Torchlight

One side effect of my World of Warcraft addiction is that I don’t find myself playing too many other computer games. Time was when I was a regular PC gamer but once I started spending my free time in Azeroth, I played fewer and fewer other games, and when I did it was usually just to dip my toes into the water of another MMO before returning to the comfort of home, guild, and battleground.

I still played Age of Wonder Shadow Magic sometimes when I could not get an internet connection or when I felt a certain nostalgia for an earlier era. I looked at Dragon Age and I sometimes played Xbox or Playstation games with my kids. Still do, actually. I am currently getting to grips with Lego Jurassic World in the company of my five year old. I’ve been anything but a hardcore gamer which is quite at odds with the way I once lived my life.

It doesn’t mean that there have not been games where I’ve thought that’s interesting. Total Warhammer got my attention but given a choice as to how I use my limited gaming time, it’s usually been off to Azeroth

This does not mean I have stopped buying games– no, that would be too sensible. Whenever Gog.com has had a sale, I’ve usually picked up anything that interested me at a deep discount. I think I’ve only paid full price for four games over the past six years. A couple of the early Age of Wonders games, Age of Wonders 3 and Wild Hunt, the third Witcher Game. I still have not got around to playing it, but I wanted to support the project and I figured that one day I would. Somehow I have managed to acquire over 100 games in my GOG account, most of which I have never played.

Recently something clicked in my head, some button got pushed, some switch got flipped. I found myself feeling the urge to play something new. Maybe it has to do with switching to Linux. There are a few A list titles available for the operating system, and you can get many others running using Wine or its front ends, Playonlinux or Crossover. In my experience, it’s pretty hit or miss what will work. Games people assure you work perfectly don’t. Some games work on Wine but not on playonlinux or Crossover and vice versa, which feels plain weird since they are all basically the same thing. An element of random reinforcement gets me working on these things. Anyway, over the past few months, I have installed Mount and Blade, Pillars of Eternity and Torchlight among others.

They all look interesting but it’s Torchlight which has become a minor obsession, and I am not exactly sure why. It’s an old game (2009) but it still looks great and it runs extremely well on my home machine– a 2012 era Republic of Gamers laptop running Linux Mint 18. It’s a Diablo clone written by members of the team that worked on the original Diablo, a game I played longer ago than I care to remember.

I found Diablo vaguely depressing. It wasn’t the game as such, which was brilliant, it was the Apocalyptic Satanic imagery. It gave things a dark and downbeat feel that was not very relaxing. And that’s I think the key to Torchlight’s appeal to me. It is relaxing.

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It’s a very simple game, basically click to move, click to target. You can bind spells and potions and attacks to the 1 to 10 keys. You take loot from the monsters you kill, which is graded on a system that will be familiar to anyone who had ever played an MMO– plain white for basic stuff, green for magical equipment, purplish for better magic, orange for best. You run through the dungeon accompanied by your pet– a dog, a cat or a weasel. Mine is a very smart dog– it can carry treasure, cast spells and even take loot back to the shops and vendor it while I wander on through the dungeon.

The story is also familiar. The steampunkish mining town of Torchlight sits atop a vein of magical stone called Ember, which can be used for all sorts of stuff. Recently some very dark things have been happening, a wise old sage has gone missing in the depths, and someone has to investigate. No prizes for guessing who that would be.

You do this as one of three character classes, that can best be described as a close combat warrior, a ranged combat warrior type, and a mage. There are talent trees similar to WoW, and you can choose to increase attributes as you level. Increasing strength makes you better at close combat, increasing Dexterity makes you better at ranged combat and so on. Some equipment has minimum stats for use so you need to pass those thresholds if you intend to use something. So far, so basic.

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That’s really it. It’s into the dungeon, slay, loot, loot slay. Occasionally there will be a big boss battle. There are side quests. There’s a storyline. You can portal back to Torchlight whenever you feel like it (technically you need a portal scroll but you really need to work at it to not have one on you at all times.) You push on lured by the prospect of treasure, level increase and just plain seeing what comes next.

It’s absurdly simple to play and incredibly easy to get into. The visuals are beautiful, the music and sound effects are great and the whole thing plays like a dream. What baffles me is why I keep playing it. It’s not exactly challenging. Fights are short, brutal and easy to win. I am not good at clicking on things and I still find this to be the case.

The thing is that Torchlight is a perfect example of what it is. There are no points of friction that boot you out of the game. It’s easy to keep going and explore. There’s not a great deal of thought involved and only once have I ever got lost despite not mapping anything. It’s a self-contained world that looks like it has been painted on my screen by a top notch comic book artist and scored by a brilliant musician. There’s a constant stream of small stimulations and the occasional big boss battle. I find myself coming back to it again and again in the evening. And I still haven’t quite figured out why.


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Comments

  1. I really enjoy Torchlight. My favorite games are ones I can ALT-TAB into for a few minutes to blow off steam, and then ALT-TAB out of again, and Torchlight serves admirably for that.

    Lately I’ve gotten sucked back into Mount & Blade with the Prophesy of Pendor mod.

    But I especially enjoy playing Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on Ubuntu 16.04. I remember playing that game back in the 1990s with the 5 (or 6) CD set that had to be swapped out constantly, so to see it running on native resolution at 1920×1080 and only using 0.5% processor time is freaky.

  2. All of those games are on my list, Jonathan. I am putting down Mount & Blade as a sort of research project for a realistic grimdark fantasy. Not having actually played it very much, I have no idea how realistic it actually is but I have no doubt it will get me thinking about the subject and stimulate my imagination.

    You’re spot on with the comment about processor time. I often have Task Manager up and running with these old games ( and my work stuff too). It’s astonishing how little memory and processing power they use. I am not even running a particularly modern machine.

    • Tobias Meyer says:

      I literally couldn´t believe it when they released Knights of the old Republic 1 for mobile devices. When it was released for PC i had to overclock py proccesor and now it indeed runs on my phone…

      It`s funny though that an author prefers an MMO over more story driven single player RPGs 😉

      Not that i dont enjoy your thoughts on gaming, time management and the recycling of antique Apple Notebooks but could you give us an update on the next novels as well?
      I believe to remember that you said several were actually already written and only have to be edited.

      Since i think you wrote that in the end of the last december i am starting to wonder which editor should be lynched for this delay..

      • I like the social side of MMOs, Tobias. As for the lack of books, it’s nobody’s fault but mine, I am afraid. Hopefully, if everything goes well, there will be a new release this month. Watch this space.

  3. Michael Mooney says:

    Sounds great. But can I play it on my MacBook air?

  4. You play WoW? Have you thought about writing a LitRPG? I’ve been on a binge lately. Awaken Online, Alterworld, Way of the Shaman, they’re all fun.

    • Hi Robert, one of the very first short stories I ever wrote, more than 30 years ago was sort of proto-LitRPG. It was written on my first typewriter which had two ink colours, red and black. I wrote the story in alternate streams, red ink for the fantasy world and black for the real world. It was a sort of cyberpunk murder mystery in both worlds. I never managed to sell that story– wish I still had a copy now!

      Which does not answer your question. I have been reading and enjoying LitRPG myself. It seems right up my street– I mean I have been a game developer, I have written tie-in fiction, including Illidan for WoW itself and I realy enjoy the genre. I will surely try my hand at it sooner or later.

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