Torchlight II ReviewOmar Elaasar
Click click click. It's all about the rhythm.
Click click click. Shoot, bash, backflip.
Click click click. Loot loot loot.
For all its detailed stats, loot, and skill trees, the Action RPG genre has never been about sophistication. While it is of course appreciated, in the end all that matters is the rhythm of the mayhem, death, and piles of loot. Everything else is just gravy. So does Torchlight II get the beat? Or is it a sloppy slush of ideas?
Well, let's introduce the cooks in the kitchen, eh? Runic Games, the team behind Torchlight II, is a group made up in part by the designers responsible for bringing you Fate, and Diablo, the devilish parent of the genre. It definitely shows as well. The pet system is lifted straight from Fate, and right from the start, Torchlight II shows that it's got a grip on the core concepts that comprise the genre. From there on out, it's all in the details.
There are a lot of details to go over as well. The biggest one of course is the addition of online multiplayer to this entry in the series. In addition to the single player offline game, you take your campaign both online and to your local area network. The server browser is serviceable, and provides all the necessary filters and info, as well as a friends list to keep up with your friends. It does require signing up for a free Runic Games account, which is an annoyance, but easily dealt with. It also has built-in support for mods, and the community has already created mods to do everything from allow you to repsec your character, to change the control of your camera. It's quite possible that a lot of interesting things will come out of it, and that it will give the community some longevity as the game ages.
But the game itself? Is it good? Well, yeah. More importantly, it's also smart. Runic has been refining their craft, and I can safely say that they've created one of the most polished and streamlined ARPGs available. Attacks produce a chunky impact, and battles create a rewarding visual spectacle that generally ends with explosions of gore and loot. It's almost as if all of the monsters in the world consumed lots of explosives and expensive equipment. The different classes allow you different approaches to this loot hounding. The Berserker gets in the face of enemies and cuts them down with a barrage of attacks, Embermages rain magic and elemental spells, Engineers set up various murderous gadgets, and Outlanders use a combination of magic and guns to set up chains of damage. Personally, I spent a lot of time as an Outlander. The gunplay allowed me to kite enemies around the area, while my skills allowed me to chain attacks via my projectile glaive and special effects. When I gained the Rune Vault skill, the game became even more active, as I leaped away and over enemies, occasionally blinding them in the process.
This is where Torchlight II excels, in the activity and spectacle of the game. There's always an objective to follow, some enemies to strike down, and crevices and parts of the map waiting to be explored. Additionally, the Charge mechanic constantly pushes you into combat. Keeping a chain of kills and hits going builds up Charge, which allows the different classes appropriate buffs, ranging from a critical inducing rage state, to a buildup that allows mana free spellcasting. Many skills also add to this momentum by providing charge complementing effects. For example, achieving the aforementioned rage state with the Berzerker turns all your attacks into criticals. With a complementing skill, each critical hit will restore a portion of your health. It's a complex system, with three skill trees for each class. You can mix and match, but it's better to specialize, especially given the slow progression of skills and bonuses gaining from reaching certain tiers of skills. It's one of the shortcomings of the game. Unless you take the time to plan ahead, you'll likely end up purchasing a few too many skills that you don't need, and end up with many weak skills that don't quite help you out.
I'm nitpicking of course, but it stands out precisely because Runic have seen fit to eliminate a lot of the nitpicks of the genre. Critical to this is the Pet system. Each character starts off with a pet, which you can get to fight for you, carry a pack of loot, or send off to sell unneeded loot and purchase potions and scrolls. It's smart, and eliminates the constant portalling back and forth to the town that many ARPGs suffer from. Aside from times when you'll need to make a hasty retreat, you'll spend your time hacking and slashing in the dungeons and wild lands, instead of fighting your inventory and selling gear. There are even shortcuts that allow you to quickly open and close all menus, as well as quickly transfer items between storage spaces and shops. It's quick, it's pacy, and it keeps that forward rhythm going.
The presentation makes a statement for itself as well. The smooth shaded and colorful artwork creates strong, readable silhouettes for characters and enemies, which makes it easy to identify and react to enemies on sight. The HUD also does a great deal to give you enough information to help you out, while not overwhelming you. Hovering on enemies shows you their health, status, and various special attacks. Runic Games has even added visual and audio cues to let you know when your mana or health is running low. The sound design, while not quite incredible, is enjoyable, and brings good audible feedback to every action ranging from gibbing an enemy to opening a menu. The ambiance sets quite a mood for each area as well, and the soundtrack brings sweeping emotion to the scene, even if the atmosphere doesn't quite justify it at times.
Torchlight II is a well-polished, enjoyable romp of violence and treasure. What's not to like? Well, the randomly generated landscapes are a bit of disappointment, for starters. While the layout of the map does change with each play, in practice you'll still see yourself following a similar path with each play. The save system can get nervy, bouncing you back to the town upon exit, and not being able to change difficulties without starting an online or local game is an annoyance as well. It's got a few bugs still in as well. At times you'll find yourself slipping through a crack in the wall and having to quit and restart to be able to get out. Occasionally, upon returning to the game certain parts of the map will become unexplored again, though sometimes it will be only your map progress that isn't saved: loot and monsters killed will remain taken care of. The skill respec system is an irritation as well, only allowing you to respec to a certain point, and inflicting penalties as well. The story is probably the biggest letdown, however. While the art design and lore hint at a deeper world, overall the story and objectives are reduced to nothing but flavor text that you'll find yourself hastily clicking through to get to your next reward.
Again, small nitpicks, but it would be hard to pick them out had Runic not already proved it's capable of much better. The biggest reservation I have about Torchlight II, however, is not quite related to the game itself, but to some overarching conventions of the genre. Simply put, Torchlight is a grind. While smart distribution of skills and attributes, along with skillful application and approaches in combat, all of those decisions will only get you so far. It's not so much noticeable on normal difficulty, which generally moves at just the right pace to your experience level, but on harder difficulties it becomes apparent that at some point you might need to hunker down and do some grinding. At this point you can get your friends in and tackle it together, but I found that unless you specifically built your characters to complement each other, it didn't quite change the dynamic of the game. It's of course, still better with friends, but then what isn't?
Torchlight II is a meaty, polished, and compulsive entry to the world of ARPGs. It's not going to challenge the status quo, but for a good amount of evenings spent delving into dungeons and returning with fancy loot, Torchlight II is definitely worth playing. My recommendation? Get a few friends to adventure with, strike up your favorite podcast, radio station, or playlist, and click to your heart's content.
Click click click.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Omar Elaasar is an hobbyist artist, writer, and game developer, and is dedicated to playing obscure games in order to maintain his status as a most pretentious hipster.
About the Author: Omar Elaasar
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