Twice as high as the other guy!

Torchlight II review
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Torchlight II review

This is what Diablo III should have been.
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The verdict:

9

Torchlight II is possibly one of the best games I have played this year. It’s fast, fun, constantly evolving and always feels fresh. Almost every issue encountered in the original Torchlight has been fixed, and the game has been made even better on top of that. Runic Games have taken their “Diablo spin-off” and turned it into something incredible.

Torchlight II, like the Diablo series, involves players controlling a character from a third-person, isometric point-of-view, clicking on enemies to attack them with an array of different skills and weapons. Character equipment is randomly generated upon defeating enemies, opening chests and breaking other destructibles. The environments are also randomly generated, so no two games are the same.

As a huge Diablo fan, let me just say that this is what Diablo 3 should have been.

Gameplay

The game itself has improved dramatically since the first installment. In fact, just about everything wrong, annoying, broken or missing in Torchlight has been improved, removed, fixed or included in Torchlight II. It’s absolutely astounding to see Runic Games listening to their audience and taking their advice on board!

Possibly the biggest improvement for me is the difficulty. As in, Torchlight III is actually difficult. Anyone who played the first Torchlight would have noticed how easy it was straight away, and even playing on the highest possible difficulty was just a walk in the park, mostly spent chain-chugging potions. However, things have changed. The lower difficulties are still super easy, as they should be, but the Veteran and Elite difficulties are much more of a challenge! Don’t be fooled by the slowness of the first act. This is great for people like me who hate mashing buttons and watching enemies die; something which is all too common in action games these days. Yes, God of War, I am looking at you.

The next biggest improvement is the world itself. In Torchlight, you spent all day in the town of Torchlight (yes, the game was named after the town) and all night in a single, corridor-ridden dungeon. Kind of like the first Diablo, actually. In Torchlight II, however, you get 4 towns – one for each act – and a sprawling, open-world environment to traverse and fight monsters to your heart’s content. The maps are absolutely huge, and there are heaps of secret areas and dungeons to find and explore, many of which have different environments and enemy sets which provide a constant change of scenery and play styles. The best part about it is that the world is randomly generated, so no two playthroughs will ever be the same. This leads me to my biggest complaint: I want more!

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Then there’s the pacing. Oh, wow. This is my favourite thing about the whole game. If this game was just a little bit slower, I would not like it half as much as I do. You can go from being the Incredible Hulk to his splattered remains in just a couple of seconds. You have to dodge and weave and execute skills without hesitation. You have to make tactical decisions within a heartbeat. If you don’t, you become the Incredible Hulk’s remains. It is incredibly fun and a huge improvement over the first Torchlight which felt slow and clunky in comparison.

Pacing in terms of progression is equally as good. You’ll probably spend about 30 minutes at any one character level, and maybe only a few hours in any Act. This ensures that the game is constantly moving. At no point does gameplay feel as though it is packed with filler, or has been purposely slowed down for the sake of stretching it out. Torchlight II evolves legitimately. Loot also changes accordingly and so you never get to a point where you feel like your character is the best he / she will ever get. Even when you’ve had enough of that character you can just start another one. Since it doesn’t take hundreds of hours to reach the level cap and less to finish the game, starting a new character doesn’t feel like a chore and is just as fun as playing your first character.

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To elaborate on that last point, Torchlight II was designed to be multiple-character friendly. This is similar to other games of the kind, like those in the Diablo series or Borderlands, where you have different characters with different skill sets. However, due to the skill system, this feature is closer to that of Diablo 2 as you can have several different versions of the same character and still not feel like you’re repeating anything. This is because the skill system is designed so that you can’t re-spec, save for salvaging the last three skill points you spent for a price. Due to this, you can build a new character every single time. For example, my main character is an Outlander which specialises in glaives and evasion, and uses pistols with mana regeneration to regain the mana that he expends very quickly. I could also create an Outlander with maxed out summoning skills and wield a bow so I can attack from a distance. Or maybe I can create an Outlander which strikes with two-handed swords, and uses skills which slow, trap and weaken enemies so as to make every strike deadly and effective. There are no rules and infinite possibilities, which keep the game from feeling repetitive whenever you create a new character.

Now let me give a bit of attention to the skill trees used in Torchlight II. Sure, there’s nothing new in the fact that you get four characters with different skill sets, and the fact that new skills are unlocked at higher levels. However, there are two things that really stand out to me. Firstly, the only restriction on using a skill is your character’s level. This is a great departure from skill trees used in many games today, which require points being spent in a particular tree to unlock more skills, as it allows you to use whatever skill you desire and customise your build in any way imaginable. Secondly, every skill has three different tiers which are unlocked when the skill reaches level 5, level 10 and level 15 respectively. These tiers unlock perks for the particular skill and can make a skill significantly more powerful. I absolutely love this particular change as putting extra points into a skill no longer feels like it is necessary but, instead, a means to an end.

