There was a lot of hype for Torchlight 2. The first game was very good mechanically, but when it came to its storyline, it fell short of its influences by a rather wide margin. Torchlight 2 aims to fix that and, as such, had the hopes of many on its shoulders. Then Diablo 3 was released and those who were disappointed turned to Torchlight 2 to bridge the gap they felt Diablo 3 failed to fill.
That is a lot of pressure for one relatively small developer to withstand but then again Runic Games is staffed by the co-founders of Blizzard North – ie, they created Diablo and Diablo 2. Add to that the creator of Fate, another aRPG, and Flagship Studios (which was made up of largely Blizzard North employees that worked on the Diablo games), and you’ve got a line-up of experienced developers who have all worked on something big in the genre. With that kind of pedigree it was difficult to think that Torchlight 2 wouldn’t be good, and with good reason.
Torchlight 2 is almost perfect as a classic-styled aRPG. It is the evolution everyone wanted – it’s a Diablo-like in a modern format and, as such, it’s genuinely difficult to fault in and of itself. Set years after the first game, T2 has you chasing the Alchemist (one of the classes in the first game), who has become corrupted by the Ember Blight coming from the heart of Ordrak (the final boss in the first game) after he destroys the town of Torchlight. The hunt takes you across various environments throughout 4 acts (if you’ve played any aRPG that does similar you can probably guess the main environments).[drop]As far as the storyline goes, it’s clear that Runic are trying, but it’s not great and far from memorable. At no point was I really interested in why I was cutting my way through legions of enemies, and whilst the cut-scenes between acts are quite nice, the majority of the storytelling is done through blocks of text, either from ‘talking’ to NPCs or reading books.
A certain other game’s storyline may have been predictable but it was at least interesting at times, whereas after playing through T2 (which took about 21 hours for my first play through) I have only vague recollections of what actually happened. Something about guardians, something about a sphinx, something about ember.
What the game does best is gameplay; it’s fast-paced and unreasonably entertaining. You’ll be covering a lot of ground quickly and killing enemies rarely feels dull, whether they’re exploding at the strike of your sword or they’re collapsing as your whirlwind tears through them, Torchlight 2 does an excellent job of making you feel powerful. It lacks the physics engine other games in the genre have so you’ll never get to send enemies flying in all directions but seeing them all explode into a red mist is almost as satisfying.
Much like the first game, its steampunk styling means guns are present and, despite having first tried a shotgonne (shotgun, if you really need that translated) and not liking it, I quickly grew to love them as an Outlander. A shotgun deals damage at a relatively short range, but in an arc, so it’s perfect for taking out the groups of enemies that are inevitably getting closer. Pistols can be dual-wielded for some fast damage output at a longer range and cannons are essentially the same as shotgonnes. However, bows and crossbows feel far less satisfying that the guns due to their less, well, explosive nature. They have longer range than shotgonnes/cannons and pistols.
The Outlander specialises in a combination of ranged weaponry and magic, whilst the Ember Mage is all magic, the Berseker is all melee and the Engineer is the one to choose if you like pets. Each one has a different charge bar that gives you additional benefits as you kill enemies – the Outlander, for example, gains crit chance, dodge chance, attack speed and cast speed as the bar fills, whereas the Engineer’s bar is split into sections that, once filled, are used up by certain skills to enhance their power. Each class has skills that can increase the rate at which their charge bar increases.
Levelling is exactly as you would expect; you get five attribute points to put into your attributes and a skill point every time you level up, plus you get an additional skill point every time your fame levels up, which is increased by killing champions. All skills can have 15 skill points sunk into them, with each point very slightly increasing its effects. This is classic aRPG form but it’s something I had wished the genre had grown out of – it feels archaic and dull to increase skills by so little at a time. They have tried to combat this by having active skills (as opposed to passive skills) also gain an additional benefit every five skill points but it doesn’t really do enough to alleviate the issue. It’s not really a big problem, but it feels dull and slow in a game that is otherwise so exciting and fast.
Graphically, its cartoony style is likely to split people’s opinions. Its aesthetic is one that is very pretty despite the game’s slightly lower graphical capabilities. The steampunk influence is obvious and relatively unique in the genre, and it’s all bright, colourful and, most notably, happy. There’s no seriousness or grimdark to be found and even the darker environments are still pleasing shades of deeper blues that feel distinctly light-hearted. Whether or not you like it will be down to your preference for aesthetic; I personally enjoy it.[drop2]The loot system is as you might expect too, green is a magic item, blue is more powerful, purple is a set item, yellow is a unique item and red is legendary. In 26 hours of play I am yet to find a legendary item and the previous eight unique items I’ve found with my Outlander were specific to other classes, so I was unable to use them.
That might just be tremendously bad luck but I can’t help but feel frustrated with that kind of losing streak. It could also be that uniques drop too often but there are too few of them to choose from, which is reinforced by my finding the same unique pistol twice about 15 feet apart. After act 2, there is a transmuter in town that can transmute four unique items into one random unique item – both times I used it I got a unique item that was specific to another class. I was so frustrated I had to stop playing the game for a day.
Other useful NPCs include the gem NPCs; one to keep the gem and destroy the item and another to do the opposite, the enchanter imbues items with random effects (you can find master enchanters in dungeons who are more powerful than the enchanter in town, however) and the gambler, who will let you buy an unidentified item should you be willing to take the risk. There are also the traders, of course, though you don’t need them too often thanks to your pet, who is not only capable at combat and can be transformed into other creatures using fish, but can also be sent back to town to sell items and buy potions and scrolls.
Exactly how a ferret carries all that gear or how it communicates how many mana potions it needs to buy to the trader is not explained, but I like to imagine a game of furry charades.
As far as the end-game content goes, there’s a lot to do. In addition to the obvious new game +, there’s also the Mapworks, which allows you to buy a map from an NPC and go into it. It re-uses previous content to provide a lot of dungeons through which you can continue plundering and slashing. And don’t forget that there’s multiplayer for 2-6 players this time around. Loot isn’t shared so you don’t have to worry about people stealing your amazing drops, either. The combination of the Mapworks and multiplayer is almost certain to provide a huge amount of additional play time for you.
- Fast-paced and satisfying combat.
- The cartoon steampunk style is very pretty.
- Loot is plentiful.
- End-game has plenty of content.
- Multiplayer for 2-6 players.
- Only £15!
- Storyline is a bit dull.
- Skill system feels a little outdated.
- A few bugs.
Overall, Torchlight 2 manages to polish the Diablo-like formula to an almost mirrored shine. This right here is the spiritual sequel to Diablo 2 and, whilst it might not be be likely to influence the future of the aRPG genre due to a lack of innovation, it’s got the classic mechanics down in a modern game, and that’s exactly what was asked of it.