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The Disgruntled Pony

Attempting to get his opinions across, one hoof at a time. Not guaranteed to be 100% honest and factual all the time and can be bribed with sugar lumps. Do not stand behind it.

Author: DarkPony

Freeloading on the Torchlight 2 beta: a long and hard look.

Posted by DarkPony Saturday May 19 2012 at 3:44PM
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After hoof-stomping all over the Path of Exile beta, this weekend it was Torchlight 2's turn to see whether it would bend or break.

The original Torchlight is a game that I never played but it was quite the indie success with half a million of people buying into it. (edit: make that over a million, currently!) After reading up on it to get myself acquainted with the IP, it becomes clear that Runic games has a pretty honest and likeable CEO in Max Schaefer:

"... just from a business perspective, when you make these $50 million games, it’s so hard to make your money back that publishers are very conservative about what sort of games they’ll green light. So you get a lot of sequels, copycat games and conservative plays. When you come down to a rational budget and a rational team size, you really are freed to take more risk and do more creative things. I think Minecraft is a perfect example. I’m obsessed with Minecraft. I can safely say that Minecraft will slightly delay the shipping of Torchlight 2 [laughs]." (source)


"... Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Blizzard and what they’re doing with Diablo III, and we really respect the fact that they’re going to take the time to do it right. Obviously, we’ll be day one purchasers of Diablo III, and it’ll delay whatever we’re working on at the time, but at the same time we’re glad we don’t have to do it. They have incredible expectations, and there’s almost no way that they’ll be able to please everybody with what they do. It’s a scale and a level of responsibility and a situation that in some ways we’re glad we’re not in". (source)

That's cool, Max.

But without further ado, lets see how your game takes risks and is more creative than an AAA game with a truckload of funding and manpower. And also how it shaped up while you were so busy playing all kinds of other games during its development, you indolent man!


Character creation & opening cinematic:


There's four interesting, nicely animated, steampunky classes. There's also freedom to pick gender and your preference out of a range of presets for faces, hair styles and hair colors. When you are done with that you also get to choose a pet out of a wide selection of appealing ankle biters and a name for it too. All this choice makes it quite a bit more RPG'ish than the average hack & slasher even though it still pales in comparison with mmorpg character creation. But still ... kudos here.

Right after creating your character you get to see the intro cinematic. Probably they thought the game's art was pretty cartoony so they took the opportunity to offer you some truly stunning visual eye candy make this even more cartoony?! Seriously?

The "Three crayons left in my box and only 100 frames to animate the whole damn thing" kind of cartoony, that is.

I can see it has a certain campy value though, and it does poke fun at all the expensive render farm work which other developers use to falsely advertise their products with.

Anyway, probably this was sneaked in when Max was busy building a record breaking phallus in Minecraft for a few days. I'm not impressed nor immersed, but cinematics be cinematics so let's move on to the actual game itself.


Graphics & art style:

The three stages of Torchlight 2 art appreciation I went through:

Stage 1, the first few minutes: "Yup, it's cartoony. Not sure if I like that so much."

Stage 2, after 15 minutes: "But it's pretty painterly too ..."

Stage 3, after an hour: "Actually it is rich and deeply inspired."


Interactive environments: I accidentily hit an oil lamp and saw this farm go up in flames.


I think this is a game that "graphically grows" on you. The cartoonyness quickly fades away in your immediate perception and makes place for an immersive and appealing kind of pseudo-realism. At least that is how I experienced it. The well done animations, coloring, lighting and weather effects help with this.

This is probably the same psychological mechanic that made WOW's graphics age so well for so many people.

If there's one caveat in the graphics and art department I'd have to mention it would be the design of some of the mobs you'll encounter. Being attacked by floating blue beach balls somehow doesn't tickle my imagination. There's a lot of insignificant critters too. Then again ... there's also funny and remarkable monsters, like the "Mimic" killer chests. Or well animated ones: humanoids that casually sit around on the dock of their hideout until your arrival (and their imminent deaths) startles them.


In Torchlight 2, rare chests find you!