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Then there’s the pet: the staple of Torchlight gameplay. Your pet is a vicious (or cute) beast which helps you out by soaking up damage, biting and clawing enemies, and casting any spells you teach him. The other incredible thing your pet does is act as extra storage for all the junk you don’t need. It gets better, though: it can even go back to town and sell it all for you, allowing you to continue slaughtering your enemies. It gets even better! In Torchlight II, the pet can even buy potions and scrolls for you, meaning you never have to go back to town again. Your pet still transforms when fed fish, just like in the original Torchlight, and this is even more fun given the larger variety of fish in this game. Finally, the number of pets that you can get in Torchlight II is astounding. Seriously, you can have a pet bulldog. A bulldog!

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Finally, the greatest addition to Torchlight II ever: multiplayer! Yes, I know it seems like a no-brainer these days, but the original Torchlight was single-player only. Therefore, this is a great addition to the game. Multiplayer involves players working together to tackle the forces of evil, which become stronger when new players join a server. I’m also happy to see that everyone gets their own loot, because I absolutely hate it when some greedy bastard comes along and steals all my hard-earned loot. Sadly, these greedy bastards are my friends. Multiplayer runs beautifully and you can use any one of your characters, which are all stored locally. Oh, Blizzard, you’ve fallen so far with your “must be connected to our servers at all times even to play the game on your own”.

Combat

While I have already touched on combat in the previous section, I want to discuss it in much more detail as the combat mechanics in Torchlight II are exceptional. I don’t think I have ever played a game where killing enemies is just so damn fun! At no point does it feel like I’ve been repeating the same actions over and over. Combat is always fun and exciting, and I never want to stop.

As I’ve stated before, the speed of this game is incredibly fun. You can’t stop moving or attacking for even a second, as doing so will result in a very quick death. It’s completely insane, but I love every minute of it. You can even crank up the intensity by playing on a higher difficulty. After all, playing on casual is pretty cruisy. Playing on elite, on the other hand, is a serious challenge and you’ll need to be completely focused on the game in order to not die.

Add this to the fact that just about everything explodes in this game, and you have a recipe for awesomeness! If you’re not making barrels, crates and other oddly-placed destructibles splinter into a million pieces for your own amusement, you’ll be launching explosive attacks at your enemies or even just spamming skills for the fun of seeing the world go boom. It’s ridiculously fun and impossible to get bored of.

 

Oh, and the boss battles? Amazing. No, there are no scripted events or fancy cut-scenes or – God forbid – quick time events. Instead, every boss has their own unique skills and set of minions ready to jump out at you. Every battle is a good 5-10 minutes of blasting through hordes of enemies, dodging powerful attacks, and trying to maintain an assault against the boss itself. Damn it is so much fun! The bests part about boss battles, though, is that their fun draws from the game’s combat mechanics themselves, as opposed to being a scripted event. This means there are no gimmicks and that the battles are “organic”.

The stats and perks that you get from skills and loot have also been refined. Torchlight II takes a “pile them on” approach, meaning that having, say, a single HP boost from your helmet will not mean much, but a HP boost from all your items will make you indestructible. This is brilliant as it requires you to design a build for your character, and not just slap any old parts and pieces together. As a result, combat can be far more tactical and you may need a sound plan before blasting off into a crowd of hungry undead.

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Then there’s my favourite part: dying. Dying is so inconsequential in Torchlight II. No, really! Upon death, you are given two or three choices to make. The first is to return to town without taking any penalty, the second is to resurrect at the beginning of the area and lose 10% of your money, and the third, if playing on normal or casual difficulties, is to resurrect where you stand but at a significantly higher cost. Given that you can spend all your cash before entering the battlefield, it means you can resurrect either where you stand or in the area for next to nothing. Very inconsequential.

Oddly enough, I think this is a brilliant idea. I enjoy the fact that I can get straight back into the action without having to backtrack too much, or dodge the very enemies that just killed me to get my gear back, as was the case in Diablo 2. Then again, there is the hardcore mode. So if you do want to be incredibly stressed out, crank up the difficulty and play on hardcore. Good luck to you, though!

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There is one thing that does annoy me in Torchlight II, though. It’s a combination of overzealous automatic pathing and bad hit detection. Let me give an example. I’m playing as my main character, an Outlander whose primary method of attack is throwing glaives. He’s a very squishy character and can only take a couple of hits before dying, which I make up for by keeping my distance and using Rune Vault (an evasive backflip) or Glaive Sweep (a spinning attack which knocks back nearby foes). I see an enemy behind a low-lying obstruction and think, “attack the sucker!”. So I hit “1”, which is my hotkey for my Glaive Throw attack, and immediately begin panicking when I see my Outlander has run around the obstruction to stand right next to the enemy, where he then decides to throw a glaive in the enemy’s face. It’s as funny as it is annoying!

