Torchlight is an action role-playing game, and to my fickle mind, that means one thing. Creating a character. Whenever a game like this comes out, I most often spend several hours before I've even started playing a game crafting every part of my character to perfection. On Torchlight, however, you're a bit more limited in your choice.
In these sort of games, I always play as a female mage, a skilled magic user that lets me do combat in my preferred style of legging it, and chucking fireballs from a distance - but, sadly, Torchlight didn't give me that choice. Instead of letting you choose a gender, and then a character class, each of the classes comes with their own assigned gender, and no way for you to change it. In the end, it came down to a decision between a male mage (or Alchemist, as they call it), a female archer (Vanquisher), or a male warrior, called a Destroyer. After a bit of dithering, I finally decided on the female Vanquisher, based on the fact the Alchemist man looked a bit weird, and wore daft looking steampunk goggles. Upon starting the game, it turned out my worrying was for nothing, as any class of character can learn some spells from scrolls - like I learnt Heal Self I yesterday - although you can bet all the awesome spells are reserved for that Alchemist character. Maybe there are some benefits from wearing daft goggles.
As an action RPG, most of your time in Torchlight is spent exploring dungeons, battling monsters (by hammering X) and completing quests for people - which mostly revolve around bringing them specific items. On the bright side, when you first start up the game, things quickly get a lot more interesting, as you get to choose a pet, who acts as your companion for the game, smiting enemies, and popping to the shops for you when you run out of space in your inventory for the copious quantities of loot you'll find during your adventure - which is rather useful, seeing as I swipe everything that's not nailed down, so my inventory fills up fast. As with the characters, you get a choice of three different pets - a wolf-y dog, a lynx-like cat and some dragon-y beast, and - unlike the different characters, the differences are purely cosmetic, so you won't have a dilemma between which one looks the best and which is the most useful.
After you've made your decision, you're dumped in the town of Torchlight, a town built up around the Ember-rich mines nearby - a valuable substance with magical properties. You soon run into Syl, a woman who is searching for her mentor, Master Alric, who disappeared into the mines some time ago and hasn't returned, and, as the mines seem to have been invaded by all manner of beasties, she needs your help in tracking him down. As you make your way through the mines, you learn that the Ember has a corrupting influence that led to the fall of many past civilisations, and Torchlight may go the same way, if you can't find a way to stop it.
Besides that, there's actually very little story in Torchlight - disappointing for something that calls itself a role playing game. There's enough to make the main quests seem vaguely logical, but not a lot besides. While an interesting story could have gone some way to hiding the repetition that's inherent to the game, instead, it only magnifies it. Even the side quests - where role playing games usually get wacky and inventive - usually revolve around doing pretty much the same thing - usually, a man wants you to get something (either an artifact of some description, or a special type of Ember) that is located on the nth floor of a dungeon. So you go there, fight a load of monsters, gather loot, get the item and come back to receive your reward. Main quests are not all that different either, mostly simply asking you to make your way through several floors of dungeon, defeating monsters and picking up the things they drop, before you defeat a big boss (getting an achievement), and return to town to flog your stuff through a conveniently placed portal at the end. In small chunks, the mixture of exploring, looting and fighting is fine, but it could really use a better story to flesh things out.
Combat mostly involves mashing the X button and casting the odd spell, which can be mapped to a selection of other buttons. Although this sounds simple, combat quickly gets rather hectic when there's large numbers of enemies on the screen at once, because you end up loosing track of yourself amidst the blood, enemy bodies and text that appears telling you how much damage you've done and if they've blocked your attack, etc. Of course, being an archer, you can always run back a bit and attack from a distance if things get rather chaotic - but playing as a warrior, things may be a bit harder to keep track of.
Torchlight isn't a bad game - in fact, it can be quite a lot of fun, but does get a bit too repetitive after a while, simply because there isn't much variation in the quests. The ability to send your pet to the shops to sell your excess loot is a nice innovation, especially if - like me - you have a tendency to sweep everything that's not tied down into your bag. And it gives me a chance to have a lynx-type-cat-thing as a pet. For the price though (1200 Microsoft Points, or around £10.20), it's hard to call Torchlight a must buy, when a decent story, or a co-operative mode would have made things so much better.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360