World design & dungeons:

TL2 cleverly hides its linear hack & slash roots with randomized, wide and open outdoor zones and dungeons with multiple paths branching off. Some of those zones and dungeons are satisfyingly large. But what's more; the overall design and attention to detail of all environments are impressive; the game world feels very interactive and rich. A lot of love, inspiration and skill went into this game. Dungeons feel unique, you never notice the random map generation and there's all kinds of unexpected little things going on. I couldn't help myself making a ton of screenshots. More kudos here.


Example of a large, branching dungeon map.


Sound & music:

Both very well done. Apart from the lovely soundscape there's an orchestra of ominous cellos, subtle droplets of sitar and at times pumping electric guitars enhancing the atmosphere. Very akin to Diablo II and in the case of the acoustical guitar and sitary bits almost lawsuit inducingly similar.

No surprise really, as it's made by the same composer, Matt Uelmen. If I had to pick one aspect to call this game a "diablo clone" it would be some parts of the score, and that's not a bad thing at all.


Pretty smooth graphics scaling: Scaled slice of a scene, 100% crop at maximum zoom range,

100% crop at minimum zoom range.


Combat and gameplay:

The lowest difficulty level is "casual", followed by "normal", "veteran" and "elite". The game lets you choose between them at the start but there's also the option to continue playing a character at higher difficulty levels or to make it a hardcore character. Being somewhat of a hack & slash vet I skipped "casual" and started at "normal" right away. I didn't regret that. In my 7 hour playthrough of the first act I never died once, although I came pretty close a few times.

I played an Engineer up to level 21, the beta weekend's cap, and the combat with this class is the one-shot kind with some extra Chuck Norris juice on top. Your character is a powerhouse, a natural disaster to anything crossing its path. Many abilities are AoE abilities or at least have an AoE side effect, combined with the frequent spawns of numerous critters and trash mobs, this results in heinous crimes against monstrosity.

It's clear they went the "over the top heroic" route with combat and it is indeed very typically hack & slashy. But despite the first 12 or so levels being too easy for my liking at normal difficulty, the actual feel and pacing of combat gameplay is excellent: your movement speed is fairly quick, your abilities have a satisfying visual and audible "oomph" and you feel like a tornado, rampaging through each map; never a dull moment. I found it's actually hard to stop playing; the action drives you on and on.

Skills themselves are sometimes very fun and inspired too: in the engineer class the combat bots you get to learn out of the Construction tree stand out.

I'm curious to experience how it feels when there's a bit more challenge involved at harder difficulties but having played through Act 1 on normal, I kind of wonder why they are bothering with an even easier "casual" setting anyway.


Somehow I feel I should have been the one with a question mark over my head. "The f*cks that?! Can I deflate it?"


Skills & customization:

The core is your run of the mill skill system with three trees per class and points to put into stats each level. Next to that there are spells you'll find as loot which can be learned and used like any other ability. Also there's secondary mechanics like fish to catch for your pet which will buff it and change its appearance, gem slots in some of your gear to put gems in (some of the gems you'll find are rare or unique) and there's enchants for your gear to get at enchanters (hidden out in the world).

Each attempt at enchanting an item might add new or improved stats and/or sockets or it might do nothing. Every item can hold multiple layers of enchantments and each attempt costs gold. Higher tiered attempts cost a lot more. Items can be disenchanted as well. Enchanting is obviously TL2's main gold sink as it might take you a while and a ton of cash to get the ones you like best. It's something every min-maxer will be compelled to do on every newly acquired upgrade.

Vanilla drop, enchanted once and enchanted twice.

Character development is fairly standard hack & slash style but serves its purpose in giving you choices to make every level but it isn't as refreshingly free and open as Path of Exile's "free to slot the skill gems you want + bloated passive skill tree" system.

disclaimer: Not sure if I missed out on aspects in this department. It was kind of a limited beta ride after all.



The UI is top notch and a lot of care went into it: shift clicking to swap stuff from your bags to your pet bags, for instance; if you have both bags open you'll see items fly over your screen to the other side. The UI feels very fluid and intuitive. Your pet can also be dismissed to "shop" for stuff at town or to sell all items in its inventory. A nice extra functionality but in my single player experience not much needed as town portal scrolls are just as convenient.