Overall, combat is brilliant in Torchlight II and every moment of it is fun. In fact, this game hosts some of the best combat mechanics that I have seen in a long time. There are no gimmicks, just straight up fun!

Loot

Now it’s time to discuss the most brilliant feature in Torchlight II: the way loot is handled. Enemies, chests and mission rewards provide you with different pieces of armour and weapons. All of these pieces can have a few stat bonuses and perks on them, and all serve different functions. For example, You can have a sword, which deals varying damage in a wide arc, that can absorb 30 life per hit. Or perhaps you can have a unique helmet which provides five different bonuses. Or maybe you can get a pair of boots which are part of a set, and by finding and equipping other items of the same set, you can get powerful perks depending on how many items you have from that set. Then combine this with enchanting, where you can pay for random bonuses to be added to your item, and socketing, where you can insert gems into socketable items which give bonuses specific to the gem, and you have endless equipment possibilities.

One of the first things that sticks out with the loot system, though, is the way sets are handled. In many games that include randomised loot and, in particular, sets for that loot, I find that sets consist of items which have specific stats and bonuses. In Torchlight 2, however, sets are handled just like any other bonus in that they are randomly generated upon being dropped. Of course, this is limited by the item’s type and it’s level, but it still provides heaps of opportunity to build your character that way you desire. As a result of this, you don’t need to stick to particular items and wait for something better to drop. Instead, you keep swapping and changing your equipment as you find something better, because you will find something better eventually (assuming you’re not at max level and already have amazing loot).

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More on that point about finding better loot: given the number of item tiers available to the player and the possibilities granted by stats and perks, the items you use will be changing constantly. You’ll be lucky to keep anything for more than a few hours, and when you do, it will be something really fantastic or something that bolsters your build significantly. This is far different than my experience of Diablo 3, which basically involved finding nothing useful for hours at a time, and then getting a new item which was slightly better. Combine that with the slow pace of Diablo 3, and the fact that characters are so useless without incredibly rare equipment, and you have a scenario where your best option is to farm. Torchlight II gives you useful equipment from beginning to end, making loot very satisfying.

The satisfaction doesn’t end there, though. For every boss or unique enemy you defeat, you get heaps of loot. For every major battle you win, you get a chest with heaps of loot. There are golden chests in some areas, which provide heaps of brilliant loot when opened with a golden key. Exploring a little will also reveal chests and secret locations which give heaps of loot as a reward. Basically, every time you do achieve something in-game or spend some time exploring, you’re given a bunch of loot as a reward. The loot may or may not be good, but it is always satisfying being rewarded for your achievements and finds. Combine that with the huge space in your inventory, and a pet which can go to town and sell all that loot, and you have a loot system which is unbelievably fun. Thank you for the new addiction, Runic Games.

 

Sound

By “sound”, I refer to two things: the sound effects and the music. The sound effects are well done, but not perfect. You get audio cues for most actions in the game, but since there can be so much going on at any time, a lot of that information can get lost. It can also get quite annoying at times. Seriously, try using a skill repeatedly and tell me the casting noise for that skill doesn’t get to you. I dare you. However, one feature I really enjoyed was the spoken alerts. For example, every time your pet gets injured and flees, you hear the words, “your pet is fleeing” or, “your pet is badly wounded”. It is really convenient. The one which tells you that you have died is pretty useless, though. I mean, it’s kind of obvious when you die because your character is – um – dead. Do I really need to be told that I have died? It just feels like I’m being insulted.

Music and ambient sound is absolutely beautiful, on the other hand. Composed by Matt Uelman, who also composed the soundtrack for Diablo and Diablo II,  the soundtrack really creates the feeling of “being there”. The music is incredibly atmospheric and a wonder to listen to. Combined with the ambient sound, the game really does come to life. Also, I want to give special mention to the Mapworks theme. It’s just incredible.

Visuals

While they’re not the most advanced or realistic graphics out there, the visuals in Torchlight II look superb. The cartoony, simplistic style has really come to life since the last game and is such a pleasure to look at. Character and equipment models are charming and enemies stick to that same art style. It is a real pleasure to see such a pretty game of this sort, as opposed to having to watch another Diablo 3, where rooms are covered in so much blood that they may as well be red, and everything else just looks washed out and dull.

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Every skill has its own animation that is bright and flashy. In fact everything in the game is bright and flashy. Even areas that are supposed to be washed out in a single colour, such as “Nether” realms, look beautiful and don’t break from the art style of the game. There is an ongoing complaint about how flashy the game is, where people have been complaining that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of everything on screen. However, I have never had a problem with it and found that by constantly looking at my targets, I hardly get confused.

Finally, it’s really good to see that the field of view has been increased. One of the biggest issues with the first Torchlight is that it had a short field of view and the whole game just felt “zoomed in”. Runic Games have fixed this by setting the camera much further back, the only problem being that the game is so fast-paced that it should be set back further!


This game was reviewed by Doublejump co-founder Luke Larobina. Thank you for your contribution! 

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