Genre: Action/RPG Release date: 9/20/2012 Developer: Runic Games Publisher: Runic Games Retail: $19.99 Platform: PC
The first Torchlight was a seemingly bare-bones action-RPG with level after convoluted level and a simple spiritual successor to dungeon crawlers like Diablo. For a reasonably priced indie game, that was all it needed to be. I will preface by saying that I was not the biggest fan of the first Torchlight. I found the dungeons too repetitive and needlessly confusing the further down you went. The action got stale and the loot just didn’t feel worth the effort. But with this base, Torchlight 2 is able to build on what is already solid ground to make a game that is many times bigger and better than its predecessor for the same price of admission.
The story begins at the character select screen, where you can choose and customize the looks of four new classes. Engineer, Outlander, Berserker and Embermage. Then choose and customize the looks of eight various pets ranging from cute dogs to mythical beasts. From there you can choose your difficulty, and I would suggest the second most difficult, Veteran, for a nice challenging playthrough, as Normal difficulty is sometimes boringly easy. Elite should really be attempted after gaining sufficient knowledge of a class, or if you’re suffering from mild masochism. You can spice it up by checking the Hardcore option, where death is permanent, which can give you that extra exciting rush in close fights that the normal mode may be lacking. Characters are also locked to their difficulty (except when joining an online game) and your only option at the end is a New Game plus, which is admittedly a wildly different play through experience. Finally, you can decide to hop into an online server, get a LAN going, or hack away in singleplayer. Already, it’s a nice smattering of options before even beginning.
We’re then presented with an animated scene portraying an evil, corrupted being named the Alchemist, basically shooting lasers everywhere, destroying the titular town of Torchlight and generally being a dick. It becomes your job to track him down and find out what is causing all of this evil.
Much like the first game, the main story is played out through voice-acted text boxes and static quest givers. I can’t honestly say that Torchlight 2 has a gripping story, or that it’s told in the most exciting and dramatic fashion. The sleepy voices reading the esoteric fantasy names slipped through my head for the most part. Evil monsters are doing evil things, go kill them. But this is alright, because unlike the first game, Torchlight 2 doesn’t not take place in one deep mine, but expands into multiple large, open-ended maps with multiple decent sized dungeons within those, some with their own robust side quests. The scale of the world compared to the first game is much larger and diverse, and travelling through the maps is interesting no matter what the minor details of the story are.
The four new adventurers to explore this world, while unique at a more detailed level, still at least include the typical triumvirate of mage/fighter/ranged classes. The Embermage is your basic wizard, using staves, wands and a multitude of elemental magic. The Berserker is your fighter, proficient in dual wielding and laying down thick and speedy barrages of animal inspired melee abilities. The Outlander is the ranged expert who can toss it up between using two pistols, a shotgun, bows or crossbows, and has abilities that complement that style of keeping a distance and controlling large mobs. Then there is the Engineer, who is sort of like the original’s Alchemist, but prefers to be more of a heavy brawler than anything else. The Engineer uses large two-handed weapons, or the two-handed cannon, but can also be built as a defensive shield user. He uses several types of deployable robots that heal, immobilize mobs or do straight damage.
Fortunately, every class appears reasonably balanced and it really comes down to preference of play style. After I dipped into every class, it never seemed like one was ever weaker than the other, or that I wished I had a specific skill from some other class. Where a character like the Engineer can take a group of enemies with a healing bot, and barrel into them with a nice big hammer, the Outlander can take on the same mob with abilities that give them much more maneuverability and crowd control. This is partly achieved by giving all of the classes similar skills, in the way that everyone gets skills for pure direct damage, area damage, buff, debuffs and avoidance skills. Not to say that they are exactly the same, however. They are tailored for the specific classes and work best for their style.
While the Berserker and Engineer have dashes that blast through enemies, dazing them or doing damage, the Outlander and Embermage have a backwards flip and teleport skill, respectively. They generally all do the same basic job of getting the player out of a corner, or dispersing a crowd, so it allows players to be able to control the situation no matter what class is chosen. The flow of combat can easily be manipulated by an adept player.
The combat itself is generally solid, but prepare for a click-fest with the occasional press of a number key and panicky haphazard finger leaps for the Z and X keys (for quick health and mana potions). Movement is adequate, though can be a bit unresponsive when you’re trying to back off of an enemy but merely continue to attack it or another one. Hitting skills can either be really tight or disappointingly unresponsive and loose. Tapping the 1 key and not having the skill pop immediately can be a little more than frustrating. Using skills, and setting them up for quick combos is convenient enough allowing two different skills on the right mouse button and swapping them with Tab, or prepping the number keys for a planned, ordered barrage. The challenge comes from knowing what and when to use. Heading into enemies mindlessly clicking away may work on the Normal difficulty, but enemies will toss you around on anything harder.