Performance & stability:

Nothing to complain about. As smooth as a buttered eel in olive oil.


Meet Furl the Gem Smasher and Gorn the Gem Saver.


Wrapping up:

From what I've seen this game has completely outgrown its indie roots and is second to only a few games in polish. It's compelling, fun to play and despite it being kind of a cookie cutter hack & slasher which doesn't really turn previously proven mechanics upside down, the design of what it does is clever, inspired and made with a lot of love and care.

These people seem to know what makes a game in this genre tick and TL2 is above all an effort in perfecting the formula while enhancing on it in small doses here and there, within an inspired, original IP.

And at only 20 bucks its a friggin' bargain.

All in all it seems hack & slash fans are spoiled rotten in this Age of the Second Coming of the Action RPG: Diablo III, PoE, TL2 ... despite everyone having their own preference, we should only be fighting over which is "best" after being very aware of our first world problem in this regard as they are all proper additions to the genre.


Oh hi ... did anyone ever tell you that you have wonderful polygons? I mean .. it's just a few of them but still ...

Halandir writes:

Heh - Your comment on the waterguardian is spot on, just as the rest of your beta (p)review.

Love to see others picking up on the cartoony steampunk style. :)

If you did "The Ember Keys" on Veteran as solo or duo pls. pm me.


Sat May 19 2012 5:19PM Report
MikeB writes:

ROFL @ pet name: Maskedweasel. Oh, he is going to get you, man!

Sat May 19 2012 5:19PM Report
DarkPony writes:

Hehe *hides for the wrath of the Weasel*

Halandir, I might try Veteran tomorrow. Will pm you if I do.

Sat May 19 2012 5:26PM Report
Lunarpac writes:

Nice review!

I recently played through the beta as well, and was surprised in a positive way. I did play the original title, and they seem to have improved on that same formula. The combat feels smooth, the abilities synchronize in a good manner, the environments are great - an all around good game.

I'd go as far as to say it's on par with D3. D3 seems to have the better setting (guess that's a subjective opinion though, I kinda like the darkness of the diablo universe), but TL2 edges ahead as far as combat and interesting gameplay goes. Might be hard to make a fair comparison though, kind of like comparing Team Fortress 2 to BF2.

I'll definitely play this until GW2 releases (given TL2 launches before that), as the D3 cash shop is a major dealbreaker to me, but that's another story.


Sat May 19 2012 5:49PM Report
JeroKane writes:

Hehe I love the Engineer class with the pet.

Sat May 19 2012 5:58PM Report
terrant writes:

I actually LIKED the opening cinematic. Reminded me of Samurai Jack.


Aside from that, the game is sounding great thus far. I missed my chance to get a key, so I am sad panda. really keeping this one on my radar. Esp since I believe it can be played offline, or over a LAN.

Sat May 19 2012 6:48PM Report
tersagun writes:

I do believe, they deserve kudos for that cinematic; it's been a veery long time that we haven't seen such a unique cinematics on a major release.

It's all about CGI videos which doesn't reflect the actual gameplay, story or graphics, at all.

And as a small note; Torchlight 1 passed the 1 million mark about 6 months ago. So it's not half million.

Sat May 19 2012 7:01PM Report
Zeroxin writes:

Definitely enjoyed the game. I played till 3 am friday night and most of my time was spent at the fishing pond trying to catch a goldfish because I wanted to buy more gear before heading out. My persistence was rewarded with the ability to change my pet into several different things and even the ability to change it permanently until I wanted to change it again. Oh the hilarity. I actually had to consciously pull myself away from fishing, it was that addicting.

And you're right on the mark about the weapons and skill sound effects having that audio/visual oomph. Sometimes I picked up a shotgonne just to hear the sound of it.

Sat May 19 2012 7:07PM Report
romanator0 writes:

In regards to Torchlight 2's skill trees Travis Baldree has stated that they will be undergoing a few changes before the launch of the game.

"The skill tree system WILL be changing. (It's not even really a tree now, but anyway)

We have some changes we are implementing to hopefully better reward continued investment in a skill, and to formalize some of the more physical changes to a skill as you invest so that they appear in more predictable places (many skills DO get big increases to range, additional projectiles, or secondary effects at later investments - it's just hard to tell, because they aren't necessarily available at the 'next' level ), and providing some other bonuses for skills that don't already have them.
We will also be changing the structure of the layout quite a bit, and how it works.

