Stolen Pixels #164: Rollie the Roleplayer

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 29, 2010

Filed under: Column 24 comments

Torchlight takes the “R” out of RPG.

I didn’t really review Torchlight because I felt like I’d already reviewed it. I will say that it shows that you don’t need to innovate very much as long as you have strong art direction and well-polished gameplay.


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24 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #164: Rollie the Roleplayer

  1. Colm Mac says:

    In my day we called these sorts of games Hack’n’slashs not an RPG. Or is hackenslash just a specific type of RPG?

  2. Al Shiney says:

    Shamus, please forgive the unadulterated fanboyism, but you are continuing to impress with your comic genius, artistic work, and sharp edged wit across your growing list of projects. When you rise to unimaginably lofty heights of superstardom, promise that you won’t forget about us plebs. :-)

  3. Moridin says:

    #2:”In my day we called these sorts of games Hack'n'slashs not an RPG. Or is hackenslash just a specific type of RPG?”

    Well, that’s what D&D apparently started as, so arguably yes.

  4. someboringguy says:

    That was one of your best.
    Nice job. I also hate when they use generic storylines, like having your village destroyed, ending the ultimate evil…
    Why can’t they make a game about the intrigues of noblemen during the middle ages?

  5. Heron says:

    @someboringguy: Does Lords of the Realm II not count? Or did you mean an RPG specifically?

  6. Nyaz says:

    I’m glad Torchlight was short, because I only played it for like a day. It’s not a bad game at all, it’s just very… same-y. Click, click, click, click on monster. Oooh, another one. Click, click, click, click on monster nr 2. Repeat.

    I can’t believe I played so much Diablo II. Or actually, the reason why was probably because there were other people to talk to. Torchlight is one of those games that need a multiplayer.

  7. Axle says:

    That was actually a good review of the game.
    Now I’m sad that i missed the game’s christmas sales (but 20$ is stil good). I wil probably get it after finishing ME2, which will probably arund june….

  8. Garden Ninja says:

    @Colm Mac (#2) & @Moridan (#4)

    To me, Hack & Slash refers to games like God of War, and is very closely related to Beat ’em ups (which is why I think the term “God of War clone” is stupid, but that’s another issue). For games like Diablo, I use the term “Dungeon Crawler”.

  9. The Gneech says:

    For some reason, every time you wrote “Torchlight,” I kept reading “Torchwood,” which messed with my expectations.

    -The Gneech

  10. radio_babylon says:

    torchlight is the kind of game i tend to love, but ultimately fell flat for me. i played the heck out of it for the first week or so, but after that it got way boring. the game lacks the “build” and item depth that i need to keep me playing… there just isnt enough meat.

    with diablo theres always a super-powerful item i can be looking for, or another weird build i could experiment with, but in torchlight all the items are pretty much the same. theres very little real difference between the uniques and a plain old white weapon. i mean, yeah, theres more modifiers on the unique… but the truth is you could play the entire game just fine with all white gear. i know. i did it, as a forced way to extend the playtime i got out of the game. likewise the skills are underwhelming. there are no good synergies to experiment with, you cant leech with weapon-based skills which extremely limits your options, the whole thing is just too “lite” to be enjoyable.

    its a nice first effort for an indie dev, and for $20 i guess i got an acceptable amount of play out of it… but still i cant help but feel ultimately disappointed in the game. im hoping that the community does something interesting with the development tools so i can get a little more life out of the game down the road…

  11. Sheer_Falacy says:

    I thought God of War WAS a beat ’em up.

    And by far the best term I’ve ever heard for games like Torchlight and Diablo is Third Person Looter.

  12. Leon says:

    I wouldn’t really call Diablo a “dungeon crawl” game; although accurate, the term’s already in use for roguelikes and similar games with permadeath. Still, it’s obviously not an RPG per the standard definition. It may already be too late to pry the label of “role-playing game” off of Diablo et alii, so maybe the best option is to call them “action RPGs” to try and give them more of a technical distinction from the games that actually have roles to play.

  13. Robyrt says:

    A “God of War Clone” is a third-person one-on-many beat-em-up game with a melee combo system and an emphasis on spectacle.

    There was an article in Game Developer Magazine a while back explaining why God of War “feels” better than other brawlers in the same way that, say, Call of Duty’s shooting mechanic “feels” right to shooter fans. It boils down to AI pacing, ability to cancel moves, a touch of auto-aim, and seriously large hitboxes on your attacks.

  14. chabuhi says:

    Since the term RPG has somehow come to mean some sort of very specific thing that a number of people are insanely protective of, should we adopt a new term to describe Role Playing Games? Perhaps “Game in which you Play a Role”? GPRs? That way we won’t step on the toes of the gamers who think RPG is a very specific thing and yet still accurately describe all games in which you play a role as well as all role-playing games (of which Role-Playing Games/RPGs will be a subset).

    So, henceforth, Games in which you Play a Role/GPRs (commonly known as a Role Playing Game) will be the term used to describe all games in which you play a role. And, the term RPG will be reserved for games that meet certain, arbitrary, but not too esoteric rules and various maths that would stump Euclid (even though such RPGs/Role-Playing Games would be a subset of and, frankly, synonymous with GPRs/Games in which you Play a Role).


