If you're a fan of "Diablo," you were no doubt crushed by the news that the next installment is still more than a year away. But, incredibly, a game has arrived that does a pretty excellent job at filling the action RPG hole left in your life. That game is "Torchlight," and for $20 it's one of the best deals you can find on the PC today.
If you're skeptical that a "budget" game could outdo Blizzard's warhorse, "Diablo 2," here are five things that Runic Games managed to improve on...and five things that I better see in "Diablo 3."
1) Pets and Loot
You start off your "Torchlight" adventure by choosing your class and your pet, a cat or a dog. Your pet isn't merely cosmetic, though. They'll fight for you, they'll hold loot for you and, best of all, they'll sell stuff for you. One of the most tedious aspects of "Diablo 2" has always been the need to constantly head back into town to sell unneeded loot. Now you can load up your pet with crap, click a button, and they're gone for around a minute. When they come back they'll give you the profits, no questions asked. It's a little dubious (as evidenced in this Penny Arcade comic), but in terms of convenience and cutting down on the tedium, it's genius.
2) Open Classes
There are three classes in "Torchlight." You could simplify them into Warrior, Rogue and Magic User, but that doesn't really tell the whole story. While each class has unique skills, there are also "Spells" which you can pick up. These spells aren't class specific and can be tremendously useful. For example, you can summon a pack of zombies, or heal your entire group, or gain a burst of speed, all independent of your chosen class. You can even level up spells, using skill points for the class of spell (increasing all defensive spells by one rank, for example). The end result is that your Vanquisher (the rogue-esque class) could play vastly different than your friends'.
This is probably something that'll be used in "Diablo 3," given its popularity in "World of WarCraft," but "Torchlight" doesn't bother with item sizes in your inventory. Each item, be it a ring or a war hammer, takes up one slot. Again, very effective for cutting down on the tedium. There's also some sorting done in your inventory, with spells and fish (which buff your pet) sitting separately from your main inventory.
4) Enhancing Items
If you're like me, you never used a single gem in "Diablo 2," preferring to save them in your stash, upgrading their quality to the fullest before you even thought about using them. "Torchlight" has a way around this. Lets say you placed gems in an item that's been outclassed. In "Diablo 2" your only option is to sell the item and kiss the gems goodbye. In "Torchlight" you can bring that item to a vendor in town who will rescue said gems, destroying the item in the process. You can also do the reverse, destroying inserted gems and saving the weapon. It's a great way to encourage folks to use gems when, ordinarily, they wouldn't.
5) Shared Stash
Every RPG from now on should have a shared stash. Basically you have a stash that is accessible by all your characters, preventing you from having to drop items on the ground or use mules to ferry items from one to the next. It's simple, elegant, and encourages people to make different classes to use all the items they've got saved up.
"Torchlight" may be an excellent "Diablo" clone, but there's still lot holding it back from reaching the heights of Blizzard's juggernaut. It's single player only, so you can't really trade items or play with friends. It's also completely offline, with no level of persistence, which means cheating is rampant (for those who wish to ruin their game experience). There are also some game balancing issues in the late game, with way too many enemies spawning on higher difficulty levels, causing instant death, despite my character being several levels above everything else.
All those issues may be remedied, though, with the planned free-to-play "Torchlight" MMO, which is coming sometime in the future. Until then, you're still left with an excellent action RPG for a paltry $20. If you're holding your breath for "Diablo 3," you owe it to yourself to inhale the joys of "Torchlight." Trust me, it's better than passing out.