*Click click, click click click, click click click*. Ahh, the telltale sounds of an action-rpg. The incessant frantic mouse clicks only disturbed by fits of swearing over a death or jubilation thanks to some brand new gear. It’s as close to the hamster running on its wheel that gamers ever get, but to many of us it’s some of the most pure enjoyment to be found behind a keyboard and mouse.
Torchlight II has promised to take the genre back to its roots and offer players another place to sink hundreds of hours. The hype hit critical mass months ago as gamers prepared for release, but was it justified?
Torchlight II is a jarring change from recent action-RPGs, mostly due to the fact that it rejects the modern mechanics in exchange for a more old school feel. Identity and portal scrolls make their triumphant return, as well as dedicated skill trees that require actual decision making lest your character struggle to kill anything by level 20. The fast paced gameplay doesn’t leave much room for error, so you’ll have to think ahead in order to best plan out your characters progression if you have any hope of survival. There’s no handholding here; you’re going to make decisions and have to deal with the outcome.
The first thing you’ll notice during your playthrough is the fact that skill trees are back. There are three pages of ten skills, each being upgradable 15 times. You’ll really have to choose what you want to specialize in if you hope to have those skills powerful enough to tackle the end game baddies. To add on to the pressure, you’ll only be able to respec your last three upgrades, so you’ll have to decide fairly early on what the best options for your play style are.
Of course, an ARPG is nothing without good loot, and Torchlight II has that in spades. Within hours, I was swamped with unique items, legendary weapons and armor sets. It was honestly almost a bit too much. I had gotten into the habit of stashing pieces away for other characters from playing ARPGs years ago, but there simply wasn’t enough space to make room for everything I’d found. I drove myself to the brink of madness trying to stay on top of my constantly expanding inventory, but I eventually had to come to terms with the fact I was going to end up scrapping a lot of items.
One minor change that I instantly fell in love with was the level requirements you’ll need to meet in order to use certain items. You’ll either have to reach a certain overall level in order to use that brand new wand you found or, if you already have enough dexterity and focus, you can start using it a few levels earlier giving you a massive advantage. It’s a minor change from the norm, but it’s a terrific idea that I hope gets picked up by other titles in the future.
With this level of diversity in both items and skill sets, it’s quite possible that you’ll never come across another player set up the way you are. The door for unique builds has been left wide open by Runic Games here, and I can’t wait to see what people come up with.
Sadly, Torchlight II falls a bit short when it comes to level design. The environments are varied, but nothing here stands out as anything special. We’ve seen variations of most of these environments in the past, so don’t expect to be wowed simply by walking around. However, Torchlight II more than makes up for this with the creativity put into its bosses. The colorful characters break away from the standard ARPG strategy of simply spamming attacks at you in favor of summoning clones and setting traps. It’s still not the deepest gameplay in the world, but in terms of what you should normally expect from the genre it’s fairly revolutionary.
Torchlight II’s visuals may seem a bit cartoony at first glance, but don’t be fooled by the bright color scheme. The game’s art style is incredibly welcoming, and I often found myself upset that I had to pan the camera out as far as I did. I had to make the difficult choice between being able to take in the detail and bright aesthetics in favor of being able to play more efficiently. The soundtrack pairs perfectly with the game’s frantic pace. Matt Uleman of Diablo fame really did a fantastic job of creating music that worked with what you see on screen without ever overpowering it.
The game itself should take you anywhere from 25-30 hours on the first play through, although I imagine that many gamers will fall under that. The story is forgettable for the most part, and even while I’m sitting here writing this I’m not 100% sure what it is I’ve supposedly accomplished. ARPGs aren’t usually known for their plot lines and Torchlight II’s plot is simply mediocre.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing here to keep you coming back to the table. The truth is that between the constant search for better loot, four character classes with seemingly unlimited customization options and new game +, there is a wealth of reasons to keep playing. My current Engineer focused solely on swinging the biggest weapons he could find as fast as he could while laying down some fire for crowd control. I could easily start a brand new Engineer right now that would play out completely different than my current build and have a brand new game waiting for me.
We delayed this review because we wanted to see how the multiplayer would hold up under some real world testing. The servers were overloaded when the game launched locking many players out of the multiplayer mode. While this has been seemingly resolved over the course of the day, Runic Games was quick to point out that you could still play single player, as well as bring that character over to the multiplayer mode when the servers were under control. The server browser itself is lacking in a few areas. You can set a filter to find games with your friends in them, preferred difficulty, or games that are only open to players in your level range. There’s nothing wrong with the server browser per say, but it could have been vastly improved with a few more search options.
Once you’re in a game, you and up to five of your friends can march across the landscape leaving piles of bodies and loot in your wake. There’s no penalty for having friends in your game, so I had no problem joining the game of a low level friend simply to make use of the in game chat function while we worked on different acts. As is the case with most ARPGs, you’re going to want to play with a team especially as you get to the later acts. Not only does it make the game a bit more manageable when you have 6 people hacking away at a boss, it’s simply more fun.
While this isn’t a selling point, there is some rudimentary PVP to be found. Both players will have to flag themselves as hostile by typing /pvp into the chat before action can commence which eliminates the chance of being ganked unexpectedly. It’s not a deep system, and I doubt it will keep anyone’s attention for more than a few moments here and there, but the mechanic is there if you’d like to use it.
Even with all of this being said, I’ve blatantly ignored the elephant in the room. There’s one question on the mind of most gamers right now, and that’s “Is Torchlight II better than Diablo III”. Well, the truth is an answer that is going to please absolutely nobody, and that’s a giant “maybe”. Torchlight II is the game many of us wished Diablo III would have been right out of the gate. It’s closer to Diablo II than Diablo III ever was, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Some of the mechanics Torchlight II brought back seem archaic when compared to Diablo’s streamlined gameplay. The important thing that gamers need to remember here is that while these two share a genre, that’s about where the similarities end. Just as you can enjoy both the Battlefield and Call of Duty series, there is absolutely no reason you can’t enjoy both of these games.
Torchlight II may not have revolutionized the ARPG marketplace, but it has set a new standard for games to live up to. While using many mechanics that were dismissed as “old school” or archaic, Runic Games has created a rewarding game that offers the players exactly what they were looking for. It’s marred by a few glitches here and there, a bland story, and a few questionable decisions made by the development team, however this is a game that will make a lot of player’s Game of the Year list come December. Fans of the genre will find a lot to love here while newcomers would be hard pressed to find a better place to join in.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.