Review

Torchlight II Review (PC)

When Torchlight came out in 2009 it scratched an itch all the fans patiently waiting for Diablo III were familiar with. Compelling Action RPGs are more difficult to produce than they appear, and in Torchlight Runic Games captured the addictive quality not really seen since Diablo II - which wasn’t surprising since several of their designers worked on the series. Fast forward to September 2012 however and we’re living in the Impossibly Far Distant Future, otherwise known as “Post Diablo III (and Duke Nukem Forever)”. Does the sequel to Torchlight have a chance now that the itch is no longer present?

Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, because it’s very good, cheaper, and like the Diablo III moaners will tell you it can be played offline (although irony struck the first day when Runic’s website went offline and no one could play co-op, although it seems to be sorted out now). Honestly, for £14.99 there’s an astonishing amount on offer here. Shall we look closer? Oh wow, there’s a mouse wheel Zoom function, suck on that Blizzard. I’ll stop mentioning That Other Game and That Other Developer now.

I love the smell of Egyptian steampunk machinery in the morning

The defeat of Ordrak in Torchlight by the three heroes known as the Vanquisher, the Alchemist, and the Destroyer was supposed to end the disease called Ember Blight but the Alchemist became infected with it. After killing the Vanquisher and wounding the Destroyer, the Alchemist is now wreaking a path of destruction across the world to desperately find a cure, even if it means taking down the godlike Guardians to do so. Now new heroes must arise to stop him – the animalistic Berserker, the monocled Engineer, the magical Embermage, and the gunslinging Outlander.

If you didn’t recognise any of that story, it’s because it barely made any impact in Torchlight. Sadly I have to report that the same is basically true of Torchlight II as well. Runic have clearly put thought into creating their world, but you never feel a part of it. Your character never talks, even by text, there are no constant allies, and consequently there are no attachments to dig you into the world. The fact that the plot is basically “bad guy’s causing trouble, go get ‘im” is almost incidental.

So, bad point out the way first and not everyone will care about the plot in an Action RPG. Prepare for me to gush from now on, starting with the player characters. For the most part I went with the Outlander, as a gunslinger with a magical throwing glaive just appeals to me. With the exception of the standard wizard class of Embermage all the classes in the game are wildly imaginative and I’m massively happy about this. For too long we’ve had to put up with Barbarians, Dwarves, Elves and Wizards in ARPGs (anyone fancy a game of HeroQuest?) so it’s a huge relief when a developer thinks outside the box.

The Outlander wields guns, from pistols to huge cannons, as well as a number of magical powers based around firepower or the cool glaive. The Engineer melee attacks with a huge wrench or hammer, but can also construct robots to heal or help in battle. The Berserker has vicious melee attacks and can turn into a wolf. The Embermage may be the one straight classic role but they’ve still got a lot of fun spells to play – heck, one of your starting spells is a beam of fire straight out of Magicka.

Left Mouse Button has the basic attack which can be upgraded in various ways, Right is the Mana-fuelled special attack, 1-0 holds additional powers, potions and scrolls, and that’s about it for controls apart from shortcuts. One of the big innovations Runic has made is a Charge meter, which you fill up by killing enemies in quick succession. It’s personalised to your class, so for example when filled the Embermage can cast spells without using mana and the Berserker goes into a vicious Frenzy that’s a whole lot of fun.

I’m going to give special marks (and a whole paragraph) to Runic for making the menus so utterly smooth and intuitive – one key press and they slide naturally out of the sides of the screen, never taking it over completely and leaving you totally able to upgrade your Skills at the same time as killing skeletons. I don’t praise menu systems very often in reviews (in fact I never have), so I hope that shows just how happy they made me. Every ARPG should copy them right now, including That Game I’m Not Going To Say Again.

A pirate skeleton called ‘One-Eyed Willy’? Were the Runic team born in the '80s by any chance?

Simple controls, little plot, a “go out and kill everything” mechanic, it’s not a wonder why so many ARPGs go wrong. The Action RPG genre is repetitive by its very nature, and the line between “addictive” and “tedious” can be very narrow. Whereas games like Lord of the Rings: War in the North and Daggerdale clearly and lazily hit the tedious side, Runic have taken their time and made Torchlight II carefully avoid being anything but thrilling. They do this by slowly increasing the challenge, add game-changing powers and upgrades, have a massive list of constantly changing and varied enemy types, and keep changing environments.