You'll still be spending points as skills unlock, but it'll work a little differently and hopefully you'll agree it is a more rewarding system - 
That won't be debuting during the beta, however.

At any rate, what you're looking at now won't be what we ship."

Sat May 19 2012 8:03PM Report
kalsigur writes:

You do know that Torchlight is essentially made by the same team that made Diablo 1 & 2, right? So noshitsherlock it is gonna have some similarities. (also why its WAY better then d3)

Sat May 19 2012 9:57PM Report
Golelorn writes:

My problem with Torchlight is that it got old after 20 minutes of doing the same thing. I don't think I even made it past the 3rd floor. Is this also a problem with T2?

Sat May 19 2012 10:23PM Report
Unlight writes:

I signed up for beta yesterday afternoon and lucked into a key around 9pm last night.  I didn't realize until this morning because I was engrossed in (of all things) the Family Guy Online beta.

So I installed the client this afternoon and spent pretty much the entire afternoon and evening playing.  I pretty much echo Pony's comments all the way through, although I did get a bigger kick out of the meatiness of the sound effects and the wide variety of skill selection.  And *I* did die -- once, on normal.

Really enjoyed playing through those first 21 levels.  Going to head off and try a new class now.  I think maybe an Engineer...

Sat May 19 2012 11:01PM Report
Torval writes:

I'm having a lot of fun with this, more than I thought I would.  I'm playing an Ember Mage.  It's fun.  I can see different options for play (damage dealing or cc) but skill acquisition is a bit slow so I can't try different things.  That would be a bonus.

The team is pretty good.  They are responsive to player issues and feedback.

Sat May 19 2012 11:10PM Report
Torval writes:

PS: Anolther good blog entry.

Sat May 19 2012 11:11PM Report
WhiteLantern writes:

Good job, Pony. I too received a beta key late Friday night. Unfortunately, the weekend ended up busier than I had anticipated, so I haven't spent much time in-game yet.

However, what I have seen has been very impressive and I will be purchasing.

Sat May 19 2012 11:12PM Report
DarkPony writes:

Thanks for the kind replies guys, glad some of you liked it <3

@tersagun: Oops, my source was dated. I edited the blog.

Sun May 20 2012 2:03AM Report
Emwyn writes:

Nice review Pony! Glad to hear it's a pretty good game. I seem to have promised to play this game with one of my sons. I don't remember him even asking me so I was probably busy doing something else at the time :P So it's a comfort to know the game is ok!

Sun May 20 2012 4:28AM Report
Strap writes:

Glad to see you have a blog Pony :), enjoyed the review - informative, entertaining, well written. Will be keeping an eye out for TL2.

Sun May 20 2012 6:44AM Report
spookydom writes:


Sun May 20 2012 6:45AM Report
InB4Lock writes:

I loved the intro cinema!  Someone above mentioned that it reminded them of Samurai Jack, and I'm glad I wasn't the only person to think that.  It was different, unique and fun.

I'm loving the beta so far.  For my first day with it, I tried just messing around with all the classes and found they all seemed to have their own roles, and that I could find a use for nearly all the skills.  A few seemed lackluster, but knowing that they'll be tweaking that before launch helps.

Pony's completely right about the art style: after you've been playing it for a bit, it just looks right.  It's hard to explain; it's not so much adjusting to the graphics as much as it is just buying in to, and being immersed in, the look.  The lighting and weather effects really drew me in, especially in the spider cave where you have to light fires as you go to see.

My one complaint so far?  Why did they have to choose MY character from Torchlight to be the villain?!  I'll never be able to look at him the same way again!

Sun May 20 2012 7:33AM Report
Zeus.CM writes:

Pony, I must say that you are a great asset to this site. Thank you.

Sun May 20 2012 7:45AM Report
DarkPony writes:


Ooooh I forgot to write about about the weather effects! I'll sneak that in. Thanks.

