Updated Fri, Sep 21, 2012 by gunky
Torchlight II is two games in one: the single-player and the multi-player. The two ways-to-play have a strikingly different feel and definitively change the way the game is experienced. Multi-player can take place over LAN or Internet. Players can connect to multi-player games (or create their own) through the lobby. Multi-player games can be created at any difficulty level for up to 6 players, and you can take your game in single-player doses when your friends aren't around. Happily, difficulty is scaled up on the fly, meaning if a friend ports back to town, health points and armor will immediately be adjusted accordingly.
Multiplayer comes in one flavor only: co-operative PvE. Co-op play is a straightforward matter of rollin' with your crew and beating up bad guys. While the ability to trade is finally in, players will only ever see their own loot and not the stuff belonging to other players. So if player A opens up a chest, and players B and C are standing by watching, the chest will spawn 3 separate instances of loot - one each for players A, B and C.
T2's multi-player turns your character from a solo artist to one of the MMO's Holy Trinity - Tank, DPS, Heals. Berserkers, with their heavy armor and self-heals, are the obvious choice for tanks. Engineers can drop heal-bots, and are the only class actually capable of healing other players. Embermages and Outlanders are both straight DPS. Really, though, each of these classes is meant to be able to run the entire game solo, so the Holy Trinity roles are easily switched up through the standard three branch skill tree.
Pets take on a more important role in co-op play. In multiplayer, the pet is more like mobile storage, trash disposal and automated grocery delivery system. When your bags fill up in the middle of a dungeon and you don't want to abandon the action, just dump your trash on your pet and send him to town with a shopping list. He runs off, vendors your loot, picks up the supplies you ordered and returns a minute or two later with your coin and supplies. The ability to save the mid-dungeon loot-hauls without inertia-killing town trips is priceless.
The multiplayer lobby will be familiar to anyone who has played an online game in the past 10 years, and the Steam integration is simply a matter of tying your Steam account to your Runic account. Having done so, you'll never need to worry about saving your games again (though files are backed up locally if you can't connect to Steam cloud for whatever reason). Filters at the top allow the player to search for games by name, level or difficulty, or for only the games their friends are playing. The lobby comes with a handy friends list on the left side, but actual interaction with that list is rather limited - clicking on the name only gives you the option to unfriend or block that player. It does not tell you where that friend is playing, or show any details about the character he is currently using.
Internet games are hosted on Runic's servers rather than locally. This impacts a couple of things - first, you will need to keep your client patched and current, or no games will show on the list at all; secondly, it means that people running behind wonky firewall/router/proxy setups can host games for their friends without having to reconfigure their labyrinthine security settings to allow other players to see their games.
Torchlight II is a 20-dollar game that plays like a 40-dollar game with another 20-dollar game attached. The single-player game is one you can play through at least 4 times and get a new-feeling game each time. And it's huge - depending on the difficulty setting, some of the early dungeons can take an hour or more to clear, and the world maps are fairly enormous. It's easy to put a lot of hours into T2. Add the multi-player game to that - it really does feel like a different game - and you're getting a lot of bang for your sawbuck.
Part of Torchlight II's outstanding value is its lasting appeal. The campaign is easily two to three times of the length of the 20 hour original, and, when you finish that, you can simply randomize the maps, up the difficulty to Elite or Game Plus (Runic's system to intelligently scaling the game for any skill, gear, and level up to the 100 level cap) and randomize all maps for a new experience while keeping your hard-won gear and gems. Beating the game also opens up a random map room where you can your buds can roll through entirely new dungeon areas.
While our policy is to review games as they launch, I should mention that Runic Games plans to roll out GUTS, the Torchlight II map editor, around three weeks after launch, just as they did for the original Torchlight game with the TorchED editor. A major part of the Torchlight series' charm is its extensive modability, and Runic looks to continue this trend with significant enhancements (such as the ability to mod the UI).
Runic has done it again - delivering a lot of what we love about co-op dungeon crawlers and sparing us most of what we hate, and what's left of the latter will likely be modded away soon. If error 37 left you needing a reason to fall in love with hack-and-slash action RPGs again, this may well be it.