Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Clean Well-Lighted Dungeon: Torchlight Impressions

A one-sentence of summary of Torchlight: it's like drinking candy.

Everyone I talk to who's played this game has suggestions on how it could have been improved, and many of those suggestions are valid. In end, though, their conclusion is always some variation of "it's like drinking candy." No matter what could have been different, Torchlight hits that absolute sweet spot where gaming consumes us.

Only rarely do I play a game that is such a pure experience that I stop being consciously aware of what I'm doing, becoming instead a kind of purely instinctive organism. This is just that kind of game.

In other words, if you haven't played Torchlight, it's imperative that you do so.

Now, for those of us who already have the game, let's briefly discuss what might have been done differently. That's a short list, at least to me.

My single biggest disappointment was fishing. I was hoping that fishing would be a stout mini-game, but instead, it's very simple--when two rings converge and turn red, click the mouse and get a fish.

Here's what I wanted: a mechanic with "call and response" gameplay, where certain rod positions required left or right clicks on the mouse. This is fairly common in dedicated fishing games, and it would have been easy to adapt the mechanic for use here.

The more correct reponses needed to land a fish, the bigger the fish could potentially be. So the length of time spent fighting the fish would be variable, and it would be possible to lose a fish right up to the moment it was landed.

I also wanted to see how many different species of fish I'd caught, as well as how many I was missing. And if I caught them all, I wanted some kind of reward--maybe a special bit of armor that resembled a fishing vest, or a goofy fishing hat, both of which would fit into the game's sense of humor. Even sillier, there could be a special fly rod awarded that could cast lures near mobs to pull a few at a time (due to their curiousity over the lure). Torchlight is a funny game, and I think a well-developed fishing mechanic would make it even funnier.

I still like fishing, and the core idea of feeding fish to your pet to temporarily turn it into all kinds of creatures is wonderful. It's just that I wanted to see more.

The other area of the game that I felt could have been improved was enchanting. Enchantments are so powerful, and there's so little risk to having them done, that they quickly become more important than the base weapon, which tends to make rare equipment much less important, because a less powerful piece of equipment can just be enchanted over and over again. Yes, enchantments can fail (though not very often), and in rare cases all enchantments can be wiped from a weapon, but I wanted more risk than that. I wanted both the risk of cursing a weapon (which is entirely logical in an enchantment system) and actually destroying a weapon (again, a logical consequence of enchantments).

I think enchantments would become much more meaningful, with a much greater cause for celebration, if they were riskier (and more expensive). And if every successive enchantment placed on a weapon added to the cumulative risk, enchantments would be a time to hold our breath instead of being such a casual moment.

Cursing, in particular, would open up some interesting gameplay strategies. If I had a tremendously powerful weapon, but a curse temporarily lowered my armor class every time I used it, it would totally affect how I played the game, and I'd enjoy having to make those kinds of decisions. It would also be interesting if some curses weren't explained, just a "Hmm--this weapon looks a bit strange now" comment from the enchanter to let us know that something had gone wrong. Then it would be up to us to discover what woe had befallen our equipement.

After having said all that, though, allow me to mention this just one more time: it's like drinking candy.

Oh, and if you're curious about the team (Runic Games) who put this game together, Eric Leslie of the Immortal Machines podcast has an excellent interview with all of them, which you can download here.

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