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Torchlight II Review

Updated Fri, Sep 21, 2012 by gunky

Almost three years have passed since the original Torchlight was released to critical acclaim, and now the team at Runic Games is back with the co-op enabled, open-world enhanced sequel. Much has changed with Torchlight II, but much hasn't - the price point, Matt Uelmen's musical stylings, an executive team that has games like Diablo, Diablo II, and Fate in its pedigree, and a credit roll that eschews such titles altogether, to name just a few things.

But much has changed in the marketplace. Mainly, Diablo III is no longer just a long-awaited sequel. So is Torchlight II blatantly better? Can Runic really deliver an erstwhile competitor to D3 with a fraction of the team size and development budget? Read on to find out!

Cautions

Blood is on by default, but this is easily turned off if you're offended by gibs that keep on gibbing, as they sometimes do. Other than that, we'd only caution you that this game can be addicting as a bag of chips, especially if your friends are feeling noshy too.

Gameplay

95Outstanding

Let's start at the beginning, with character creation. Torchlight II expands the initial assortment of classes from three to six, and while the initial Destroyer, Alchemist, and Vanquisher are somewhat represented by the new Barbarian, Embermage, and Outlander (respectively), the wrench-wielding, turret-dropping Engineer is all new. Character customization options have been expanded to face style, hair color, and hair style too.

The Engineer class is the only class that can heal, making it a great choice for co-op.

Player pets now include a bulldog, cat, chawkawry (if it puts you in mind of a vicious-looking chocobo, you're not far wrong), hawk, and papillon (a breed of small dog - Falcor, a frequent visitor to Runic Games was the inspiration), in addition to the original wolf dog (now wolf), lynx (now panther), and ferret. Each has 2 or 3 appearance skins, and, handily, pets can now take a shopping list to town to pick up basic potions and scrolls in addition to selling items in their inventory.

The old system of hits, critical hits, and misses has been supplanted by a fumble penalty. Players can lower their fumble chance with stat increases, but on every swing you'll have some chance to fumble (rather than miss on) the attack, lowering the damage you deal. It's a small change, but as Lead Designer and Diablo visionary Max Shaefer once told me, "Misses aren't fun." That's especially true when you're wielding a large weapon with very slow attack speed.

The new pet shopping list is very handy for getting potions and necessities from town, especially in co-op.

One important player request that Runic remedied in Torchlight II is difficulty levels. A pet peeve of mine is gamers who soon get bored with games but aren't willing to up the difficulty, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of you reading this review should play Torchlight II on Veteran mode. One of T2's incipient flaws is that characters feel too overpowered on Easy and Normal modes for anyone with a basic familiarity with dungeon crawlers, and Veteran mode forces you to think out your attacks and frequently move mid-encounter.

The gameplay is classic dungeon crawler with a few nice changes. While Diablo III deadens your ulnar nerve and mouse with clickety clicking, simply holding the mouse button over a target will continue the attack in Torchlight II. (EDIT: Commenters pointed out that this mechanic is present in the Diablo series. Please see the comments thread below, and our apologies for the misinformation.) The skill comes with holding the sometimes hard-to-see cursor over a mass of mobs and (in co-op) other players and selecting the correct right-click and number key attacks for your weapon and playstyle.

Early in Act 1, the fight with Mordrox is mostly about staying on your toes and clearing wave after wave of add.

Early bosses rely perhaps a little too much on vaulting wave after wave of adds at your character – a genre artifact that's always struck me as lazy design – but it's perhaps unavoidable given that T2 slowly and comfortably introduces new class-specific skills. In the early game, you spend more time learning which weapon sets work best for you (given stat biases and a growing assortment of skills), and too much too soon coupled with highly nuanced boss encounters might have been overwhelming.

I couldn't tell you the storyline of most dungeon crawlers I've played, and unfortunately Torchlight II does little to reverse this trend. The four cell-shaded and beautifully layered cinematics for each act are a nice touch, but questgiver dialogue is of the clickthrough-and-leave-it-behind variety. T2's broadening storyline would have benefited greatly in the telling from the read-to-me-while-I-fight tomes found in Diablo III.

The new sepiatoned cinematics help lend a steampunkish / wild west feel to the story.

Of course, Torchlight II uses the same time-tested itemization scheme that Max and Erich Shaefer brought to modern games in Diablo and Diablo II, meaning loads of socketed weapons and armor in varying degrees of rarity with descriptive prefixes and suffixes.

One way T2 cranks itemization up to 11 is through more sockets. Early in the game, players encounter weapons with four sockets, and though embers (gems) seem to drop at a slower rate than in T1, players eventually have the same options to remove, destroy, and combine embers that they did in the original game.

Graphics

82Good

Runic didn't set out to revolutionize gaming graphics. Torchlight II features highly-stylized (some would say "cartoony," but those people are crass and uncultured) characters and environments, with blocky shapes and a broad but vivid color palette.  The stylized aesthetic can be compared to games like World of Warcraft, but there's more polish here. Atmospheric fog and some creative particle effects, and some sweet rim lighting add some believable depth and realism to the look of the game. Torchlight II seems to accomplish much while using little. It looks good but shouldn't prove terribly taxing on system resources, and should run just fine even on older machines.

