a little extra splash of Diablo flavour to liven things up. This is very appropriate since that’s a good description of the development team.

  34. Teldurn says:

    Josh (32): Shift+1 to feed your pet a health pot (considering your keys are default and you have pots available).

    p.s. Torchlight is the bee’s knees. I lurves it a lot.

  35. Maryam says:

    I must be in the minority, because after hearing some raving about Torchlight, I downloaded the demo and proceeded to become bored with it right away. I don’t know if it’s the generic cutesy graphics or what, but it simply did not have a compelling hold on me. While I admired a couple of features that would have been very handy in Diablo 2 (which I periodically get addicted to for weeks at a time) such as the item-selling pet and the infinite ammo, I put it down after the first or second play and just have never felt like going back.

    I didn’t even want to finish the demo.

  36. Heron says:

    I just finished three playthroughs of Torchlight (one for each class). There’s a lot more customization I could do that I didn’t do (three skill trees, for example), and I didn’t make good use of my pet’s skills (e.g. I didn’t bother teaching it spells).

    My verdict? I think it’s worth buying, but I’ll wait until Steam puts it on sale.

    In other news, I think I’ll be buying Mass Effect. It’s on Steam for $10 this weekend.

  37. Greg says:

    Josh – giving your pet a “Mass Heal” spell and one of the summon spells will tend to lengthen its life, because the minions it summons are extra targets for your enemies.

  38. PatoLogico says:

    I’m with Maryam. Just got bored after some (8?) hours of playing. The graphics and sound are amazing, but I need a minimal interesting plot to keep going. And the game can’t deliver.

  39. Inscrutibob says:

    A fringe benefit of Torchlight is that anyone who plays it will NEVER complain that Diablo III looks to colorful or cartoony. Nothing could be more color-toony than Torchlight.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  40. LintMan says:

    @Heron: 3 full playthroughs (ie: 20+ hours of gameplay), but you’re not going to buy it until it goes on sale? The full price is already only $20…

    I just grabbed Mass Effect for $10 in the Steam weekend sale, myself. I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale for a while – After the 3-activation limit DRM fiasco, I had vowed to myself not to buy it until it was available without the activation limit and was being sold dirt cheap.

  41. toasty says:

    I love torchlight.

    Yes, its a diablo clone, but you know what, its a CARTOONY diablo clone, for twenty dollars, and that makes it awesome.

    Yes, its not brilliant, yes Diablo three will pwnorzed it and all that, but its a fun bit of entertainment and I love it.

  42. MadTinkerer says:

    Actually, I had the pleasure of talking to the team at E3 and I’d like to clear something up:

    Most of the team were the ones developing Mythos for Flagship Studios before that company imploded. Shortly thereafter, they decided they wanted to plough ahead and start over on a totally-not-Mythos-honestly game. They also called the Fate guys who joined up right away.

    So there’s an indirect connection to the original Diablo II team (via Hellgate), a direct connection to a canceled Diablo-like online game (which will be sort-of-resurrected as the Torchlight online spinoff) as well as a direct connection to Fate.

    See this cartoon for why you maybe DON’T want to play Torchlight.

  43. MadTinkerer says:

    My previous comment was marked as spam when I tried to embed a link so let’s try this:

    http://www.crispygamer.com/comics/experiencepoints/experiencepoints-2009-10-28.aspx

    Click to see a good reason why you probably don’t want to play Torchlight unless you already have a bunch of free time.

  44. Heron says:

    @LintMan: Sorry, I meant three playthroughs of the demo.

  45. Jenx says:

    Hmm well I am playing trough this game right now, and I am with mixed feelings. The whole pet dog/cat thing immediately screamed “NETHACK!” to me. The 3 classes deal is kind of weak to be honest, since there isn’t that much variation in builds. Also, it might be just my luck, but as of now, on normal difficulty, the chick with the ranged weapons (don’t remember her class name) is pretty much several miles ahead of the alchemist and destroyer. Hell one of the more serious boss fights (i think it was supposed to be such. Second one I think) I didn’t even loose any HP. Hell most of the time I didn’t even attack the damn thing – I just threw 3 of those fire prism traps near it and let them rip it to shreds. Kind of disappointing, really. Another thing I personally disliked was the graphic. To me it pretty much had WoW written all over it and…well I didn’t like WoW’s graphics (or Warcraft 3’s graphics for that matter). So this whole cartoonish thing is kind of annoying.

