Darkness has descended upon the town of Torchlight once more. Only this time, the evil below has an even greater thirst than before. Taking revenge on the town beyond his death, Ordrik’s powers of corruption continue. Taking hold of The Alchemist, the land is now doomed by a being seeking further power. Looking to take the power of the elements themselves, The Alchemist only has one thing standing in the way- you. Runic Games returns players to the dungeon crawling world with Torchlight II. Does the game follow all the hack and slash co-op action we were promised? Or is the evil so great that consumes the heart of would be players?
The heroes of the first Torchlight have resigned to the background of the tale Torchlight II tells. Instead, the fighting heroes revolve around a new round of classes- the Engineer, the Berserker, the Embermage, and the Outlander. Which one class you play depends highly on the type of game style you want to have. However, Torchlight II provides multiple ways to play each class, not unlike specialization talent trees in World of Warcraft. The Engineer uses machines and mechanical prowess to strengthen his attacks on the front lines of battle. Using the powers of animal spirits and vicious rage, the Berserker pummels everything in his path. Magic churns at the core of the Embermage, allowing for powerful ranged attacks to do the work for them. Pistols weaved with magic unleash as the Outlander targets his or her prey. Each class plays very different according to their baseline abilities and statistics. However, each class is powerful in its own right. One might easily attempt to play an Engineer that relies heavily on drones and robots, while another just wants to grab a two handed hammer and go to town. Both choices are equal, with the ability trees allowing spells and perks that build upon a player’s preference.
Choices are also abundant in other areas of Torchlight II. From equipment to pets, there are many different things you can choose from. Depth in gear is wide as one can imagine. Familiar variants on the same types of equipment exist throughout the game, be it a mallet that adds strength skill points or a helm that grants mana regeneration, there are tons of things to choose from. A nice touch by the developers of Torchlight II was the continued inclusion of unique items at all levels that allow for set bonuses, as well as socketable items and gems; however, the costume variations look like crimes of fashion. The looks of the items in Torchlight II is just as varied as the different item types, although, it must be noted that there will be much of the same situations felt by those who churn through endless greens in World of Warcraft. Pets, ever the accessory, have also received an upgrade in style choice.
Combat is what is to be expected from this style of adventure game: eternal clicking on monsters and quick hotkey action continues in Torchlight II. Building up equipment and clearing out every corner of the map to clear out every ounce of mob experience and hidden chest is the norm. The way you approach it varies heavily on the play style of the character of your choice. For instance, the Engineer is the only class that can stand in the fray to take a beating. However, as a whole, the player’s ability to just stand in a pile of monsters seems to be lessened in the game. As a result, players will find themselves hoarding potions and using them frequently, whether as a result of health drops or the constant emptying of mana due to abilities. With the scaling of monster toughness with increasing levels and higher difficulties, Torchlight II will keep you on your toes the entire time. The mouse clicking gameplay might be simple, but it should provide a challenge for most players. If it doesn’t, feel free to check the hardcore mode on to enable permanent character death, always a fan favorite.
The looks of Torchlight II definitely set it apart from other games in the genre. The exaggerated, cartoon look that borrowed heavily from World of Warcraft continues from the first game. However, things look slightly better than before; even the cutscenes now in the game fit the shading and overall style of the game. The character models each have their own distinguished features that set them apart from the others. For the first time in awhile, people will look at the features of a character first before trying to figure out what class they by looking at gear. Lighting looks more dynamic, especially in some dungeons that cause you to light burners on fire in order to see what is around you. A Raedon HD 6850 was easily able to take on everything Torchlight II could throw at it graphically. That is one thing that has always impressed us about the series. Everything in terms of graphics has easily been handled by what might be considered the average consumer’s gaming machine.
It is worth noting that Torchlight II has a multiplayer mode included. Using either LAN based or Internet connections, players can join in co-op games, a feature that gamers clamored for in the original. Granted, there is one drawback with it. To be able to play online, a new online account needs to be signed up with Runic. This isn’t exactly an optimal thing to have to do to play the game, but this may be the start of the gateway for Runic Games’ proposed MMO. The new account with Runic will integrate with Steam rather easily, which does bring up its value a bit. One is also able to transfer friend contacts over to ease the process.
While everything seems perfect on the surface, there are still some things bubbling underneath that will eventually rise. As is the problem with all of these click-and-swing, hack-and-slash style of games, it eventually gets too repetitious. There is only so much that can be done within this type of adventure game before this problem rears its head. As good as Torchlight II is, there really isn’t escaping that cold fact. Even though Torchlight II has a very stylistic look, this stylized look goes out the window as hours tick by and environments begin to blend with all of those that came before it. Constantly staring and clicking, the game world no longer holds much value as you scout for the next monster or are smashing your next urn hoping for some loot.
The environment and customization aren’t without their detractors either. When playing the game it cannot be helped but feel like this was something we’ve seen before. Stages shifting from a mossy green, yet war trodden landscape turns to a sprawling desert in the next act just feels familiar. Oh, right! We have seen this before in Diablo II, a game which many of the Runic staff had a hand in. Speaking with Max Schaefer about Torchlight II during last year’s at PAX Prime, we learned that there were many formulas that carried over from the Blizzard games that the members of Runic had worked on prior. For instance, the item generation formulas were perfected years prior. One would think that perhaps this sort of stage transition wouldn’t be one of them. Moving back to customization, it has to be said that there is a lack of variety in the characters. While certainly better than the three templates from the original, with only a handful of haircuts, faces, and skin tones per gender, it left an itch to scratch. Perhaps it is a feeling left over from playing too many modern MMOs. Perhaps it was just their reviewer wanting to build a bulky engineer like we see in the game art. Either way, I suppose we should be thankful for the edge in customization Torchlight II has over the competition.
On top of all of the pluses and negatives for this review, you have to take into account how much Runic Games is charging for Torchlight 2. Back when Runic was an unknown quantity putting out a game, charging $20 for their product made sense. However, now that they are somewhat beloved by the gaming community and spent two and a half years churning out a much cleaner and more expansive version of the game, they would be well within their rights to charge the typical box cost of a retail game and still have people rabidly buy the game. Did they do that? Nope: 30+ hours of six player co-op gameplay still going for $20 with promises of no in-game auction house or nickel-and-diming with future skins, pets or downloadable content. For a budget price, you’re certainly not getting a budget product. Take that, Diablo 3!
Torchlight II is a return to full force in the series. Given the relatively short development time to push it out before the rumored MMO title, it is a testament to how high Runic Games sets the bar. Not only do they do this for themselves, but also for the gaming industry as a whole. Not stopping at dealing a lesson to the industry, they also listened to the fans. The team knew that releasing Torchlight II without multiplayer was not an option, and bless them for making sure to include it. While having to sign up for yet another service wasn’t ideal, the rewards are well worth it. Between the animation style beauty of the characters and worlds, the fluid and simplistic gameplay, and even the inclusion of much needed customization, it is hard to think how Torchlight II could have been much better. In fact, to hell with Diablo III! Bring on Torchlight II- the new king.