Torchlight II is the sequel Runic Games’ surprise smash hit action-RPG of 2010. Releasing in a bulky box and left to be crushed by the waves of Diablo devoted fans spouting claims of cloning, Torchlight didn’t crumble under the pressure; in fact, people loved it, it was one of those games which started to set the bar for quality and price in the gaming market. One of those to get people thinking “Why are we paying £40 for games when this is only £15?”. And right they were to think that.
Learning from the criticisms of the last and waiting for the Diablo III storm to quell, Runic Games are back with the AAA sequel, Torchlight II. And it far exceeds that of the original. Yes, Torchlight II is far better than the first, let’s just establish that now and get it out of the way. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its flaws though, so I suggest you keep reading. I’ll throw some screenshots at you, don’t worry.
Torchlight II was originally scheduled to release late last year – as was Diablo III. Seemingly you’d think the game was ready and Runic were planning to dive head first into the competition and attempt to let the market and consumers dictate whether their creation really was a cheap rip-off or what the fans of the genre really wanted. Following Blizzard’s decision to polish their game up a little and ship it the following year (or maybe they were scared), Runic decided to do the same maybe relishing in the fact that they didn’t need to rush their work out of the door.
A few set backs later on the ends of both Blizzard and Runic – Diablo III launched to record breaking sales with Torchlight II nowhere to be seen. A scary moment for them, sure, but the imminent explosion of Blizzard’s servers essentially crushed their fanbase as they literally smashed their way into the game through the enter key of their keyboard. The fans were pissed, the servers were certainly pissed, and Blizzard probably didn’t care all that much from the tower of cash forming below them. Even still, underneath the Diablo loyalists screaming for retribution over the lack of end-game content, server woes, real-money auction house or lack of promised PvP were the slowly rising cries of fans moving on. Guild Wars “Torchlight II” they said.
If you’ve been playing either the original Torchlight or Diablo III leading up to this elongated launch, you’re bound to cite the similarities to both games within the first 10 minutes of Torchlight II. The visual style of its original sticks by us here, and why shouldn’t it? We get enough realistic carnage from other titles, some cel-shaded blood n’ guts goes a long way here. You’ll also notice the lack of your favourite classes from the past title and really any that bar strong resemblance to any class from Diablo III. It’s incredible to see just how crafty Runic have been with their class system. How they’ve managed to create classes entirely different to that of Blizzard is nothing more than a feat of strength. Choosing from either the ‘Berserker’, ‘Outlander’, ‘Embermage’ or ‘Engineer’ won’t simply throw you into the single gameplay style of the character in the preview, but instead you’ll get to slowly morph your hero into 3 very distinct killing machines, or combine them to make something truly unique to yourself.
Set years after the original Torchlight the land has come under attack after the still ember-afflicted alchemist of late gets his hands on the banished heart of Ordrak, the creature you sent packing from the mines beneath the town of Torchlight all those years ago. Hoping to cure himself of his terminal state, the Alchemist begins to slowly subdue into madness through the heart’s influence. Soon enough, the warped mind of the troubled wizard gets the better of him and Torchlight comes under attack yet again with the army being no match for the threat.
Again, this is where you’ll find the major difference between both Torchlight and Diablo III. You’re thrown right into the fray from the get-go. No more beating up zombies to protect a town only to be rewarded with a lengthy talk and not a lot of senseless death, and no spawning in a town outright. Even if this is “Torchlight” II, don’t expect to be seeing that dusty old town for awhile. Instead, say hello to ‘Echo Pass’, a minute fraction of the land you’ll be traversing before you even get close to familiar ground. Compared to the rest of the game, this is about as much of a linear corridor layout you’ll be seeing; the main point here is you’ll actually be killing stuff from the start. Finally, somebody did it right.
The bonus right now is that you’ll be able to get a feel for your character right off the bat – and swiftly exit if it isn’t for you. Once you’ve figured out which character path you want to take, you should probably his space and find the skills window, that’s where your real character paths are, and you either have 3 to choose from, or the potential for hundreds, it’s marvellous really. To make things a little easier I spent a good chunk of my time with Torchlight II cycling through each character class and compiling a set of lists for you to read to give a quick summery of how each skill tree will affect the overall playstyle of a character. Berserkers go here, Embermages here, Engineers over here, and lastly the Outlanders here.
Once you’re raring to go, the local guards of Echo Pass will instruct you make haste to the ‘Estherian Enclave’, the first of a few towns you’ll be visiting on your way to Torchlight. Don’t just assume the trouble only lies there – oh no – it seems as if the crazed alchemist has decided to steal the energy of the ‘Elemental Guardians’ to rid himself of his ember curse – or so he thinks. Fortunately though, beneath the malice intent of the heart, the alchemist was still decent enough to split the “donation” amongst the other elementals posted across the land, as to not outright kill them. Good for him – Bad for you. You’d best get your +3 walking speed boots on!
