Posted by Steven Carter at 7:39 pm on 09.30.2012 (8 months ago)
Torchlight II is the follow-up to 2009's action RPG Torchlight. It's definitely a "more" sequel, as developer Runic Games has added in more classes, more pets, more skills, a bigger world, and, well, more. But do these additions actually improve the game, or is it just meaningless excess? Keep reading to find out.
Torchlight II comes with four character classes: Berserkers (animalistic melee specialists), Embermages (magic specialists), Engineers (heavy weapons specialists), and Outlanders (ranged specialists). Each class gets 30 unique skills organized under three trees, and each skill has 15 ranks. If you played Torchlight, then you can already see the "more" nature of Torchlight II, as Torchlight only had three classes, 30 non-unique skills per class, and 10 ranks per skill. The difference is that you're given way more directions to go in Torchlight II, and so two characters -- whether they have the same class or not -- might not play anything alike.
As an example, when I played through the campaign, I used a Berserker, and I had him focus mostly on the Tundra tree. That meant he could use Stormclaw to add electrical damage to his attacks, Permafrost to damage and freeze all enemies around him, and Cold Steel Mastery to improve his melee and cold damage. Other Berserkers might choose the Hunter tree for clawing skills, or the Shadow tree for shadow wolf skills, or some combination of the three. One of the nice things about Torchlight II is that the only prerequisite for skills is your level, and so you can cherry pick the ones you like best. Each tree also has three passive skills, so if you don't like juggling a lot of active skills, you can make things simpler on yourself.
Each character also has four attributes: Strength (physical damage), Dexterity (critical chance and dodge chance), Focus (mana points and magical damage), and Vitality (health and armor). This is completely different than how attributes worked in Torchlight, but the change is effective. All of the attributes are important for all characters, and so you might need to think about how you allocate the attribute points you receive each time you gain a level.
Finally, when you create your character, you also get to choose a gender and an appearance (both of which were fixed in Torchlight), and a pet. There are eight pets available, including hawks, ferrets and bulldogs, but as far as I can tell they're all identical except for their appearance. Pets work about the same in Torchight II as they did in Torchlight -- they help in battle and give you extra storage space -- but now along with returning to town to sell items for you, they can also buy staples (potions, scrolls) that you might be low on.
The controls in Torchlight II are identical to what they were in Torchlight. You left click to move, interact with something, or use your standard attack on an enemy; you right click to use a skill or a spell; you press tab to switch between two right-click skills / spells; you press w to switch between two weapon sets; you press shift to attack without moving; you press alt to highlight objects on the ground; and so forth. The control scheme was simple and effective in Torchlight (and dozens of other action RPGs that have used roughly the same system), and they work well again here.
One of the main differences between Torchlight and Torchlight II is the pace. After playing some Torchlight II, I went back and played a little Torchlight, and it sure seems like everything in Torchlight II moves about 25% faster. For a while this really bugged me, as I felt like I was stuck in permanent FF mode (and worse, when my Berserker started a frenzy, it was like 2X FF mode), but then I eventually got used to it. However, the pace means that the game is much more hectic than it used to be, especially in co-op games, and once you get mobbed by enemies, it's frequently difficult to tell what's going on, and you just have to start clicking like crazy to survive. That is, just because you enjoyed Torchlight, that doesn’t mean you'll enjoy Torchlight II, especially if you're a part of the older and slower generation.
I mentioned co-op games in the previous paragraph, and that's one of the shining new features in Torchlight II. Now in addition to playing solo, you can branch out via the Internet or a LAN to play with your friends. For the Internet mode to work, you have to register with Runic Games, but then they allow you to import your Steam friends, and so it's easy to get started. There's even a matchmaking service, so if you don't have any friends playing, you can look for public games that suit your needs. I only played a little of Torchlight II over the Internet, but I didn't notice any lag or synching issues, and the mode appears to work well. Better yet, if you don't want to play online, you're not forced to log into anything, and so the Internet isn't required.
Depending on how skilled you are with action RPGs, Torchlight II offers four difficulty modes (from "casual" to "elite"), plus a hardcore mode where your character can only die once. I played on the default "normal" mode with my Berserker, which I found to be mostly easy, but then I moved up to "veteran" when I created an Outlander and an Engineer, and that was more of a challenge. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any way to change the difficulty after creating your character, so if you find things too easy or too difficult, there isn't any way to make an adjustment.
Otherwise, what you do in Torchlight II is about the same as what you do in every other action RPG. You kill a bunch of stuff and you collect loot, over and over. Your character can wear 12 items and your pet three more, and these items range in quality from normal (white) to magical (green) to rare (blue) to set (purple) to unique (orange). There are also supposedly legendary items (according to the Steam achievements), but I never saw one so I have no idea what color they are. Set and unique items are fairly common (they even show up for sale in towns), which is nice, and it means you might actually be able to complete an item set without jumping through a lot of hoops or pestering your friends. Of course, to compensate for this, spells, which now include all of the utility skills from Torchlight (including Treasure Hunter and Weapons Expertise), have become strangely rare.
Some pieces of equipment have sockets, which means you can insert gems into them. Most gems are based on the different types of magical damage -- so fire gems add fire damage to weapons or fire protection to armor, for example -- but there are also some unique gems that offer different sorts of bonuses, including extra damage and health steal. As you play through the campaign, you'll gain access to vendors who can remove gems from items (by either destroying the gems or the item), and so there isn't any reason not to put gems into sockets as soon as you find them.
Finally, while Torchlight had an interesting enchanting system -- items could be enchanted over and over again, but each enchantment made it more likely that the item would get disenchanted instead -- Runic Games completely gutted that system in Torchlight II. Now items can only be enchanted at most three times, and they can only become disenchanted if you pay for it to happen (so you can try for better enchantments). Sadly, the enchanting system is far too expensive. I never had a lot of excess money in Torchlight II, and by the end of the campaign I could barely afford anything.
The campaign in Torchlight II revolves around an enemy hero called the Alchemist. As the game opens up, the Alchemist steals the heart of Ordrak (the end boss in Torchlight), and then using it starts stealing power from the Guardians so he can eventually destroy all ember everywhere. You then decide to stop the Alchemist, but you find yourself one step behind him for most of the campaign, and so you have to deal with his minions and the problems he leaves in his wake as you chase after him.
The good news is that because the campaign is a chase, that means you get to travel through forests, deserts, swamps, crypts, caves and more (which is a nice change of pace after all of the underground dungeons in Torchlight), and you get to fight against a whole slew of enemies including trolls, zombies, roaches, pirates and of course helicopters. The bad news is that while the look of the game changes, the gameplay remains the same. The enemies in particular are disappointing. They are colorful and varied, but they all blend together and they fight about the same. Contrast this to the Diablo games, where I'm guessing most people come away loving or hating some of the enemies because of their unique attacks or fighting style. In Torchlight II you might not even remember the names of the enemies at the end of the game.