Released in mid-September, Runic Games’ Torchlight II has been generating a lot of buzz around the gaming space. Fans of action RPGs have been touting the fun and addictive game play. Reviews from outlets around the world have been top notch. In a year that I would call an ARPGer’s delight with both Torchlight II and Diablo III coming out, the comparisons between the two are very common. To my mind, however, while the two share certain genre-wide features, there is enough different to make owning both worthwhile.
So what makes Torchlight II such a great game? Let’s take a look.
Aesthetically, Torchlight II is very reminiscent of its predecessor with a brightly colored palette used to make the game world. Less Diablo III and more World of Warcraft is the best way to describe what Torchlight II looks like. The world has a “cartoonish” steam punk style to it that is very appealing. In short, it all fits together to make a terrific looking game.
Aesthetically speaking, Torchlight II has undergone a huge metamorphosis from the original game. Rather than simply running dungeons, and there is plenty of that, you also find yourself exploring vast overland maps that are populated with an astonishing array of monsters and environmental décor. There are skeletons, zombies, wild animals, poison throwing mushroom men, exploding robots, bats, slavers and many other bad guys that come at you in gigantic hordes. It's enough to make any action RPG player’s heart sing with joy. These creatures inhabit deserts and forests and swamps packed with ancient ruins, mountains and dusty landscapes filled with swirling dust dervishes and shipwrecks. There are urns to break, crates to smash, rocks to overturn and hidden areas to discover. You actually find yourself wanting to explore the entire map because is just fun to do. Along the way you’ll find side quests with huge dungeons to explore.
The gear you pick up in TL2 is terrifically varied as well. Long guns, pistols, swords, fist weapons, maces, bows, crossbows, staves all make their appearance in the game and look fantastic on characters adding to the overall look of the game.
Characters look awesome running around in the world too. The movements are fluid and natural. The run animation is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s that smooth. Attacks and spells look terrific too. I love seeing my Outlander’s pistols, one with lightning flashing around it, the other on fire.
Fans of original soundtracks will also love the music created for the game. The score was created by Matt Uelmen, the composer of the original Diablo music. In fact, there are times when you could swear you were in Tristram. It’s wonderfully evocative music and, again, it fits the game perfectly.
There is some voice acting in the game including the narrator’s voice telling you “You have received a quest” and intervening at other times as well. For those who have grown a bit weary of voice over cinematic quests in other games will find peace in TL2 since it’s just not there. The voices that are there are wonderful but it’s not one of those overdone things.
Runic has created a pleasing world that all combines sound, environment, color and music together into a pleasing whole but I will say that it’s not for everyone. Because of the look, sound and feel of the game, some people will simply dismiss Torchlight 2 straight away. So much the worse for them but it’s understandable.
When first entering Torchlight II, you’re given the option to create one of four characters in male or female form:
- Berserker : As the name implies, the wild one that utilizes a variety of fist weapons and skills to overwhelm enemies.
- Embermage: Obviously the caster class for Torchlight II who uses elemental magic to take out bad guys from a distance.
- Engineer: A hammer-wielding tank that can also summon robots to work the edges while he or she wades in and takes on all comers.
- Outlander: The ranged character class that can use bows, rifles or dual-wield pistols.
Characters can be customized with three choices for face, hair and hair color. It’s not much but it’s adequate for the type of game that TL2 is. After all: In Diablo III, there is NO customization so any little bit here helps a lot.
Players also get to choose one of seven pets: Cat, panther, wolf, bulldog, ferret, chakawary and the hawk. Like the first Torchlight, the pets are incredibly useful. They can be given a metric boatload of stuff to carry and later be sent to town to sell it. In TL2, pets have been given the ability to shop for essential basics such as potions, ID and waypoint scrolls. Pets can wear stat- or attack-enhancing tags and collars. They are great tanks and can learn spells as well. They can be fed fish to morph them into something entirely different for short periods of time or even permanently if you’re lucky enough to find fish that can do that. Pet customization and variety is astonishing. My panther, for instance, is now a fireball throwing, zombie summoning, self-healing crab. My friend’s pet is a self-healing, frenzied warsnout. The two together (along with their owners!) make for a potent fighting force. It makes me smile just to write that.
Leveling is quick, taking only about twenty minutes or so per level. Each progression rewards players with five stat points and one skill point. Skill points can also be earned by completing dungeons/quest too. Players can place those skill points in one of three trees per class. My Outlander mostly placed her skills in passives like Dodge or in skills that directly benefit her ranged skills and pistol use. I did find, however, that concentrating on a few skills was the better road to travel rather than becoming a specialist in none. It’s a good idea to have a basic plan for the type of character you want in the long run as you level up. There is a limited respec option in each town if you do make a mistake. Just don't wait to long to do it. The NPC will only allow you to reset your last three skill points.
One of the best aspects to leveling your character is learning passive skills that are always on and working for your character. Spell scrolls can also be equipped to do much of the same. For instance, my Outlander’s dodge skill is insane and she often manages to avoid those “one hit wonders” that melee bosses throw her way.
