Torchlight 2 – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Platforms: PC
Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

Thanks to Runic Games for providing a copy of this game to review.

It’s no secret that the Diablo 3 launch was, in the greatest sense of the word, a complete shambles. With errors bursting forth from every orifice, gamers struggling to connect even a week after release and a myriad of other troubles that have plagued the title since launch. Oh the game in itself was entertaining but it ultimately felt lacking in a few too many areas for a sequel to one of the greatest action RPGs of all time. Is it any wonder then that Torchlight 2, brought to us by the ex-Blizzard North employees that make up Runic Games, have ridden the wave of Diablo’s launch to great success?

In a slight turn away from the traditional fantasy realm of big bad demons vs almost equally big and frightful gods Torchlight 2 instead does away with all that. Who wants to be involved with battles between two unstoppable forces anyway? Level 100 might seem god-like but unfortunately there’s no “Destroy immortal supreme being” power to even have a hope of contesting those sorts of odds. No, amid Torchlight 2’s incredible cartoony art style is a vast world full of steampunk and fantasy influences that are present throughout.

Ok I may have lied slightly about there being no big bad demons. Admittedly the game does revolve around you killing one particular baddy who’s got a certain demonic tendancy, such as a great love for slaughtering entire towns and such, but the Torchlight world doesn’t revolve around any grand mystical conflict.

While there are four set classes to choose from at the start it’s completely up to you how you develop them. This can be both good and bad depending on how clever you are in terms of leveling characters, since the game leaves all the various aspects entirely up to you. Want a ranged DPS with insane health but no damage? Why not! How about a mage built like a glass cannon who dies if a skeleton sneezes on him but can summon immense destructive power? Do it!

That being said each of the four classes do have certain roles. The Outlander is the ranged physical DPS, able to dish out massive burst damage with dual pistols or slow enemies with traps. The Engineer is the support class, adept at soaking up damage through the use of shields and forcefields as well as setting up robotic inventions to heal or destroy. The Embermage is the ranged elemental DPS, focusing on dealing damage over time through either fire, frost or storm spells that specialise in crowd control. The Berserker is a straight up melee DPS, utilising feral combat skills that grant him spectral werewolf claws or the ability to leap into combat in wolf form to heal himself and scatter enemies.

As mentioned above however, these roles aren’t set in stone. Each of the three skill trees that each class has is completely different and contains three passive and seven active skills. With the ability to put skill points into any of the three trees you wish you could essentially build a whole wealth of different characters from one class.

Add to this the ability for any class to wield any weapon combination as long as they meet either the level or stat requirements and you’ve got a recipe for immense customisation. And where would we be without talking about loot?

Weapons are divided into distinct categories. They’re all pretty standard with a wealth of hammers, swords, spears, portable cannons, wands, staffs, pistols, shotguns, rifles, giant monkey wrenches, detachable able wolverine claws, repeating crossbows. Ok, not quite your average action RPG standard but lets just say if Borderlands 2 is the king of guns, Torchlight 2 is the king of fantasy weapons.

There are literally thousands of different weapons you can loot from various baddies that have randomized stats that are all determined by weapon type. For example, all melee weapons except fist weapons deal a cone of ‘splash’ damage that represents your character slashing the many foes in front of them. Alongside this each weapon has a different effect. Two handed weapons are slower but do more damage and have a bigger cone of splash damage. Two handed maces also have a chance to knock enemies back while spears have a longer reach and two-handed swords tend to do damage over time.

And that’s just some of the different weapon specific bonuses on offer that make your weapon choices unique from other weapon types. This is without mentioning sockets that can augment weapons with elemental damage and armour with various defensive stats that only add to the already massive customisation available. Did I forget to mention that almost every item of armour and weaponry looks different too? Oh yes, it’s a loot hoarder’s heaven!

When it comes down to it however, in essence it’s just you (or up to five other heroes if you’re into playing co-op over LAN or online) and your trusty pet running around beating the snot out of magical creatures, collecting loot and generally exploring the vast world that Torchlight has to offer.

Now you may be thinking “Pets? Bah! I don’t no silly cosmetic bundle of fluff following me around.” Well hold up sonny because this isn’t your average useless MMO pet here. For those of you who’ve not played the original Torchlight, pets are an integral part of the experience. At character creation you’ll choose your little buddy from a list of eight, from the intelligent hawk and savage wolf to the cutesy papillon and the weird chakawary that looks like a horrible science experiment gone wrong with a chicken crossed with a velociraptor.

These pets will follow you around, attacking enemies, carrying loot for you and generally being helpful to your adventures. One of the biggest inclusions is the ability to send your pet back to town while you continue adventuring, making them sell your unwanted loot for slightly less than you’d usually get (Dogs have no concept of haggling) as well as picking up any essentials you may need from your ‘shopping list’ such as health potions and portal scrolls.

Also making a return for Torchlight 2 is the ability to feed your pet fish. These are no ordinary fish however, with the magical properties to either enhance your pet’s abilities or transform them into other creatures either permanently or temporarily. For example, feed your pet a web fish and they’ll transform into a spider for a few minutes, granting them new abilities and stats.

At only an hour in I was already level 8, run around a magical forest (it’s not a fantasy title without a magical forest) killing trolls, found my way into an underground cavern filled with rampaging steam robots and been attacked by an unending horde of giant spiders thanks to being sucked into a portal created by killing a frenzied wolf. Suffice to say, there’s more than enough trouble to get yourself into.

