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PAX 2009: Hands-on with Torchlight

Kevin Kelly

We never thought a completely new game would rise from the ashes of Mythos in just over a year, but that's exactly what Torchlight represents. We played through Torchlight for half an hour at the show, and it's a delightful action RPG that looks like a cartoon version of Diablo ... which doesn't mean it's for toddlers. There's still killing of the smashing, bashing and magical varieties throughout this thing, you know!

Gallery: Torchlight | 55 Photos

When Mythos and Flagship Studios dissolved, Travis Baldree (designer of Fate), Max Schaefer (co-designer of Diablo I and II), and Erich Schaefer (also worked on the Diablos and co-founded Blizzard North with his brother Max) decided that they had a team they loved working with, so they founded a brand-new company within a day and hired the entire Mythos team to start working immediately on Torchlight.

Torchlight doesn't hold any real gameplay surprises. It utilizes the same control scheme as Diablo, which is just fine with us. Why reinvent a fork just because you've made an incredible new entree?

The single-player RPG offers a choice of three different characters: The Destroyer, a brawny barbarian, The Alchemist, a steampunk-type wizard boy, or The Vanquisher, a female character with ranged weapons. You also choose a pet at the outset, either a dog or cat, and you'll be glad that you're given a companion right away, especially since they have their own inventory slots (they wear a little pack on their backs) and you can send them back to town to pawn your extra loot.

Initially, you enter dungeons near the town of Torchlight and quickly pick up different quests. We were set off in search of someone who had wandered into the dungeons -- how foolish! Controls are simple to grasp, making it easy to engage foes, blast off spells, gather loot and explore the dungeon. What makes it so much fun is the whimsical design. The cartoon style really doesn't seem like an art direction you'd choose for a hack 'n' slash RPG, but the entire world has a fantastic look and feel. At one point, our Alchemist went to open a chest, and it tried to bite him. It then sprouted legs and ran around before we finally took it out with a spell. Apparently, those are called "Mimics" and will appear throughout the game.

Aside from those flourishes, Torchlight feels like RPG comfort food. Speaking of which: You can fish for items to feed to your pet, and some of the fish will mutate your pet into different creatures, including an enormous, acid-spitting spider. Some of those mutations may or may not be permanent, but regardless of the animal, it'll always be your pet. The skill tree in-game is extremely similar to Diablo, and there's a level cap of 100 in the game. Travis cheated us up to a high level, and one of the new Alchemist skills involved summoning awesome steampunk robots that would fight for us.

Also impressive is the fact that the game ships with the entire toolset Runic used to create Torchlight. You'll have access to the same graphics, particle effects, sound effects and so on, and you can create whatever you want ranging from new levels to new items and classes. That's a heck of a lot for $20. Baldree imagines it'll take 15 to 20 hours to play through the single-player campaign, but the dungeons, encounters, and loot are random, so it'll be different each time you drop in.

Torchlight is being published by Perfect World, who will also be publishing a Torchlight MMO, which Baldree says is at 18 months away. The goal is for the look and feel of the MMO to be the same as this title, and to have this be a lead-in. The first entry in the Torchlight family will set you back $19.99 when it launches on October 27.

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