Torchlight II is a fast paced game. Characters move very quickly and are always at a run throughout. Sometimes that can lead to trouble when jetting around a corner and getting completely pwned by a unique boss and its pack of minions.
Speaking of bosses, they are plentiful and they are everywhere. It seems like you run into a boss every five minutes and there isn’t a boss in the game that can’t take you down in one shot if you’re not careful. Like you, these bosses move fast and have a wide variety of attacks and spells that players need to be wary of.
Those are just the overland bosses. Then there are occasional Rift Beasts that, when taken down, open up a portal to another dimension for players to take on some of the biggest badasses in the game.
Every side quest dungeon has multiple bosses, “mini” bosses I guess you could call them, all leading up to the big guy at the end. Interestingly, many of these come in multiples. There might be two or even three bosses all fighting at the same time. Let’s just say that things can get dicey at times.
Lastly, the main quest dungeons all feature the usual boss battles on the way to the final confrontation with ‘uber’ bosses, most of which come in multiples as well. For instance, towards the end of Act 2, we had to fight the Manticore. When its health was about 1/3 gone, suddenly its mate appeared with just as much health as the first. And let’s not forget that each kept summoning minions as well. All in all, boss battles are a lot of fun though they can be tough. You should definitely be prepared to die a few times on some of them if you’re not careful.
Of course, what is any action RPG without loot? Torchlight II is a loot lover’s paradise. Everybody drops stuff in varieties ranging from mundane (white) to unique (orange) and everything in between. There are sets to collect, stats to consider, sockets to fill and more. In fact, my only real complaint about TL2 is that there is almost too much to think about when it comes to equipping the loot found. Items drops so plentifully that it is a major time sink to go through each piece looking for tiny improvements to damage or armor class. I finally have gotten to the point that I only look at rares, sets and uniques and ignore most of the rest.
Players can also enchant and socket items to make good things even better. Got a piece of armor that you want to add a gem to? Find an enchanter in any random location and give it a shot. The caveat here is that it’s a big crap shoot. You may, for instance, get +3% melee damage on the item you toss to the guy, which is great unless you’re a bow-wielding Outlander.
One of the things that bothers me a bit about Torchlight 2 is that it can get rather repetitive in the way that a lot of online games can. Go to the quest hub. Collect quests. Turn them in. Get (more) loot. It’s not really Runic’s fault that I’m so burned out on this type of gaming but it’s there nonetheless and needs to be mentioned.
Additionally, I’ve found that my character really only uses about three skills and has all the way throughout the game. Sure, I’ve made them stronger and have chosen to focus on them exclusively but you get the point. Button mashing is part of the game.
Value & Longevity: 10 & 10
We're going to condense these two categories into one, because this is all that needs to be said about them: $20.00, modding tools/level editor and random dungeon generator once the campaign is finished for the first time.
Torchlight II is incredibly polished though I’ve found a few bugs here and there. Most of the issues I’ve had have been in multiplayer but none are game ending or earth shattering, mainly annoying. It’s quite apparent that Runic spent a lot of time making sure that TL2 was ready to ship, something an independent studio has the luxury to do. It shows but there is work to be done to iron out some nagging multiplayer issues such as getting locked into a quest dialog and not being able to escape from it. This particular bug requires players to Alt + Tab out to close the game down and log back in again. Not a game breaker, but darned annoying.
The single biggest and best improvement in Torchlight 2 is the addition of cooperative multiplayer. Runic listened to its fans after the original was released and made sure to include it in the sequel. You can tie your Steam account to your Runic account, choose the Internet option and see a lobby filled with games of all levels. Games can be named and given a password for private play or they can be open for anyone to join. As with most lobby type games, you can create a friends list and even filter games to only see games created by your buddies. In addition, games can be created that only friends can join.
Weirdly, however, there is no chat option in the lobby nor is there any way to private message or whisper to friends. Unless you're on a voice chat program or have made arrangements with friends ahead of time, it's one of those features that needs to be added.
Up to six players can journey through Torchlight II together which adds a lot of potential and increased strategy to the game as the monster difficulty ramps up with the number of players.
And for a complete ‘blast from the past’, there’s even a LAN option for those folks who want to cart their computers to a friend’s house to play. Now how cool is that?
Let’s be frank here: Torchlight II brings little that’s utterly new to the scene. It improves what’s been done before and makes it damned fun to play, definitely a saving grace. The two terrific asides to the notion above is the addition of the Random Dungeon Generator and the modding tools that will literally, I believe, keep this game playable for years.
Truly there are not enough good things to say about Torchlight II even with the minor issues it does have. It is one of the most refreshingly fun action RPGs ever. Its predecessor was lots of fun too. But with the addition of multiplayer, the dungeon generator and the modding tools, the series becomes something special, something different on the scene and something worthy of your time and money to play. Runic Games has my vote for Developer of the Year.
Kudos on a game with great value and for some of the finest gaming hours I’ve spent in a long, long while.
Tried Torchlight II? Let us know what you think in the comments.