The presentation of the combat is the real star. Getting a critical hit has a nice meaty punch to it, and special active skills like slamming down your hammer with Emberquake is all too satisfying. Plumes of fire reaching out to nearby enemies knocking them around, or blowing them up in red, misty gibbets almost never got old. It’s a good thing, because slogging through enemies could have been contemptible, but the juiciness of effects when pulling off the right moves to take down a dungeon boss is gratifying. Torchlight 2 constantly steps this up as the game progresses. While destroying small enemies was cool at first, as your character becomes more powerful the enemies only get bigger. By the final act I was having Herculean bouts with twenty enemies three times my size. I felt mighty as hell.
The presentation of the game in general is gorgeous in terms of the art direction. From the little details like cloud shadows floating over the ground or the beautiful guitar stylings of Matt Uelmen on his memorable soundtrack. The cool, steampunk/pseudo-mythological graphical style can pull off colorful and painterly, or a dark and murky setting with ease. Each new area has a completely unique look and runs the gamut of snowy mountain or dank swamp to a fiery underground factory. The cartoonish and bulky nature of the art never detracts, and in fact enhances the overall look of the game, giving it a nice clean aesthetic. This variety translates completely into the huge number of enemy types unique to each area. From witches and slugs in the swamp to hulking turrets and robots in the factories. It never seemed like I was fighting an enemy for too long before I came across a completely new set.
However, and I can’t figure out why, it was decided that having a wall, or mountain or whatever that blocks your view, had to stay there. When something covers up your character, it doesn’t fade out or go away, it continues to stay in the foreground and what you get is an ugly outline of you and the enemies (this outline can even be turned off, which is insane). I actually died once because I could not see a ranged ground attack an enemy was doing on the other side of a wall.
In fact, the UI in general ranges from convenient and intuitive to somewhat frustrating, like going into the inventory or talking to an NPC not pausing the game. I was receiving a quest reward when a monster killed me before I could close out the text box. And I understand that hotkey letters correspond to relevant tabs, but having both the skill and character tab hotkeys (S and C) surround the health and mana potions hotkey (Z and X) led to some erratic moments of tabs flying in and out of view in the middle of near death battle as I slapped my fingers wildly on the general area. This was more of a peeve, and honestly these keys can be changed.
But on the other end, having a separate inventory tab for consumables, or being able to buy potions and scrolls with your pet as he goes to town are both fantastic little changes that help efficiency while playing. Even the sorting button putting gems on the bottom of the item grid was something that I became incredibly appreciative of, because there is a lot of loot to sort through.
Loot is one of the biggest reasons people come to dungeon crawlers like these, and Torchlight 2 doesn’t disappoint, almost to a fault. While killing an enemy causes a satisfying eruption of gold and items to vomit forth from the ground, it can occasionally be way too much. Snatching gold is easy enough as it automatically collects at close proximity, but sifting and sorting through the 90% useless items can be a chore. The game gives you so much stuff, but you’re always looking through, and comparing, and trashing, and selling, and debating, and meticulously scrutinizing, and you’re only sometimes actually using what you find. Thankfully there is at least an option to show only specific rarities of items when they lie on the ground.
That’s not to say the loot in Torchlight 2 isn’t good, because it really can be. It’s when you’ve found that one item. That two-handed sword with +15 strength and 10% chance of meteor on kill. Or that shotgun that just lays waste to whatever poor sob gets in your way. When you kill a monster and a giant ball of fire rains down. Or when you find that gun that shoots insanely fast and it feels great using it. In Torchlight 2, when you do find that good loot, the search was worth it.
Finally, the biggest and most important addition for Torchlight 2 is the multiplayer co-op. Setting up a game is simple with the ability to customize to your liking. Other servers are easy to find and join. Although, in-game is a little awkward when you are in a completely different area than your friend. You can use waypoints to get around the world, but even when you’re in the same area it can be difficult to find each other. There is no teleporting directly to other players as far as I could find. But still, you can trade loot, which is nice, because everyone in the game has their own loot drops. While you won’t have people ganking drops or fighting over items, one player might see something in their game that could benefit their friend. Mobs are stronger and busting up groups with buddies is always fun.
Bottom line is that Torchlight 2 is more than twice the content of the original. It has a lengthy single-player campaign that is worth multiple playthroughs with four characters of differing enough play styles. With the addition of online play, and keeping mod support it should seal the deal. If you’re a fan of action dungeon crawlers like Diablo then you will have no regrets. Not at this asking price.