Diablo 3 may have been the talk of the town, but for me I had always looked forward to Torchlight 2. Does the follow-up stand toe to toe with its stiffest competition or does it crumple under the heavy weight of expectations?
I was one of those late comers to the original Torchlight and first purchased it on XBLA. Immediately taken with the graphics and the different highly customizable character classes it rocketed to the top of my action-RPG loot gaming considerations. When Torchlight 2 came down the pike I jumped on the chance to review it on a platform that isn’t my native gaming choice. I’m so glad I didn’t wait till it came out on the Xbox 360 (if it ever does), because not only is it an extremely well done action-RPG; in my opinion it handily trumps Blizzard’s addition to the genre released earlier this year for a variety of reasons.
Let’s start by taking a look at the art direction and the aesthetics of the graphics. Torchlight 2 is a game that has a highly stylized cartoon look that I find instantly appealing, but for you individually mileage may vary. Certainly I felt the design of the classes, enemies and attacks were eye catching and vibrant and the look is one of my favorite reasons to revisit Runic’s world over and over. However, if you love a more realistic approach to graphics and thought even Diablo 3 looked a little light hearted for your taste chances are these graphics might not be for you. Good thing the gameplay is rock solid then.
As is the case with most ARPGs (let’s call it this for brevity sake), Torchlight 2 is about nifty classes, clicking baddies, getting loot, leveling up, and busting heads with a few buddies. The way it goes about these things though is what is instantly endearing about the game. Classes are arguably some of the juiciest meat on these bones and there are four you can graphically customize with a limited set of options before starting your adventure. You’ll have a Berserker, Engineer, Outlander and Embermage to ponder over at the outset, the first two being more of up close characters and the final two being our ranged guys. What’s so great about Torchlight though is that you are never really just regulated to these roles, indeed outside the box class construction is supported by different skill trees. It’s possible for you to become a Berserker who focuses on summoning and strength of magic rather than speedy DPS and it’s actually a very viable build. In addition to that the staggering amount of different types of bonuses to pretty much every type of armor makes it where you can literally build whatever you want out of the character of your choice. Points spent into a spell or ability never truly feel wasted as I’ve yet to find a truly useless ability.
Loot itself is very well done with a large number of aesthetic set changes as well as overall modifiers as mentioned above. There are some sets of armor that look absolutely outstanding design wise and I never felt like I was overwhelmed by loot in this game as I do in some others; particularly due to the well done item management which can even be set up to auto equip your character if you never want to leave the action. Having your pet along is even more valuable than his attack parameters alone, as his ability to carry extra loot, run to the store and sell your junk and even be set up to buy new ones make playing an ARPG more exciting and less cumbersome then it has been in the past. In addition, and I can’t stress how awesome this is, when playing multiplayer characters have their own loot drop so there is never any fighting over the drops and you’ll never feel like you are playing a diluted experience playing in multiplayer because of that.
Speaking of multiplayer, Torchlight 2 fixes one of the most glaring omissions from it’s predecessor: the ability to play cooperatively with other people. Let’s face it, the only thing better than leveling your character from a weakling in cloth pants to a demi god in a set of awe inspiring armor is doing it with friends; and Torchlight 2 lets you bring 5 of them along with you. The game supports up to six players and you can set up how many people you might want in your experience right from the start. It couldn’t get any easier either, you simply set up the game and begin to play and people will drop in and out as they please. While teaming you aren’t tied to one spot and are free to roam apart over the entirety of the map with no slowdown that I ever experienced, even with all our spells going off at once in a huge battle.
After you’ve beat the single player campaign, that takes approximately 15 or so hours depending on difficulty level, you still aren’t done with your Torchlight 2 experience. First off there is a New Game Plus option where you can start all over with your existing character and continue to adventure with him/her while the monsters scale their levels appropriately. In addition with a feature called Mapworks you can purchase and activate randomly generated maps that can extend the shelf life of the game indefinitely. Throw into that an upcoming update of Runic Games GUTS editing program and you’ll be able to download and play a bevy of mods that can change not only the face of the game, but create entire campaigns if users so choose. That’s not even to mention that this comes at a staggeringly low price of $20; a full 30 dollars cheaper than its biggest retail competitor.
Torchlight 2 is such an amazing package at such an awesome price that it was tough for me to dig in and find things wrong with it, but there were a few overall things that dragged the experience down a bit. Readers who have frequented my other reviews on the site know that I’m rarely a fan of fixed cameras in these types of games and Torchlight 2 (as far as I found) could not rotate. I didn’t miss zooming however, as I felt that the viewpoint provided was perfect in showcasing my character whilst also allowing me to see what I was doing. Overall it almost never became an issue of blocking my view in a way to make my game unplayable, it’s just a pet peeve of mine that I wish had been addressed.
Another word of warning is when you start your game if you are a big gamer, don’t choose normal. That mode is regulated for people who’ve never played this type of game before and go into this with no idea of what they are doing. I would recommend playing on at least Veteran your first time through, as I didn’t know this and started Normal it impacted me with more than the occasional bout of repetition because the experience was just too easy. Luckily if you’ve already started I haven’t reached you too late because I’ve discovered that by starting a multiplayer game and selecting your difficulty, than ratcheting players down to just one player, you can fix this choice before beating the game and picking a new difficulty with your new game plus.
Lastly I wish there had been a way to completely respect your characters skills and attributes. Personally, I’m not a player that plans far ahead for the end game, instead I tend to pick abilities and skills that accentuate what I think I want to play. However, usually somewhere in the experience I’ll have a change of heart or simply want to try out another build and you can only ever respec your last 3 points spent. Especially in a game that provides this much choice on how to develop your character it would have been nice to be able to try everything out with one character. There is hope though in the form of a developer supported cheat of sorts, however be warned the game will brand you as a cheater; though it’s purely aesthetic and doesn’t affect gameplay in any way.
Outside of these nitpicks Torchlight 2 is an amazing ARPG that packs a ton of content into a very low price, but skimps on none of the polish and presentation that you’d expect of 60 dollar games. In fact, I felt that this game was overall stronger than something like Diablo 3 for all the reasons listed above. If you have any interest in action RPGs, loot based games, or class based leveling; then chances are you will love Torchlight 2 as much as I have.
A copy of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer for reviewing purposes. To purchase the game from Steam visit this site.