Yeah, regarding the opening cinematic I understand many people like it. To me personally it isn't really pulling any strings but I like the fact that they did not went for rendered movies that advertise the game for something it is not, like most AAA devs do.

Sun May 20 2012 7:51AM Report
DarkPony writes:



Also the other compliments are very much appreciated. They make me forget about crying myself into sleep last night because a few people "burried" my blog ;-)

Sun May 20 2012 7:55AM Report
mightpyro writes:

I didn't try Elite but Veteran was very easy so they have issues with the difficulty.

Sun May 20 2012 8:14AM Report
InB4Lock writes:


Oh no, I can totally see how that cinematic won't strike well with a lot of people.  It's defintely a matter of personal taste, and I can almost already tell which of my friends will like it, and which won't.

On a related note, many things in that game seem to almost be callbacks to other things, even perhaps unintentionally.  There's a whole bunch of things I remember noting, though most of them escape me now except the Water Guardian dragon thing.  It took me until my second time seeing it to realize that the Water Guardian reminded me of the Pastha from the old Gemfire video game, and I wonder if someone on the dev team hadn't been a fan of that old gem of a game.

Sun May 20 2012 8:18AM Report
Lobotomist writes:

My only problem with T2 is similar to T1.

Skills <-

After playing long time and digging into the skill tree

You soon realize that although there are many skills available, they are not very varied one from another. Not to mention many skills that are only passive bonuses.

And the worst are the higher level skills that completely remove need for their lower level skills. Bringing out necessitiy to respec at higher level.

And this is very much the only bad thing about the game :)

Steal for 20$



Sun May 20 2012 8:19AM Report
someforumguy writes:

Nice write up :) I really like how you write from a gamers' perspective. It is not often that I'm not left with many unanswered questions after such an article.

We are definately going to play T2 if GW2 release date isn't known (or too long away) by then.

Sun May 20 2012 9:39AM Report
Phry writes:

just saw this game on steam for £15...  and ordered it :D

Sun May 20 2012 9:49AM Report
Amaranthar writes:

What did they used to call those games that we are no longer interested in.....em-em-oh's? This site used to be about them, but that would make it dead now.

Nice job, DP. And I think you're right about the art, it's tastefully done enough to give it a charm and remove objection for me, I think for many.

Knock a lantern over and start a fire? Cool!

Sun May 20 2012 11:36AM Report
DeathCarrot writes:

I really digging the beta it great fun and cant wait for the full release.

One of the fun things I found was a cave filled with pirate ghosts. At the enterance I was greeted by the lootable corpse of Chester Copperpot. In the end I defeated the ghost of One Eyed Willy and got all his rich-stuff, and his other eye.

Sun May 20 2012 11:50AM Report
maskedweasel writes:

Grr...  I might be your pet... but next time I can get a pony in-game,  I'm making him a pack mule!   





Sun May 20 2012 2:30PM Report
Tardcore writes:

Excellent write up as per usual. And OMFG!! At last a game that looks good enough for me to purchase with my own money.

Sun May 20 2012 3:57PM Report
DarkPony writes:

@Weasel: Hehe, I just had to when I saw I could get a long rat as a pet :P On my current character I made a bulldog called MikeB if that's any consolation ^_^

@TC: Yeah it's pretty fun but VERY hack & slashy. Personally I think you should really try out Path of Exile as well because I have a hunch you might like that one a bit more. It's a bit more dark, gritty and unforgiving. More of a mature take on hack & slashing in my opinion. Also the freedom to develop your char any way you want is great. It's very indie though, but also very free.

Sun May 20 2012 4:25PM Report
Beka writes:

Some of the reason devs (at least the smart ones) put in an easy mode is so that people with disabilities can also play. An easy mode lets younger kids play too, those that might not yet have as good eye and hand coordination, but otherwise can handle the game. Why exclude certain parts of the population when you can have a variety of difficulty modes so that as many people as possible can play and enjoy your game, yes?


Sun May 20 2012 5:05PM Report
romanator0 writes:

Hey Pony, have you tried any classes other than the Engineer yet? And if so what are your favorite skills or builds?

Sun May 20 2012 5:37PM Report
maskedweasel writes:

Well,  the bulldog named MikeB makes sense,  but...  that weasel doesn't even look like me!

