The booth space for Torchlight II at this yearÂs PAX Prime was the largest since Runic GamesÂ inception, showcasing one of the biggest new features of the series: multiplayer co-op. It also gave fans an opportunity to get their hands on the newly unveiled Embermage, a purely magic focused class which introduces an entirely new gameplay style into the mix.
Following some hands-on time with the Embermage, we had the opportunity to sit down with RunicÂs Max Schaefer to talk about the new class, the revamped UI, the storyline of Torchlight II, and a whole lot more.
Ten Ton Hammer: YouÂre unveiling the Embermage this weekend, and as a purely magic-using class it definitely adds another distinctive gameplay style into the mix. What inspired you to go in that direction for the newest class in Torchlight II?
Max Schaefer: You want to have a broad spectrum of characters, and weÂd made the Outlander and the Engineer, and this seemed like the natural progression. After we made the Berserker which is kind of pure melee, if you look at those three thereÂs kind of a gap in the pure magic side of it. So the Embermage felt like a good completion to the circle of characters.
Ten Ton Hammer: Another major new element to the game since we last saw it at E3 is the complete overhaul of the UI.
Max: ThatÂs something we kind of tinker with as we go along and did some major overhauls to. We just want you to be able to see more of the screen, and less interface. The less interface the better, really. But it does all the things with the hotkeys and stuff that youÂd want. As you go into all of the other panes, like your pet inventory pane, there are some differences. Your inventory right now is broken into tabs for your potions, scrolls, and items, so you do have a lot more room to carry stuff now.
But there have been lots of little tweaks. We have a lot better auto-map now than there was before, a lot more descriptive and obvious quest text and stories than we had. UI is really a constant process of refinement, and we never really consider it done. I canÂt guarantee that we wonÂt do another pass on it before we launch.
Ten Ton Hammer: Co-op is obviously one of the biggest new additions in Torchlight II. Have you added any new UI elements specific to supporting co-op play?
Max: You can see the other playersÂ portraits on the screen along with their health and mana bars, and they also have a blue beam coming out of them so that you can identify them easily from the monsters. TheyÂre always on the edge of the auto-map so that even when theyÂre off the circle, you can see what direction theyÂre in.
Ten Ton Hammer: Along with those elements, will there be any means of creating a direct portal to your teammates in case you manage to end up on opposite ends of the map?
Max: WeÂre talking about doing that. Right now the easiest way is for you to portal back to town, and have them put up a portal and you can go right to them. So itÂs mechanically there already, but we will probably have one less step to cut out the need to portal back to town first.
Like right now you trade items by throwing them on the ground, but we probably should have a way to trade where you drop an item on another characterÂs portrait or something. ThatÂs just never made it to the top of the urgency list because you could already trade by throwing stuff on the ground.
Ten Ton Hammer: The overland areas being shown in this build are a lot larger than pretty much anything we saw in the first game.
Max: It really feels a lot more open in general, and really lets you do a lot more exploring than in Torchlight I where youÂd clear stuff out, move to the next area and then clear that stuff out.
In Torchlight II, the storyline wonÂt take you to every corner of the outdoor areas. But if you explore it isnÂt just wilderness Â thereÂs stuff out there. The desert being shown here isnÂt even as fully populated yet as our first act outdoor areas where we have tons of events and little side quests that you can discover.
We want people to do the amount of exploring that they want to do, really. So if you feel like youÂre behind the power curve a little bit you can do some more side dungeons, or some more exploring.
Ten Ton Hammer: At E3 we were shown how the events in explorable areas will be randomized. Will they be different each time you go back to town and reenter the area, or will something else trigger new events to spawn in the outdoor areas?
Max: If you go back to town and come back out the area will be the same. But if you quit out of the game and start another game, it will be different. You donÂt want to come back and find that all the monsters have come back and have to grind all the way to the end of things again. So within a game session it stays the same.
Then the randomization extends to dungeon entrances, or quests that might be happening for you to come across. That sort of thing is something that may or may not be there each time you start a new session on the map. So there are a lot of layers of randomness. Beyond that, the monsters that are there will be different in a separate randomization math, and the items they drop will also be different.
Ten Ton Hammer: What are some of the other new features that have been added in the new build being shown here at PAX?
