Runic Games, made up of former Blizzard developers, made a splash in 2009 with Torchlight, an isometric role playing game that offered a fresh, fun and addicting experience despite its similarities with Blizzard’s Diablo. Its sequel, the aptly named Torchlight II, addresses many of the original game’s shortcomings and features a narrative that is longer and more substantial. Although it doesn’t venture too far away from the original formula, the larger world and inclusion of multiplayer makes the game just as addictive, if not more so.
Torchlight II opens after the events of the first game, with the hero clearing out the Torchlight ember mine by vanquishing the vile Ordrak and his puppet, the alchemist Alric. Sadly, evil is never truly vanquished and Ordrak’s return is heralded by the presence of a corrupted Alric who takes on the appearance of a giant, hulking Sauron-like figure. Torchlight is destroyed and the forces of good are scattered. In the wake of this new terror, the time is nigh for a new hero to rise and stop Ordrak as he seeks to destroy the four elemental Guardians.
Torchlight II will be instantly familiar to those who have played the last game.
For the rest, the structure of the game is built around completing a series of quests that advance the story or fulfill certain non-essential tasks and duties both of which yield familiar rewards: loot, cash and experience points. The game begins with character creation and although there are a few of different classes to choose from with their own unique abilities, you have the freedom to branch out a bit. For example, my Engineer is wildly proficient in two handed weapons but as long as I have the correct level and stat requirements I am free to use daggers, swords, guns, wands and magic spells. A skill tree opens your character up to additional abilities that are incredibly useful as long as you invest in them.
One of the game’s most noticeable differences is that the story no longer takes place within a centralized, multi-layered dungeon. Now that Ordrak and the Alchemist have become a global threat, the world itself acts as the central hub with dungeon entrances scattered all over the map. You’ll do a lot of moving around in the overworld but the majority of the action takes place within a series of randomly generated dungeons filled to the brim with monsters and bosses. If ever you need to speed back to town to take a break from combat, deliver a mission specific item, buy supplies or sell off surplus equipment a teleportation scroll can take you to the closest major city. Apart from profiting off unwanted gear, other city services include removing socketable gems from equipment (and vice versa), transmutation, enchantment and a vendor that specializes in selling random, unidentified items that require a Identify Scroll to determine their worth. You can stash items in either a personal trunk or one that can be shared across additional player-made characters.
Combat has largely been left untouched so expect to continually click the mouse buttons for hours on end. Clicking on an open patch of land will prompt your character to move to that space, while doing so over a creature will have your hero attack it. The speed with which your weapon swings on each click is dictated by the weight of your equipment. Swords, daggers and guns have a much quicker swing than two handed weapons like maces and hammers. Repeatedly clicking mouse will string attacks together and fill up a charge meter that greatly increases the strength, spread and effectiveness of power attacks and magic spells. Only two actions can be mapped to the mouse buttons but additional abilities can be placed within a hotbar.
Because it is so easy to get caught up in fighting monsters and collecting gear, there’s nothing worse than having to halt your progress in order to maintain inventory. That’s where the in-game pets come into play. Apart from helping out in battle, you can send your pet back to town at any time to sell off gear or purchase consumables (a new and incredibly useful feature). Pets can be modified by feeding them any breed of fish caught from fishing spots in and outside of town and have the capacity to boost their stats or transform them into different creatures.
If you grow tired of taking on the evil hordes by yourself, head into the Multiplayer mode (Internet or LAN) and team up with friends or random people to take on enemies that are considerably stronger than their single player counterparts. To facilitate stress free interactions between players, all loot is shared and can be collected without fear of cheating other players are getting called out for being greedy. Should multiplayer not be enough, try playing the game on harder difficulties for future playthroughs. Hardcore mode dramatically increases the strength of all monsters and death is permanent.
The game adopts the same World of Warcraft-like visual design of the first game. However, now that the game offers the chance to explore the world, it benefits from a significant change in scenery as quests will take you through snowy mountain passes, lush forests, and vast arid deserts. The dungeons themselves are designed well and whether they be abandoned temples, haunted labyrinths or dank cave systems, they look lived in and well worn. By taking the time to zoom in on your character, you’ll find the game looks just as great close up as it does far away. Other visual treats include subtle day/night cycles and weather effects.
Admittedly, Torchlight II doesn’t break new ground. Those hoping for something uniquely different are likely to come away disappointed as it feels so similar to the game they played three years ago. On the other hand, those who have been craving more opportunities to charge into dungeons for glory and “phat loot” will be incredibly thrilled with what the game has to offer. Torchlight II’s biggest selling point, by far, is its multiplayer component and I expect that will resonate with a great number of people, especially those who have been clamoring for it. Simply put, the game is a gift that keeps on giving. A bigger world filled with all sorts of quests, new character types, multiplayer and mod support is most certainly worth the $20 price tag - that’s $40 less than Diablo III. On that note, I believe Torchlight II might just be the cure for disaffected Diablo III players.
If you’ve read my reviews for games with loot systems, you’ll know that I take issue with games that tend to offer too much too soon and don’t give the player the chance to grow accustomed to their gear before it is replaced. While Torchlight II drowns the player in loot, much of the equipment can’t be used depending on how your character is developed. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve had to devote a significant chunk of time weighing the pros and cons of the gear I collect.
Torchlight II is great fun and it won’t be long before you’re playing the game late at night muttering the famous gamer mantra, “Just one more quest.” This is a how a sequel should be: it reintroduces concepts and mechanics that made the game popular while making a few useful tweaks and changes to parts of the design. Although it doesn’t stray too far outside the original game’s shadow, it is no less wonderful for it. As the saying goes, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”