In 2009, Runic Games, featuring developers that worked on Diablo I and II, released Torchlight, an action RPG that shared many similarities with the Diablo series. Considering its $20 price tag, Torchlight was an impressive game, but still felt like a younger brother of sorts when compared to the competition. With Torchlight II, Runic has expanded on everything that made the first game great to create a bigger, better experience, while adding co-op play. That Runic has created a game that stands shoulder to shoulder with the heavyweights of the genre is impressive; that they’ve done it at the same price as the original is nothing short of incredible.
In Torchlight II, you assume the role of one of four classes, setting out to restore balance to a world threatening to fall into chaos. The typical genre standards are represented, but with unique twists. The Engineer is a brawler, able to wield heavy weapons and create bots to assist him. The Berserker is swift fighter, able to channel his rage into animalistic attacks. The Outlander is a ranged fighter, proficient with guns and bows, and the Embermage focuses on magical, elemental attacks. All classes can be male or female, with minor customization of their appearance.
No matter the class, every character has four main attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality. As you level up you’ll gain points to add to those attributes, and how you spend them will depend on your class and how you want to build your character. When updating stats, you can see exactly what each one does, and the difference an extra point will make, giving you great information for making decisions. For those who want to get deeper, Torchlight II offers a wealth of information detailing every imaginable aspect of your character.
Along with attribute points, leveling up grants skill points, which can be used in a character’s three class-based skill sets. Each set has active skills as well as three passive ones, and rather than being a traditional tree style they unlock with level, so you’ll never have to invest in a skill you don’t want, to unlock one you do. Each skill has 15 levels, and active skills grant tier bonuses every five levels. Certain skills also have attributes that scale with your character level. For a price, some merchants can retrieve your last three spent skill points, giving you the ability to try skills without permanently committing to them.
Both your character class and skills relate to your charge bar, which builds as you attack enemies. How the charge is used depends on your class. Some of the Engineer’s skills can be enhanced by charge, making them more powerful. When an Embermage’s bar is full, they have a brief period where all spells cost no mana and do an additional 25% damage. A full charge bar for the Berserker creates a frenzied state where every attack results in a critical hit. Outlanders get a scaling bonus to attack levels based on the amount of charge they have.
Action RPG games are largely defined by the quantity and quality of their loot, and Torchlight II has a ton of great stuff to find. There are enchanted, rare and unique items, and also set items that grant bonuses based on how many items of the set you have equipped. There are plenty of equipment slots to fill, and in addition to basic damage or armor, there are lots of modifiers like elemental damage or armor to consider when comparing items. Certain merchants can also add enchantments to items, and pieces of ember can be placed in socketed items, enhancing their abilities. All items come with two sets of requirements, one based on level and the other on an attribute or combination of attributes, and you can equip the item as long as you fulfill one of them, which is really nice.
Your choice of weapon will depend on your character class and play style, and there’s never a lack of armaments to choose from. Damage and attack speed are combined into a damage per second attribute which, while not comprehensive, gives you a good bases for comparison. Item classes themselves have interesting trade-offs – for example melee weapons swing in an arc and hit multiple enemies, while claw weapons hit only one enemy, but ignore 60% of the enemy’s armor when doing damage. You can carry two sets of weapons at a time and switch between them easily, allowing you to be prepared for different combat scenarios.
You’re going to need help with all that loot, and Torchlight II brings back the best innovation from the original: the pet. You can choose one of six types of pet that will, in addition to aiding you in combat, provide extra carrying space and even go to town and sell unwanted items while you continue playing. This time, you can even send the pet with a shopping list, in case you’re running low on health potions or waypoint scrolls. It’s a fantastic device that lets you keep adventuring and collecting loot with as few breaks in the action as possible.
The game moves faster than a standard action RPG, and your enemies are as nimble as you are. Each class has a nice balance of available skills, so if you choose wisely you’ll be well equipped for any fight. Additionally, very few items are class specific, meaning range focused characters can keep a melee weapon handy for close combat, and vice versa. It’s really great when, as an Engineer toting a giant wrench, I can whip out a shotgun and blast a pesky flying enemy out of the sky.