    Good points however include the fact that you can play Hardcore setting from the get go. I guess if you put it on the hardest setting possible and set Hardcore on you can try and pretend it’s a graphic roguelike.

  46. Ferrous Buller says:

    Torchlight is awesome, and I say that as someone who usually gets bored of single-player Diablo clones pretty quickly. You can read Bill Harris’s blog post (“It’s like drinking candy”) and the Qt3 thread about it; or just snag the Steam demo (“attract mode” as I like to call it), play through the first five levels, then pop in your $20 in virtual quarters to keep playing.

  47. Jonathan says:

    This post made me download the demo. I played through it with all 3 classes, and am probably about to re-do my Destroyer (1st playthrough). I think I will probably buy.

    As a married man, I could do without the gratuitous boobies on the ranged character… whose uniform also doesn’t go with the “ancient order of whatever” backstory. Otherwise no complaints about the game.

    Very well-designed inventory and item management. It’s natural enough that most of the time I don’t have to think about it, and comparing equipment is very simple. NWN and many other games could learn lessons from Torchlight’s interface.

  48. Silfir says:

    If there are things more satisfying than a Vanquisher (read: Diablo I Rogue with guns) ricocheting bullets all over the place to have enemies explode in the fine mist of a level 10 skill Critical hit, I’d like to hear them.

    I haven’t played Fate, but I do still consider Diablo I and II the best Diablo-type games out there. From what I see right now, Torchlight comes pretty close.

  49. Brandon says:

    After playing this for a little bit, I can say that it really is exactly like Fate, only more so. It’s more refined and a bit slicker than Fate was, and overall seems more polished. But other than little things, it’s the same.

  50. Dragonbane says:

    Silfer: You’re a strange fellow. Diablo 2 is, by definition, the best Diablo-type game. It’s THE DEFINITION.

    In related news, water is the best water-type liquid, and Shamus is the best Shamus-type writer. :)

  51. Ysabel says:

    I played the demo for about twenty minutes on my Eee and it looked so pretty and performed so well on that platform that I gave them my $20 just to support them. That said, I’ve now played it for a while on my big gaming rig and really enjoyed it, but that wasn’t why I paid them.

  52. Relayer71 says:

    While I had a great time with multiplayer Diablo ages ago, I’m not really a big fan of the Action-Lootfest-RPG.

    That being said, I recently played Titan Quest and while at first I found it dull and repetative, it sort of grew on me and I had a fun time with it (it was perfect for short bursts of mindless fun and I loved the engine/art design).

    So, has anyone played both TQ and Torchlight? Do they share any similarities? I keep seeing the name pop up on many sites but haven’t really been interested until reading the posts here. Basically, is it a better game than TQ?

  53. Low-Level DM says:

    In direct response to both Shamus’ comments about Torchlight’s resemblance to Fate and Relayer’s about resemblance to TQ: yes and no, for both questions.

    Torchlight, to me, resembles a veritable mash of both, with a bit of Diablo flair thrown in for fun.

    Why Torchlight trounces Fate: Fate has no character advancement in terms of ABILITIES. All it has are stats, passive “skills”, “Fame”, and crappy spells. (Sorry, opinionated, but still…) Torchlight, on the other hand, has a character advancement system that feels like, err, advancing!

    Why Torchlight is on an even keel with TQ: Gameplay in both is probably equally fun and equally feasible in terms of usability (IMO, again). Torchlight makes no effort at storytelling, and makes up for it with slightly cooler powers and flashier, oomphier graphics (pardon the nonsense word). TQ doesn’t do a heck of a lot in the way of flashy graphics (unless MAYBE you’re a Pyromancer-Dream cross, and really play a nuke). It makes up for it with a semblance of a story that makes sense, and at least semi-feasible references to real mythology.

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