You see, the main thing about Torchlight 2 is that, whereas with games like Diablo 3 where you’re forced to keep on the usually quite linear main quest, Torchlight excels in finding little distractions for you to fall into.

Take the case of Captain Willy at Plunder Cove for example. Now what self-respecting adventuring type wouldn’t want to explore a place called Plunder Cove. Hell, anything that remotely relates to masses of loot is bound to be worth it, no matter how dodgy the bosses nickname might be. Not really wanting to find out why he calls himself ‘Captain Willy’ curiosity, and the lust for gold, got the better of me and I followed the cursed ghost boatman to Plunder Cove.

Plunder Cove, as it happens, was set to be tackled by players two levels higher than my character, Fredrick, the dashingly handsome engineer, was at the time. This brought to light a problem that plagued Diablo 3 and unfortunately Torchlight 2 as well: Difficulty is a complete guessing game.

In this first playthough I started on Normal difficulty as the game recommended but I soon discovered that it was all a little too easy. Droves of enemies would fall at my feet as I slaughtered them with glee but there was no challenge to it. Even with the random levels and spawns included I found it incredibly easy to defeat most challenges I came across.

On the flipside of this I changed over to the Outlander for a playthrough on Veteran, the next difficulty level up from Normal. The change over was instantly noticeable, with enemies actually bringing me close to death on a number of occasions even in the first few levels but luckily the game gives you all the tools you need to survive the change of pace.

In a sense it’s not really an issue in Torchlight 2. You can get a sense for how easy or hard a
difficulty level is usually within the first hour of play meaning that having the create a new
character on a different difficulty setting has minimal effect on your progress. It’s a god send when we could be faced with Diablo 3’s method of having to complete the entire game before unlocking the next difficulty level, in effect punishing Veterans that longed for a harder challenge.

In terms of level design, it’s hard to say really. Each level, except for the preset towns, are randomly generated. Even the outdoor levels are different each time meaning that while quests are usually the same they’ll crop up in random places meaning you’ll usually have to search to find them all. Surprisingly the areas all feel natural however, with monster spawns never too far away and every area having its own unique feel whether that be a forgotten tomb or a wild forest filled with gnolls and trolls a plenty.

Even more interesting than these supposedly limitlessly randomized areas are the new day, night and weather cycle systems. Other than providing a fitting atmosphere for the many beautifully rendered environments these randomized factors also effect what monsters and quest events spawn in each area. Run around at night in the wilderness and you’re more likely to see a creepy ghost or living skeleton than ratlings and giants that hang around in the day time.

The biggest and quite possibly the most important addition however is co-op play. Available in both LAN and Online it’s astounding that it wasn’t available in the original. Allowing up to six players (with a supposedly unlimited number available due to modding) to run around hacking and slashing every bad guy in sight it’s a massive step forward since the last game felt so lonely at times.

Another massive change is the great emphasis on mod support that Runic Games are pushing for. Not only will mods be available to work in singleplayer but multiplayer games will also allow for mod support as long as every player has the same mods activated. The development tools are already out but it’ll be a while before we seen any big developments on the horizon.

While I’ve already mentioned Torchlight 2’s art style in passing it is one of the game’s defining features. A far cry from the dull tones of many modern titles, Torchlight 2 features an overly stylised cartoony look, complete with vibrant colours that only seek to compliment the style overall. Throw in a great soundtrack that changes based on the area you’re in and you’ve got all you need for some general kickassery to take place.

I know I keep referencing back to Diablo 3 but in the end it’s Torchlight’s biggest competition. In the end however, if the original Torchlight was built to capitalise on Diablo’s absence then Torchlight 2 is it’s best solid rival. In a way Torchlight 2 does everything that Diablo 3 should have done and then some. It’s a fantastic action RPG, full to the brim with customisation, immense levels and epic loots. If you’re already bored with Diablo 3 or just want something a little less ‘mainstream’ then you can’t go wrong with Torchlight 2.

The Good:
+ Massive customisation in almost every aspect of the game.
+ Randomly generated areas mean you’ll rarely play in exactly the same area twice.
+ A great art style that’s truly unique alongside its epic soundtrack.

The Bad:
– Travelling around already explored areas can take an unnecessarily long time.
– A few more character creation options wouldn’t go amiss.

The Score:

Graphics: 9
A unique cartoony art style complimented by beautiful explosive effects make for a great combo.

Sound: 9
Voice acting is fairly minimal but when it’s there it stands out well. The soundtrack however is fantastic throughout.

Story: 6
The story in itself is rather forgettable, with too many side-quests to distract you from the task at hand. When it does show itself you’ll find little depth to excite you.

Gameplay: 8
It’s the good old “hold left mouse till bad thing dies” gameplay we all know but the immense skill customisation all lead to make it a wholly engaging and richly deep experience.

Lifespan: 9
With four different classes to play that can all be created to be completely unique, alongside the mass of totally random dungeons, 100 level cap and thousands of loot items to collect you’ll be sucked into Torchlight 2 for months and maybe even years to come thanks to the mod support.

The Verdict: 9
An action RPG masterpiece. You’d be hard pressed to find a dungeon crawler with more depth and customisation than this. While it might not satisfy those looking for an epic storyline the gameplay more than makes up for it, turning this essentially indie title into something that rivals the commercial behemoth that is Diablo 3.

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