Torchlight II maintains the high-calibre micromanagement clicking frenzy of it’s predecessor. As any good action-RPG will demonstrate, if you can manage to go from full health to dead in the time it takes you to stumble to your potion key, it’s doing the job well. I played on the penultimate ‘Elite’ difficulty and felt pain far harsher than that of it’s Diablo III counterpart – but I did miss the ragdoll effect from each kill. Regardless of flying corpses or gruesomely decimated remains (mine or my enemy’s) I could chug 5 potions in a single fight, sweat heavily, smash skulls, fist pump the air and do it all again for hours.
If ever there was the comparison between Diablo III and an MMO, the more logical bunch would call it out as nothing of the sort – and it isn’t – but Torchlight II will spring that thought across with a few more reasons for budding lawyers to yell ‘Objection!’. You see, Torchlight II offers something Diablo does not. Rather than simply following the main storyline to and playing through it on each difficulty as your character grows, this game shows the need to improve yourself rather than diving in again and again following each messy death. The more open ‘maps’, as they would seem, display the level range before you enter with each of it’s many dungeons within showing another advised sub-level. Simply put, you’re not spoon-fed experience until you’re good enough for the next quest. Instead you’ll need to re-enter a zone and explore it fully grinding on the beasts within before pressing on further – like a real hero, you big Diablo fraud, you. But don’t be put off, even after 30 hours of Torchlight II I’ve never once grown tired of the senseless killing of Kobolds, Dust Ninja and freaky ghost wolves. My Berserker is literally punching everything in the face until a satisfying crunch noise is emitted from their exploding body…. Then he does it again… and again… and again.
While no major changes have come into the combat mechanics, (don’t worry, you can still transform your pet with food) one semi-major change has come into play – the Charge bar. Situated above your action bar is another bar waiting to be filled through the joys of merciless killing. Once full, you can use the ‘charges’ to unleash hell against your foes for a limited time with each effect being different with each character choice. Berserkers will enter a temporary Fury state increasing both their attack and physical speed while the Embermage can begin to cast skills at no mana cost for the duration. Outlanders will be able to spend individual charge points to unleash combos while the Engineer uses them to increase the potential of his own attacks. It’s like Runic Games’ own version of cooldowns, only your character build choices will ultimately determine the resting period – or lack of for those determined to maintain it.
Among it’s standard story campaign lasting around 20 or so hours, Torchlight II features enough to extend itself further than most. Even after completing the game with one class, you’ll sooner continue to progress that same character into the higher ranks of honourable mention increasing both level and reputation by playing the game again but with enemies scaling to your skill while still being allowed to set it up as a co-op game for your friends – or strangers – to join. With 4 difficult choices, a broad level cap, mod tools after release and a lot of potential character builds you’ll have plenty of desire to play again either online or off. It’s just a shame that the in-game stores lack in specific weapon/armor types as it makes focusing on a certain build much harder in the long run. You’ll often be tempted to stray from your build plans because of that awesome new axe with additional fire damage rather than the ice you wanted so badly. If it wasn’t for the game’s strict last 3 level respec mechanic, this wouldn’t be an issue; But sadly it is.
Wide open maps full of things to destroy and discover, a pet system that, while no different from the original, still manages to be more appealing than any game since. While the satisfaction coming from each fight feels roughly the same as Diablo or Torchlight, there’s just something that just makes you forget that you’re actually able to quit playing – or that you have work in an hour. Besides the strict (and stupid) re-skilling system – or real lack off – Torchlight II delivers an action-RPG more centred on fun experimentation rather than endless gear grinds for little reason – but offers the option if that’s really your sort of thing. Almost everything about Torchlight II stands above the rest without it being all that clear as to why.
Replayability 5/5 – Even if you have to replay due to a character build error, you’ll likely not care. Away from that you have a lengthy campaign with 4 difficulty settings and a consistant New Game+ feature to carry on building up your favorite character before the inevitable switch to another.
Audio/Visual: 2/5 – As it’s running on the same Ogre engine as it’s predecessor, Torchlight II looks almost identical to the first but with a greater variety of environments. You’ll notice familiar tunes too, but lots of new music to fill your ears as you ignore the squels of the enemy.
Innovation: 3/5 - While the pet system may not be new to Torchlight, it’s still the best one available in the genre. Truly unique talent trees and lots of room for dynamic gameplay sets it apart from its major competitor.
Gameplay: 5/5 - This comes bar none. While the core idea isn’t radically different to other action-RPG titles, it improves on it without really explaining how or why. Something just clicks into place and feels right throughout. Lots of action and lots of clicking. That’s what you want. That’s what you get.
Final Score: – 4/5