Your character progression also moves quickly, especially if you’re playing in areas at or above your level, and even in the mid to late 20′s I found myself leveling up about 3 times an hour. It’s nice because it keeps you in a constant flow of skill points for a long time, giving you the opportunity to try out lots of different skills. It seems like the designers knew that players might be leveling more than they were used to, because loading screens display any unspent skill and attribute points you have, as a reminder.
The world in Torchlight II is huge, and in addition to main story quests there are plenty of side quests to be found. All of your current quests are displayed on the right side of the screen, color coded based on whether they are a main or side quest, and all of the pertinent locations are marked on your map. The only drawback is there doesn’t seem to be a way to view the whole map at once, so it’s not always easy to see what areas you haven’t explored yet.
The area variety is impressive in Torchlight II, and you’ll travel from field to frozen land, desert to dungeon. You’ll want to explore everything too, because the world is full of keys to open special chests, switches that open secret areas, and plungers that will combine with dynamite to blow up walls. Occasionally, killing a creature will result in a phase portal, which takes you to a separate area and challenges you to complete a specific task while being swarmed with enemies. There’s a lot going on, and I found myself wanting to cover every area of the map to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Each quest has a suggested level range, so you won’t accidentally wander into an area filled with enemies way above your level. When quests are presented you can see up front what the XP and gold rewards are, and most quests will also reward you with your choice of one of three items. It’s really nice to know the rewards beforehand, and more than once I rearranged my planned quest order to earn a specific item earlier.
The biggest complaint against Torchlight was that it was single player only, and Torchlight II addresses that with an online mode that supports up to six players. Each character gets their own loot, and you can easily trade items back and forth amongst your party. Enemy strength rises with each additional player, and all players get full XP for every monster killed, regardless of who does the killing. This makes for faster leveling, and a great way to help a friend at a lower level catch up fast.
Co-op is a blast, and in my experience flowed as smooth as playing by myself. The only knock against online play is it requires a separate login from your steam account, and it doesn’t carry over your friends list, meaning that you’ll need to manually add any friends you want to play with. Once that’s done though the matchmaking works fine, and it’s easy to find an open game or set up a private one, and have your friend join you. The online supports text chat only, so you’ll need Skype or something similar if you want to talk with your party.
Torchlight II retains and refines the visual style of the original, while keeping with its tradition of running on a wide variety of hardware (the original had a mode specifically for running on netbooks). On my laptop, with a mid-range graphics card, the game ran at a high resolution with all effects on the highest or second highest setting. The framerate was smooth throughout, even with lots of enemies and spell effects lighting up the screen.
The look and function of Torchlight II’s graphics is a very impressive feat. The rounded, cartoonish art style allows for lower system requirements, but it never feels like the game is sacrificing anything visually in the process. Runic Games has taken the challenge of running on lower system specs and turned it into a style that really stands out, and it looks great whether you’re running around the varied environments or shattering an enemy shield with an attack. One of my favorite effects is how characters turn into x-ray views when the camera is obstructed, which happens seamlessly and looks really cool.
The music in the game is great. It perfectly sets the tone and provides a nice backdrop, without ever getting in the way. In the heat of combat, I would forget it was there, only to find myself with a tune from the game stuck in my head later in the day. Combat sounds great and even incidental sounds, like the whirring and clicking of the Engineer’s healing bot are well suited and add to the experience. Almost all of the voice work in the game is great, but the voices for some of the non-human NPCs are just bad. It doesn’t come up much, so it’s not a big deal, but they really stood out from the rest.
Simply put, Torchlight II is a phenomenal game. It’s incredibly polished, and everything just feels like it’s in the right place when you’re playing. It’s tons of fun to play and never takes itself too seriously, and there are some great pop culture references sprinkled throughout. It’s a great pickup for both action RPG fans and newcomers alike, at $20 it’s the best bargain that there is in gaming, and something I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.