    I say all this having myself been a somewhat vocal opponent of “RPG-lite”, but I think back to the 70s when this sort of thing took off, and most of these RPG-lite games would qualify as an RPG back in the day. Somewhere along the way we have become somewhat elitist in our RPG ways :)

    /shutting up now

  15. SolkaTruesilver says:

    @someboringguy Try out Mount and Blade. Not much for intrigue, but still a good medieval lord simulator.

  16. Danath says:

    For me the draw of loot has faded, games like Torchlight and Diablo II just can’t keep me entertained once I beat them once anymore, nor can WoW or any other MMO with a “treadmill” for gear keep me interested once I hit the max level and have to start repeating things excessively.

    It’s always been hard to define an RPG, I just view it as any game that is story/dialogue driven with tactical/strategic combat where you can set up/plan in advance moves. I equate Mario RPG/FF4/FF6 with my definition of RPG though, and I’m generally not too picky about it.

  17. Josh says:

    About the clicking. You don’t need to click so much. I feel like people are unfairly disparaging Torchlight with this complaint.

    All you have to do it click on something until you’re done with it: Click on the monster and hold down the button until it’s dead. Click on the chest and hold down the button until its goodies shower out. Click on a spot until your character has walked over to it.

    Granted, I do wish there was some sort of arrow-key or WASD movement option.

  18. Kdansky says:

    There are no digital RPG games. Torchlight is an Action Game With Character Advancement, while Final Fantasy is a Tactical / Story Game With Character Advancement. No RPG to be found.

    radio_babylon summed it up perfectly. Torchlight looks fine for a first one or two playthroughs, but then there is zero depth to follow up. There are absolutely no synergies between skills, even those that are meant to have some are all variations of the same two attacks: “Hit one enemy” or “Hit more than one enemy”. I wanted to rewrite some/all skills, but the editor proved too complicated for that due to lack of documentation, especially for that kind of editing.

    The items are incredibly uninteresting, because they have too many too irrelevant stats. You cannot tell the difference between a character who has +4% casting speed and one who does not. In the end, you just take the Set/Unique items and sell everything else, because 10 semi-random stat boni are better than 2-4 random stat boni.

    Lastly, “Hard difficulty” is mislabeled, it should read “Easy”, while the two lower ones are completely pointless.

    I had a couple fun hours for 20$, but then I was disappointed because of so much missed potential. Torchlight really shows that Diablo II was an incredible game with a lot more to it than meets the eye.

  19. brynhilde says:

    Did anyone else hear The Monarch from Venture Brothers when they read the wizards line?!

    1. Namfoodle says:

      I feel you, dude. Sigh. FINE.

  20. Garden Ninja says:

    @Sheer_Fallacy (#12)

    Personally, I think Hack & Slash, and Beat ’em up are essentially synonymous. There are two differences I think of when I hear the terms.

    1) The weapons – Beat ’em ups use fists and blunt weapons. Hack n slash games use edge weapons.
    2) “Pacing” (for lack of a better term) – Beat ’em up immediately brings to mind a side scrolling multiplayer, where the action takes place in chunks that don’t let you progress until you kill all the enemies in the area. Then when you can, a giant arrow ushers you forward. Hack n slash makes me think of a single player game, without the pulsating arrows.

    Breaking games up based on which weapons appear seems silly when you think about it. The point on pacing is silly too, since all game compartmentalize their levels to some degree. Plus, the weapon and pacing issues are contrary to one another, since there are plenty of games that have the pacing from how I described beat em ups, but use swords and axes (e.g. Knights of the Round, Castle Crashers, Golden Axe), or even guns (e.g. Sunset Riders).

    Regardless of the connotations, once I thought about it logically, there didn’t seem to be any meaningful distinction.

    @Leon (#13)

    I actually would consider Diablo and Nethack to be in the same genre (I only played a bit of Nethack, so maybe I’m wrong, and there are more differences). The only major differences I see are the graphics, (which don’t seem terribly pertinent to me, since there are graphical versions of Nethack) and the permanent death (which Diablo II had via Hardcore mode).

    @Robyrt (#14)

    A “God of War Clone” is a third-person one-on-many beat-em-up game with a melee combo system and an emphasis on spectacle.

    That’s a good description of it. Still, the only thing GoW brought to the table was the spectacle. The gameplay is an evolution of something like Double Dragon. I’m glad “Doom clone” died, and I don’t like “GTA clone”, but at least those made a kind of sense, since their namesakes were at least early (even if not the first) examples of that type of game. But God of War represents a really good example of a genre that has been around for 20 years.

  21. DaveMc says:

    Does anyone know if “third person looter” was in fact coined in the comments on this very site? The first place I ever saw it was in a comment by a visitor named Fenix, here:

    and Shamus referred back to it here:

    but my Google-fu isn’t up to figuring out if this is the first time it appeared on the network. I love it as a term, though, whoever coined it — but so far I choose to believe that it was born right here at 20-sided, barring conclusive evidence to the contrary.

  22. Aufero says:

    I hated Torchlight. There was no story, no challenge, and the hack’n’slash was as derivative as it gets. The art was all it had going for it.

    To each their own, I guess.

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