The dungeon-crawling genre has never had a complicated formula: you kill stuff, you get equipment, you kill bigger stuff, you delve deeper. Repeat as necessary. Torchlight is, well, no different. But it does it well. It refines many aspects of the genre, adds some more options to the top, and tops it all off with an attractive style that is pleasant to look at as you cut down swaths of enemies.
You begin the game as one of three classes: the Destroyer, the Vanquisher, and the Alchemist. Despite the names, they're really just fancy ways to say Warrior, Thief, and Mage. Each of the classes gets a number of skills unique to who they are, such as the Destroyer having a lot of close-combat abilities to take down enemies, the Vanquisher having a number of traps and long-range attacks for their guns and bow, and the Alchemist has a number of spells that do different types of elemental damage to enemies. Each skill has only a character level as a prerequisite. No previous skills need to be taken, no amount of skill points need to be spent. This is a system that I'm not fond of. It encourages hoarding skill points, and can be a little dull to distribute skill points in.
In addition to these class-specific skills, there are about ten skills that are shared across all classes, passive skills that do things like increase damage with martial weapons, increase armor defense, or increase the effectiveness of some spells. Based on what class you have, these shared skills are only available at certain levels. For example, as the Alchemist, you can get Magical Weapons Expertise immediately, while as the Destroyer this skill has a much higher level as a prerequisite. But these aren't all the skills available. There are also a number of spells in the game, scribed onto scrolls, that every character can learn. These spells range from healing yourself to attacking enemies, raising your damage, and so forth. These act differently from skills: they are learned just by using scrolls, not skill points; any character can learn them; each character can only have a certain number memorized at any time (they can be forgotten whenever you want); and to get a higher level of the spell, you need to find the higher level version of that spell on a scroll. The variation of class-specific skills, general passive abilities, and spells means that every character can be different.
Each character also starts with a pet as well. With this pet comes not only a fighting partner in the dungeon - one that can equip rings and an amulet, in addition to two spells - but also something of a pack mule. You can throw a bunch of equipment onto your cat or dog, then send them off to town to sell all the equipment. It makes the action a lot more seamless, since frequent trips to the town are no longer required, breaking up the action all the time. Throughout the various dungeons you can also fish, the results of which can be fed to your pet in order to turn it into different creatures with different stats, abilities, and weaknesses.
Attributes are handled a little oddly in this game. There's the typical Strength, Dexterity, Magic, and Defense, but they don't do what you might expect. Though defense is pretty much self-explanatory, all the other attributes do is increase other amounts of damage. Strength raises physical damage, dexterity raises ranged damage, and magic raises elemental damage. Like I said, it's weird (magic doesn't even increase your mana reserves), but it makes for some interesting builds. In other games, you'll always see mages, for example, have very high magic levels and a disregard for every other attribute. In Torchlight, while this is viable, spreading out your attribute points also works. You can put points into magic and dexterity to increase the damage of wands that shoot long-range magical attacks, or some points into strength to beat the enemies that get close to you with staves. It offers a lot more options than a typical dungeon crawler, though it may take some time to get used to.
One of the most noticeable features about Torchlight, by far, is the art style. Discarding realism and 'grim' styles, Torchlight instead goes with a bright, stylized graphics with vibrant colors that make Torchlight pleasant to play through. It makes the game fun to play when everything isn't dark and shadowed, and even better, Torchlight will run on nearly everything, even years-old laptops. With the game's Netbook Mode, some graphical effects are tuned down to make this a possibility, and playing a game this nice on a laptop that would grind and pause on some 2D games is quite the treat.
Okay, here is one of Torchlight's biggest flaws: there is no online mode. None. No multiplayer, local or otherwise. The developers have stated that they wanted to release a fully-polished single player mode, then add in the multiplayer component later. While this is a good idea in principal since it means a lot less bugs, it also means that there's no multiplayer, which would've been really nice. There's no real problem with the singleplayer component - you won't find any items, for example, that are for another class - but it still would be nice to be able to go online and beat up bad guys with friends.
What the game will come with is the ability to mod, alter, and add to the package in nearly any way you want. I can't comment personally on how easy it is to mod the game - the review builds did not come with this functionality - but there are multiple videos online that shows the features off. And I must say, it looks pretty good. Mod communities are already beginning to prepare for the changes that people will be able to modify into the game, and I'm personally looking forward to the ideas people can come up with. Some features, a potion that allows you to redistribute your skill points, for example, are definitely going to be modded in once I get my hands on them.
Torchlight doesn't really do anything new, per se. It's taken the dungeon-crawling genre and refined it to its best elements. The style matches the mood of the game, and a fairly interesting story put over it all as well. Replayability is there: you can move through an infinite dungeon after beating the game, or 'retire', which allows you to restart at level 1 again with another class, but hand down an item from your high-level character, but with lowered stat and level requirements. In all, Torchlight is a fun game to play. Not perfect, but still done very well, especially for such a low-priced title (around twenty dollars). Fans of dungeon crawlers are definitely going to want to check this game out.