I want to start this review off with a wee bit of honesty; I did not plan on purchasing Torchlight II. Not only that, but I actually stated on a recent Cursed Checkpoint that after putting so much time into Diablo III, I didn’t really need any more clicking, dungeon crawling or loot hoarding. Had I maintained that stance, I would have missed out on not only the best action RPG to come out this year but a game I’m seriously considering as my personal GOTY.
A Familiar Smell
The Torchlight franchise could be considered an homage of sorts to the Diablo series (some of Diablo’s former developers are members of Runic Games) and as such, Torchlight II feels a lot like Diablo II. That is not to say that its a lackluster clone or does little to offer up significant originality, just that the influences are hard to ignore. The world you’re exploring has been expanded from a single village/unbelievably deep dungeon to hub towns and the lands surrounding them, all of which are separated into “Acts.” You also happen to be pursuing one of the original game’s heroes who just so happens to be consumed by the powers he was tasked to overcome in the original (though he doesn’t seem to have a demonic family that he’s trying to free).
Following with this trend, the system for character development involves allocating points to both stats (5 per level gained to strength, dexterity, focus or vitality) as well as to each of the classes’ many different active and passive skills (1 per level gained). This means that you’ll rarely find another player with the same build as you, which is an attractive point to those that like to differentiate themselves or like to experiment with unique builds. The downside, however, is that poor planning may leave you with a character that isn’t very effective so you’re actually going to have to think about how you want to play before blindly dumping points into different areas. You’ll really need to look at your character in terms of the long haul as leveling up doesn’t always give you the quick fix you might be used to, but intelligent design is rewarded once you being to get deeper into the game.
All in the Details
The stats themselves have a multitude of different functions outside of the obvious character improvements that have been tropes of RPG games for the last few decades. For instance, while strength allows you to do more damage with ALL weapons as well as allowing you to carry heavier equipment, it also increases the critical hit damage you do. Focus on the other hand, not only increases your mana supply and allows you to do more damage with magic, it also improves your chance to use dual-wielded weapons at the same time, which packs quite the wallop.
The skill “tree” has also been revamped quite a bit, giving each skill a maximum of 15 levels. At the fifth level of every skill you unlock that skill’s “Tier”, which adds secondary elements to your skills. This is where the planning/forward thinking comes into play because boosting having skills into higher tiers really improves their functionality. For instance, I have been playing as the Outlander and one of the first skills I had was a glaive throw that caused poison damage and bounced between enemies. At Tier 1, it would reflect 3 times but at Tier 3 it would reflect 7, which is an insanely effective way to control crowds. Each of the three trees also have some 3 passive skills, which are always “on” and compliment either your character or active skills.
Loot is an unavoidable talking point when it comes to these types of games and I’m happy to report that the loot system is just a polished and diverse as the skill/stat systems. One huge aspect of the loot that must be pointed out is the way in which the equipment requirements are handled. Instead of being based off of just a level or stat numbers, each piece of equipment has an “either/or” requirement attached to it. This means that to equip a certain sword you need to be either the level required or have the right number of points in a certain stat or combination of stats (so: Level 19 or 25 Str and 24 Dex). Also, every character can wield, dual wield or equip most any weapon or piece of equipment they find (with a few exceptions). Loot comes at a steady pace and ranges from useless to pants-poopingly useful with a few unique pieces along the way (I found an amulet that had a 5% chance to summon a flaming skull minion). There’s a helpful little menu in the character screen to show you how certain equipment attributes affect your character, so you’ll never be forced to choose blindly.
Let’s Kill Stuff!
The base functionality of weapons all work quite a bit differently from one another which means you’ll be focused on more than just DPS and attributes. Some weapon types do splash damage, some have different ranges, some interrupt an enemy’s attack and others may ignore a portion of an enemy’s armor. The ability to switch between weapon sets on the fly is also really nice as it gives you that many more options during combat. My Outlander dual wields pistols (which have a medium range) and I usually load up a shotgun (which attacks enemies in an arc) in case the baddies get too close.
Combat is fast and furious, with many flavors of monsters (and there are a ton in this game) all converging on you at once. If you’ve played an ARPG before then things will feel very natural, but it is worth noting that you will really want to get a handle on your build before venturing into the tougher battles and difficulty settings (yes, you get to pick your difficulty from the beginning). You’ll really need to utilize quite a bit of strategy as simply clicking until everything is dead will usually end with your own death. There were situations where the chaos was a bit overwhelming and, while I usually attribute that to my own issues, the response time from my character did feel slow every now and again. I died quite a bit, even in the beginning, which isn’t really a bad thing because I enjoy a challenge and the penalty for death isn’t too much (just gold, maybe a bit of pride).
The bosses I have encountered were entertaining battles, though they tended to rely on spamming you with other enemies as opposed to being a huge threat themselves. This was another annoyance I had with Torchlight II because the strategic tactics I really enjoy went out the window at times as I continuously circled, chugged potions and whittled away at their health while trying to cut down the endless minions that spawned.
The Buddy System
The odds are definitely against you at times, but fear not; this is a quest best done with a buddy of either NPC or human nature. The pets from the original are back. In addition to having all the functionality they did before (like fighting, learning spells and taking equipment back to town to sell) they can also bring back items you mark off on a shopping list. I found myself relying quite a bit on my cat, Scuffles, during the game and not just as a glorified pack horse/errand boy; that cat had some battle skills. It got all up in the grills of monsters both great and small, though I had to put her into defensive mode because she was picking too many fights. You have a bunch of different pets to choose from this time around such as panthers, wolves and even a ferret. As in the original they can be fed fish and transformed into different monsters (though I was cautious about turning my cute little feline friend into a spider or other monstrosity). Torchlight II also includes multiplayer modes (LAN or online) though I haven’t been able to take these for a spin quite yet. This was the biggest request from fans of the original and if the other additions are evidence, it is most likely as good as the rest of the package.
I think the most polarizing aspect of Torchlight II (outside of the skill system) is in its aesthetics. Everything about the game looks great, but the cartoony style and colorful animations could be off-putting to those that want to take a walk on the darker side of the fantasy genre. I personally like the art direction in Torchlight II despite being a gamer of the aforementioned mentality. Admittedly, though, there were times that it was a bit tough to murderize such cute little creatures.
While there is quite a bit of music and sound effects recycled from the previous game, overall the sound is pretty good. The goblins are probably the highlight of the sound design as they grunt and yell in a garbled little language that makes it sound as if they are really confused by the fact that they’re fighting you. It’s the little things I guess.
Torchlight II is well worth your time, whether you’ve slogged through endless hours of looting this year or haven’t played an isometric dungeon crawler since back in the day. There’s enough depth to keep veterans of the genre happy, though the adjustable difficulty level makes sure anyone can jump in and figure things out. And at 20 bucks, can you really say no?
Reflex Review – Like a memorable meal, some games make a big enough impression that you’ve got to tell other people about them before they’re fully digested.