Unlike the original, T2 expands the game world far beyond a mineshaft stack of ruined civilizations. Players traverse vast open world areas on their way to dungeons, and these areas come complete with weather and certain surprises (brief side quests, phase beasts which open portals to king-of-the-hill style bonus challenges, elite fishing holes, and monster shrines which spawn rare creatures, to name a few of these surprises).

A moveable minimap with adjustable opacity is one of the nice UI enhancements in Torchlight II.

While Diablo III's palette browned out considerably after unflattering comparisons to kids games, Torchlight II remains unapologetically varied, bright, and colorful. Given Torchlight II's more lighthearted approach, it works, and it's an impressive achievement given that T2 increasingly blends T1's fantasy tropes with steampunk trappings. The Engineer and Outlander coupled later environments (with the most interesting take I've seen on Dwarven ruins) add a little robo-industrial-era appeal to a setting that might have otherwise been dismissed as another Diablo clone.

The user interface has changed significantly since the first Torchlight and is, in many ways, more elegant and functional. For example, potion slots have been replaced with a simple Z/X keypress which uses the best health/mana potion in your inventory, though you can still map potions to the numeric keys if you like. Another nice change is the moveable minimap with adjustable opacity, though if I had a gold for every time I accidentally switched off the map by hitting M, I could afford a lot more enchants.

As the game progresses, boss fights become equal parts visually interesting, challenging, entertaining, frantic, and rewarding.

The locked-in isometric view, however, feels antiquated, restrictive and limiting. The ability to zoom in and out is nice and all, but it seems almost pointless since you can't spin the camera around to find a sweeter angle. Like the click-to-move navigation system, fixed isometric camera angles are a relic of a bygone age. Torchlight II makes the best of this, however, by offering a blue or red glowy when your character, friends, or enemies go behind an obstacle.

Sound

95Outstanding

Diablo, Diablo II, and Torchlight composer Matt Uelmen returns to score Torchlight II and the results are masterful. The motifs of Torchlight's original theme and soundtrack are reprised with the full orchestration of the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra this time, though Uelmen's trademark bright, Flemenco-influenced guitars and echoing drum kits still pervade the atmospheric soundtrack. (But don't take my word for it: at the time of this printing, Runic generously allows you to download the soundtrack for free from the T2 website).

Like the music, the sound direction is reminiscent of the original. Ember drops still ting, the voiceovers are nicely varied even for common messages like "out of mana" and level ups, missile attacks clunk into shields, and the character sheet unrolls with the rasp of a scroll. The only mildly irriatating sound that I've encountered so far is the idle mewling growls of the panther, which give me the eerie sensation of my stomach growling. Or maybe I've just been playing Torchlight II for too long.

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Brightness of Torchlight is looking good. You can use D2 for attack on opponents.

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You can't combine embers in Torchlight 2.

um..yes you can..

Actually you can but only after act 2.

technically, you don't combine them, you transmute 3 into a random chaos gem.

Great review - or at least, one I was nodding along to! I've only played for about 4.5 hours, but greatly enjoying it, although I rather agree with the point about the difficulty ratings.

So far this is an excellent game. I've only played just the beginning part of Act I with 2 different classes and I like it better for the most part than Diablo III. That being said, those that love PvP can disregard my assessment since I'm not a big fan of PvP. Not that the game wouldn't be better with it than without it, I just can't say that pvpers will like it since I'm not one. Yet, at least.

"While Diablo III deadens your ulnar nerve and mouse with clickety clicking, simply holding the mouse button over a target will continue the attack in Torchlight II."
You didn't play Diablo III, did you?

I co-reviewed this game with Gunky, and this bit of misinfo was actually my fault. I did play a chunk of D3, and upon logging into D3 again, you guys are right, the same mechanic is in the Diablo series. My apologies.

What I meant to say is that there's something about D3 that deadens my hand, and whatever doesn't seem to be present in T2. I can play T2 for hours on end, but can only take about 15 minutes of D3 at a shot. I think it might be that the pace of gameplay is slower at comparable difficulty settings, and holding down the mouse button while standing in one place might be a a recipe for numbness. Or it could be slumpy posture or any of a number of things, I don't know. All I can tell you is that this is my experience, and your mileage may well vary.

Anyway, I'll make an edit in the review, and since this isn't a score-changing issue, I hope we can leave it at that. Thanks for your comments!

i was going to say the same thing lol....that was one of the mechanics in D3 that i was impressed to see...
not bashing Torchlight at all, but the reviewer has obviously not played D3 at all, because thats a basic thing you find out within the first few seconds of the game...

You could do that in D2 as well.... Youngsters.

The player could not attack multiple targets by move the mouse onto another target without releasing the button in D2, though.

If memory serves me, I had to learn this from reading about it, so maybe he's in the same boat as I. Speaking of which, here's a question for the rest of you that will post comments: How does the PvP in D3 stack up against the kind of PvP you want, and would you like to see Runic add it to Torchlight II?

And for those that say yes to add PvP, how might they go about implementing it with the best possible success and least amount of bugginess / glitching / imbalance possible?

Well considering Blizzard are one of the worst companies when it comes to balancing PVP, they couldn't possibly do worse then them.

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