Max: WeÂve added more community skills, or skills that affect other players with you, and benefit them. That lets you cooperate a little bit more, and we didnÂt really have any of that in at E3. So weÂre definitely trying to get more of those in, and get more of the cooperative play meaningful and fun. And weÂre at a good alpha state of that here.
So we have some things that are working really well, and weÂre going to go back to the office, play the hell out of it, and see what works when youÂre playing with other players as well. Then we can emphasize those skills a little bit more.
Ten Ton Hammer: In terms of storyline progression between the games, what type of story connections are there for players who played through the first game that help segue into the story of Torchlight II?
Max: This one starts shortly after the first game ended. The town of Torchlight has actually been destroyed and you have to figure out why. The player character classes from the first game are NPCs in this one. I donÂt want to spoil anything, but they figure prominently in the storyline.
We didnÂt have a writer last time so it was just guys in the office writing things up. Now we have an actual dedicated writer, so the story in the game is a lot more clear. WeÂre not a story heavy game because we want the emphasis to be on killing monsters and finding loot, but there is a much more coherent and well written story this time.
Ten Ton Hammer: Given the more open nature of the outdoor areas, will the storyline help point players in the direction they need to be headed to progress through the game?
Max: It sort of represents a direct progression path through the story, but youÂre not compelled or instructed to just go from Point A, to Point B, to Point C. ItÂs more like you have to go out somewhere to find this guy who is assaulting this compound, and on the way youÂll run into lots of random things. So it may be an hour before you ever get there depending on how much of the other stuff going on you stop to check out along the way.
Ten Ton Hammer: Say IÂm a player who gets easily distracted by all of the interesting, random stuff going on in the maps. Will the story content scale at all to account for the fact that I may be getting to it with a far more powerful character as a result of my playstyle?
Max: It actually wonÂt scale with you otherwise you would have no way of catching up or whatever. If youÂre overpowered you can always just scoot ahead a little bit. That lets players pace where they are in the different areas.
WeÂre also going to do the retirement a little differently this time, so once you play all the way through the game it will open up a new game plus like in Diablo II where you get another difficulty level, and new items if you go through again. So youÂll start with all of your stuff on that character, and then there is a ridiculous amount of loot in this game even in the new game plus.
Ten Ton Hammer: Getting Torchlight II ready to launch is obviously your main focus right now, but one of the goals has been to ultimately create an MMO in that setting. Do you still plan on moving in that direction once the current game has shipped?
Max: Our theory on that is we want to stay a very small company, we can only do one thing at a time, and itÂs not necessarily clear whatÂs going to be the best idea after Torchlight II is out. WeÂre going to do a Mac port, let the dust settle a bit, and see where we are with it and what seems like the best idea to do next. Whether itÂs porting to Xbox, doing the MMO, an expansion for this, or something else entirely because weÂre going crazy doing just Torchlight Â we really want to keep our options open on that. ItÂs also based on what people want us to do. ThatÂs a huge part of development.
Ten Ton Hammer: Before we wrap things up, can you tell us a little bit about any new additions to the modding tools that will ship with Torchlight II? I would imagine the toolset has expanded a fair amount to factor in multiplayer this time around.
Max: The development tools are just the ones we use, but weÂve added a lot of features to it. Like the UI is much more exposed in the tool now, so you can do UI mods much easier than you could before. ThereÂs also a lot more flexibility with things like putting skills on weapons and things like that. So there have been a lot of little tweaks that just made our lives a little easier in making it that will make their way into the tool. IÂm thinking that people are going to do wacky things with it like come up with PvP arenas and all kinds of stuff like that. I really canÂt wait to see what they do with it.
While an official release date for Torchlight II hasn't been announced yet, Runic has stated that they still plan on a release sometime before the end of this year. Since our last look at the game at E3 earlier this summer, a lot of great new features have been added toTorchlight II as noted above, and I can't say enough good things about the revamps to the UI. It still retains the same overall layout that players of the first game are accustomed to, but in terms of look and feel it's now much slicker across the board. For example, the tabbed inventory is a great improvement, and even the main hotbar has been streamlined to take up far less screen real estate.
Overall, Torchlight II is shaping up to be an awesome gaming experience. The Embermage adds an excellent new playstyle into the mix, and compliments the previously announced classes nicely. We're eagerly anticipating the release date announcement for Torchlight II and can't wait to get our hands on the game again.