Runic have let their imaginations run wild on the enemies and environments. You can encounter a dozen or more radically different enemy types in just ten minutes wandering around any of the game’s massive areas. Roaches with tridents, sand giants, rat creatures, skeleton pirates, walking robot turrets, tentacled Cthulhu monsters from beyond, I’ve spent hours trawling through the game and I’ve haven’t seen one orc, troll or goblin. Similarly environments are fantastic, boasting random weather and day/night cycles, all lush colours and plenty of detail. Even the traditional areas like dungeons, sewers and deserts all look gorgeous, so when you get to the more outlandish places you can’t help but grin. My personal favourite was Steampunk Egyptian, and I can’t believe I just typed that.

Then there’s Torchlight’s big innovation: pets. Constant and useful companions that can attack enemies, carry items, and even run back to town to sell things. They can also do a bit of shopping for you too now, and there’s a wider range of them to choose from (I personally love the Papillion). The ability to transform your pet using fish also carries on from the first game, and they can even learn spells this time. Pets aren’t just a bit of company, they’re essential to cut down on player frustration, and as such are an absolute marvel. Mine never got stuck and regularly killed enemies I’d missed, and the prospect of journeying back to town every time I wanted to sell something would’ve put me off the game fast. Kudos to Runic for implementing such a simple solution well.

Okay, that’s all Torchlight II’s mechanics gushed over, but how much game is actually there for your £14.99? I don’t know if it’s actually possible to just do the main quest since by the time I’d hit Act II I’d done all the quests possible and the game still said I was too low a level to enter some areas – I ignored them and continued, but if I’d just done the main quest I may have been a bit overwhelmed. Still, there is a lot of game world to explore, as the areas you enter are utterly huge even without the more linear dungeons included. Over 20 hours certainly for just single-player on one playthrough, and that’s not including multiplayer.

Co-op is the big new addition and thankfully works perfectly, even if I’m quite baffled why Steam users have to login to a Runic Account too and manually link them up together. As mentioned the areas are extra-large so it accommodates two or more players well, and there are just so many enemies regularly on the screen you never want for something to do. Sharing items is to both players’ benefit, but there’s no worry about stealing loot since everyone gets their own set (which if useless to you can then be traded!). There’s nothing like a good ARPG to get the co-op fires racing, so I’m glad it’s finally in Torchlight.

But won’t it get boring playing the same maps again? Well, apart from four difficulty modes and a ‘Hardcore’ challenge (you die it’s permanently game over) the astonishing thing is that areas in Torchlight II are randomised. While playing it’s impossible to notice as they just feel perfectly constructed, but then you start again with another character… then another… then another, and every time it's completely different. It’s like a totally different game – which it is, I guess. Paths, loot, enemies, traps, everything is laid out randomly and yet still feels designed and polished somehow. What demons Runic had to sacrifice goats on the altar to get this dark magic working I don’t know, but I’m glad they did.

That raccoon is Boris The Stout. He's magic

So, any other negatives besides plot before I move on to my summing up? Well, when starting Runic assumes you know how to play this type of game, so if you don’t you’ll be flailing about for a while. There’s no tutorial, no control information like “hold Shift to stand in place”, no clues on the UI or what key does what, and no indication about what Fame does (I’m still not totally sure despite racking it up throughout the game). Quests also occasionally fall down on the imagination front, like having to find keys or just literally “go down there and kill the boss”. Yes there’s the odd lady asking you to save her babies who are actually giant spiders, but that type is the minority.

Torchlight II is addictive, imagination-fuelled goodness. It never gets boring and its “just five more minutes” value is second to none. It may not have an engaging story but I don’t think anyone twatting a zombie pirate called ‘One-Eyed Willy’ with a giant wrench will miss it. At its price point there’s almost an absurd amount of value for money here, even before you take the co-op and huge randomised levels that change every time you play it into account. Let me finish with the two big questions: do you like Action RPGs? Buy it. Is it better than Diablo III? No, but it’s cheaper, you can play it offline, it has pets and more imagination, and there’s no sodding chat window that you can’t turn off. For many people, that’ll be enough.

Top Game Moment: Saving a talking merchant raccoon from skeletons, who then rewards you by enchanting your gear with magic powers. Yes, I typed that.

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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Sep 24, 2012
SirRoderick
It is torchlight, but better in every way. No huge changes, but more stuff! I love it ^^
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Sep 25, 2012
nocutius
Damn, another game to put on the list. Life is so cruel :).
By jwiesneski (I just got here) on Sep 25, 2012
jwiesneski
Minor correction, the Alchemist doesn't kill the Vanquisher, he kills one of the main NPC's from the first game, Syl. The Vanquisher is still in Torchlight 2 as an NPC, just like the Destroyer.
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Sep 26, 2012
The_Tingler
@jwiesneski: Ah, my mistake. I must've had a blind spot when the Vanquisher appeared in the game. AH, yes, she's in the first town I think, you report back to her after you do the first main quest I believe. Now you mention it I actually remember Syl from Torchlight 1 now too, been a while since I played it!