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November 5, 2009

Of Dragons and Torches [RPGs] | Posted at 12:39 PM

Since I can't do one sentence reviews for these two games, I thought I might as well talk about how awesome they are instead.

Torchlight

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A team that includes some former developers of the acclaimed Diablo series as well as some other big RPG titles have started a firm called Runic Games and their first release, Torchlight, is pretty damn awesome.

Torchlight is a Diablo style, one hero conquers all, hack and slash RPG adventure that takes place in one city with a huge underground mine (over 30 levels). It's single player only and because of its limited scope, is a mere $20.

I was skeptical of this game before I tried the demo. It looked cartoony and I said to myself, "Yah just another Diablo wannabe." I was very wrong. I currently have 4 characters, 2 of which are maxed out in the demo.

The thing about Torchlight is that is a very rewarding single player experience. You get great drops to keep you interested and the quests are fun, though typical. The gameplay, and I daresay the graphics, make this game great. It's classic Diablo gameplay, even having a lot of the same hotkeys with some gameplay tweaks that just improve the formula (like auto-picking up gold when near). You also get a pet, who will lovingly return to town to sell any goods you give it while in the middle of a dungeon. You can also transform it into different monsters by feeding it fish. Sweet.

I really urge you to try the game, at least. I know I'm buying it. Runic says that it is currently working on a Torchlight MMO. I would be very interested if it had the right price (either one-time Guild Wars-esque or very small monthly fee). The reason is because I really want to play with my friends… I wish it had come with multiplayer. However I think what Runic was trying to do was test out the waters, Torchlight really seems like a concept game rather than a full-fledged offering. The great thing is that at $20 get up to 20-30 hours of gameplay per character. Plenty more if you're like me and want to have different builds.

Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age

If Uncharted 2 is the pinnacle of the action-gaming cinematic genre, then Dragon Age: Origins is its RPG equivalent. Created by the legendary BioWare (Baldur's Gate, KOTOR, Mass Effect), Dragon Age is what you'd call a "dark epic fantasy." It's bloody and real.

There is a lot to say about this game. First let me get this out of the way: while I appreciate the epicness and excellence of Baldur's Gate, I didn't really get into it.

Maybe that was because I am not a huge fan of party-based RPGs where you micromanage your team. I'm very much of a Oblivion/Morrowind/Fallout 3/Titan Quest one-guy-kicks-ass type of RPG player. I want my hero to stand alone…

That is why I am so surprised I love Dragon Age. Yes, it's party based but BioWare does an excellent job at letting you fight in real-time without worrying too much about how your party members are doing. Sure, occasionally I want to directly control my members and heal them or give them orders but more often than not I focus on my character.

The next part that makes DA amazing is its cinematic gaming experience. Mass Effect excelled at storytelling and letting you explore the world's history and culture. Dragon Age is the same way, only better. The voice acting, like Mass Effect, is top notch and the writing superb. Gone is the hold-your-hand moral choices, instead the game doesn't even tell you how evil/good/neutral you are and a lot of the choices you make actually make a difference. If you are a goody two-shoes, like my current character, the more chaotic characters in your party will show their disproval of your actions. Other characters that share your sympathetic nature will implore you to help. Sometimes making the right choice can be difficult as there are sometimes good reasons not to help.

Another thing I love about the game is that it keeps things simple. There is plenty of depth for a hardcore RPG player (character-specific tactics, specifically) but for those of us who aren't up on DnD jargon, Dragon Age keeps all that stuff in the background. If you've played an RPG like Fallout 3/Oblivion/Mass Effect things will be familiar. You level up, you get skill points, and you get talents. While perhaps not as simple as Fallout's system, it is still very manageable for someone like me who can't (and doesn't want to) get around all the DnD-style rules (ahem, Baldur's Gate).

The last thing I want to mention is the way you play the game and the presentation. You can play the game in both over-the-shoulder 3rd person style at ground level or zoom out anytime into a tactical top-down view. I thought that was ingenious because when you're in the action, it feels a lot like an action RPG even though it is essentially a DnD-style RPG. While you are adventuring, I find it really enjoyable hearing the banter between party members. The first member who joins your party is hilarious and I keep him in my party just to listen to him argue with other members or my dog.

I've only played for maybe 10 hours and am already heavily enjoying the game and its world. It reminds me of the days I used to play Morrowind for hours in a row without tiring… and as my friend told me yesterday, you just want to finish one more quest…