Sun May 20 2012 6:47PM Report
MostWise writes:

Cracked me up on the "...Can I deflate it?" caption! Good stuff!!

Sun May 20 2012 11:01PM Report
MikeB writes:

WTF @ Bulldog named MikeB. No sugar lumps for you this week, DP!

Sun May 20 2012 11:13PM Report
TheCrow2k writes: Checked my Gmail spam folder today & there was my beta invite :'( Mon May 21 2012 12:04AM Report
AutemOx writes:

For some reason I thought Torchlight 2 was going to be multiplayer, so I was a little disappointed when there wasnt a section on that in the review.  It is, right?  I searched the article for 'social, community, and multiplayer' hoping I missed something.

Mon May 21 2012 12:32AM Report
DarkPony writes:

@MikeB: And there I was thinking I could get away with it. *curses*

@Romanator: Did a few levels of Outlander on Veteran difficulty yesterday. Didn't have much time for a thorough assessment but the few things I noticed: It's a different game when trash mobs need a couple of hits to die. Veteran seems doable right from the start though. I wasn't impressed with ranged weapons however! A lot of misses where you would expect hits when a monster turned out standing beind an insignificant bit of terrain of which you'd expect to fire right over or through. It's magic discus thingy ability is pretty kick ass though.

@Wormy: you are right, I didn't dable yet in multiplayer and should have mentioned it. There is a multiplayer option. I realize that makes this write up kind of incomplete for some people. Personally I don't plan on mp'ing much but I know this is a much asked for addition over the original game.

Mon May 21 2012 1:46AM Report
kevjards writes:

playing this atm and its awsome..way better than the original i have to say..for some reson the look of it is slighly different as well,meaning the gfx seem a lot sharper and less colourful,or maybe its just me.i am currently lvl 17 and i dont want to put it down.but i think i will save it for release day.

Mon May 21 2012 9:21AM Report
TheCrow2k writes: Well luckily for me Beta invite works till Tuesday. I am having a blast with the sequel. My only issue now is do I cease playing at lvl 15 so its fresh at launch ? Mon May 21 2012 10:08AM Report
Yauchy writes:

Thank you pony.

I literally searched for an hour online (via googles) for a decent, in depth beta review of TL2 and yours was the first, only, and best by far.

I should of known to look on mmorpg (been a while since I poked my head in).  But keep up the good work; you have even inspired me to start up my own...though I'll mostly focus on sipping on haterade and being mad at games :)

Mon May 21 2012 4:24PM Report
DarkPony writes:

Glad to be of some help, Yauchy :)

Writing blogs is good for you. It's fun, creative, stimulates the mind and keeps me off the streets at night selling my body for cheap liquor.

Mon May 21 2012 5:10PM Report
AvsRock21 writes:

This game is kinda cool and all, but it's like the kids version of Diablo 3.  Both in art style, and difficulty.

Mon May 21 2012 8:54PM Report
chigger254 writes:

@AvsRock21 I played through Diablo 3 and, after playing the Torchlight 2 beta, actually felt that Torchlight 2 was more difficult. I also feel that combat in TL2 is more entertaining and requires a bit more strategy, as most of the time in D3 all I had to do was hold down my mouse button and sometimes hit my heal skill, even on the bosses.

I think Diablo 3 looks very nice, especially the towns and indoors, but also kinda boring and and a bit dated, while I really like how Torchlight 2 looks, and I'm far too old to be considered a kid anymore.

Tue May 22 2012 11:56AM Report
Mavek writes:

It was definitely worthwhile it my opinion to go through the whole  beta on veteran as an embermage.  It was really difficult solo once I hit the level 16-18 area and don't even get me started on the final boss.  I went through 30 health pots in a matter of 2 minutes.  Very soon I realized it wasn't even worth it to try to keep my pet alive


The only thing I didn't like was being frozen in place when casting.  If mobs were my same seed they would tear me apart as soon as I stopped to cast a spell.   Asides from that it was a ton of fun and I'm glad I have it pre-ordered.  Can't wait to try out multiplayer


Love your blog pony keep up the good work!

Tue May 22 2012 3:16PM Report writes:
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