Perfect World Entertainment and Runic Games have, as of today, released Torchlight 2, the latest entry into the action-RPG genre. The team, headed by ex-Blizzard North and Diablo creator, Max Schaefer, has its sights set squarely on making a big impact with the latest iteration of the Torchlight universe.
The original Torchlight was well-received when released in 2009 though most players were disappointed by the lack of any type of cooperative play. Torchlight was single-player only. With the development of Torchlight 2, the team listened to the wishes of its fanbase and have given the game a robust cooperative multiplayer experience on top of the single-player game. Even more exciting is the release of the toolset for Torchlight 2 that will allow modders to create and share new maps and adventures for the game, giving it a long-lasting appeal.
Inevitably, especially this year, Torchlight 2 will be compared to that other action-RPG, Diablo III. In some ways, it's a valid comparison. In others, not so much. Torchlight 2 is enough different, has enough unique and defining features, to make it well-able to stand on its own two feet.
So what have I discovered in my first few hours? Let's take a look.
On entering Torchlight 2, players are given a choice of male or female characters in one of four classes:
There are a few options for customizing your character including several faces, hairstyles and hair color. Those options are static, however, with no further customization available. And, really? More isn't necessary as the game play is strictly isometric though you can zoom in to see your character close up if desired.
Graphically, I would compare Torchlight 2 more to World of Warcraft than to Diablo 2 or 3. The characters have a definite 'cartoonish' feel to them that perfectly fits the world in which they live. The colors are bright and vibrant and the spell effects are awesome. But if WoW-like graphics are offensive to your eye, if you crave a more realistic look in your games, Torchlight 2 may not be for you.
Once your character is created and your pet customized, you are given a choice of how you want to play: Casual, Normal, Veteran or Elite. You can also choose "hardcore" for an extra challenge. For those not in the know, hardcore results in permadeath of the character.
Playing in Torchlight 2 is fast and furious. For those used to the relatively slow pace of character movement in either Diablo 2 or 3, Torchlight 2 will seem positively zippy. Your character and pet zoom around the map at a good clip and can turn on a dime. I really mean it when I say 'fast and furious'!
What makes Torchlight 2 very different from its predecessor is that the game world includes HUGE overland maps. Gone is Torchlight 1's dungeons only game play. The overland map in TL2 is packed with interesting and exotic places to discover as well as monsters to defeat. There are towns to visit (quest hubs of a sort) and other NPCs sprinkled throughout the map that will give side quests as well. Not only are bad guys roaming the map but so are bosses sprinkled in here and there. It's a terrific opportunity to gather gear and experience to level up and toughen up your character.
Speaking of gaining experience, leveling up yields one skill point and five stat points. Skill points can be distributed into one of three trees. For instance, my Engineer could level up her attack skills, her technological skills (for turrets) or her defensive skills. The five stat points can be distributed in Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality. There are always a lot of decisions to make and I often let my character gain a couple levels before assigning points. Additionally, while not a full respec option, you can visit and NPC in an overland town and reclaim the last three skill points you assigned if you find that you made a mistake the first time through.
For those who love a good dungeon crawl: Never fear. There are plenty of dungeons, all with either main story or side quests attached to them so you can count on a good boss fight and lots of great items when finished.
Pets are also very useful in playing through Torchlight 2. They are formidible opponents for the monsters in the game and can take down just about anyone. They will run ahead of you and start attacking or you can make them a defensive fighter or a passive fighter. You can also morph them into even more powerful creatures by feeding them the fish you can catch in rivers, ponds, and streams, but they also can be geared up with a collar and a pair of tags to make them even stronger. In addition, they have an inventory of their own and can be sent back to town on occasion to sell gear to make room for.....more gear!
If I have a "complaint" about Torchlight 2, and it really isn't one exactly, it's that there's almost too much loot, too many choices, too much time spent agonizing over which items to use for your character. Everybody and his brother seems to drop unique, magical or rare items and it can be overwhelming at times. It didn't take long before I started completely ignoring white items in favor of greens, blues, purples and golds!
The other thing that would be really handy, I think, to have suggestions offered by the game about whether or not an item is good for your character type since everything pretty much can be used by everybody.
That said, it's wild fun to work your way through all of the incredible loot that's dropped or given as a reward. In my game, it has become a game of "stash it til you can use it" or "keep it for the next character you create". Items aren't character bound so as you grow, you can strip off gear and leave it in the shared stash for another character.
That's right: You have both an individual stash and a shared stash. That's an incredibly nice touch as it was in the first game.
The Bottom Line (for today!)
The bottom line is that Torchlight 2 is a LOT of fun, more fun than I've had in a game in a long while. Unlike Diablo 3, which is a much darker, more story-driven game, Torchlight 2 is more light-hearted with some laugh-out-loud moments and exhilarating game play. The story isn't any slouch either.
For folks who truly love a great action-RPG experience, Torchlight 2 is the way to go. Additionally, if you were disappointed by Diablo 3 this year, Torchlight 2 may just reaffirm your love of the ARPG genre. And, really? You cannot beat the price. For $20 USD, it's the game to buy this year. You won't be sorry.
Have you played Torchlight 2? Let us know in the comments!