I’m sitting down to write this right after playing Torchlight II for a good twenty minutes or so, and I find it difficult to begin. You see, perhaps the best compliment I can give Torchlight II is that it’s very much on the same evolutionary path as Diablo. Torchlight was a fairly straightforward game where you found yourself in one town that was afflicted by this evil, and the dungeon just went deeper and deeper and deeper. The sequel, much like Diablo 2 did, seeks to open up the game world and deepen the amount of interaction you actually have with the lore. Perhaps this is partly because Runic really wants to delve further into the setting they’ve created in order to further establish their flagship IP before turning it into an MMO, but for whatever reason it’s a welcome excursion. Add to all this the addition of LAN and online multiplayer, and Runic’s certainly looking to raise the bar quite a bit.
At the show we got the chance to try out one of two available classes (of a total four that will be in the final version): the Railman or the Outlander. The former is in part continuing that steam-punk flair the original Torchlight had. The Railman is quite literally a guy (or gal since you can now choose your gender at character creation) who carries a big hammer from the outset. He’s not a hulking guy like the Vanquisher from Torchlight, but instead most of his combat prowess comes from a pack on his back that harnesses the ember and turns it into serious damage output. The Outlander was more of a bandit type character, wielding a gun and preferring to attack his foes from afar. Personally I found the idea of a hammer-wielding guy with a monocle too tempting to pass up.
The demo started with a quest given by the famous Vanquisher from the original title. It’s worth noting that none of the original three classes are in TL2. But they do pop up throughout the narrative to guide you and whatnot. And while I was sad to find out the Alchemist wasn’t playable anymore, the fun of playing the Railman seemed to certainly take away the pain. Runic couldn’t give us too much story at this point, but the basics seem to be that TL2 happens some time after the original, and the events of that game have started a sort of chain of events that are spreading out across the rest of the world.
With new classes come new skills, and while I only got to play the first few levels, what I saw of the Railman’s abilities I really liked. The mechanic that seems to be behind all of skills is a sort of ember charging system. Each attack you successfully strike adds a charge, which shows up as blue floating orbs around your character. The initial skill you’re given increases in power both visually and statistically depending on how many orbs you have saved. A five charge execution of that skill sends a shockwave of energy out from your hammer, wrecking just about anything in its path. Then you’re out of charges, but you just need to whack a few more baddies to raise them back up.
The world itself is much larger than before obviously. Where in Torchlight you had a single town and a never-ending dungeon, Torchlight 2 has many interconnected maps and towns to adventure across, as well as more epic themed dungeons littered across the landscape. One cool new addition is the random encounter feature the team has built in. Along with each map (outdoor and indoor) being randomly generated, the chance for your character to run into a caravan that’s under attack or a lost family that needs help is always there too. Aiding them will reward you like any other quest in fame, money, and possibly items as well. Runic seems bent on making sure their sequel provides much more dynamic content throughout.
Then of course, there’s the multi-player component. The team’s goal is to have up to eight people able to play together, but right now the magic number is four. When you start a game you’ll be able to pick multiplayer or single player, and of course you’ll get to choose between a LAN game or an online match-up. The cool thing here is that Runic’s TorchED level editor also allows for players to edit the UI along with all the other mods and changes. So chances are after release you’ll be able to find online games that are vastly different from the core game’s experience. And the developers have seen to it already to allow PVP flagging from the get-go.
But in case you were worried that Torchlight 2 might be sacrificing too much in the way of dungeon crawling by focusing on a larger shared overworld, worry not. Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the landscape are plenty of deeply delving dungeons (I love alliteration). The real emphasis that Runic seems to be focusing on is that like a true sequel, Torchlight 2 is bigger, deeper, and full of lots more to see and do without changing the core values of the original game. Oh, and I mention you can play in a LAN setting? Keep your eyes on this one folks. It’s going to carry with it the same $20 price tag as its predecessor, and you’re going to get even more value this time around for that pittance. Hopefully we’ll get a few more stabs at the new classes and content before its 2011 release.