Lightning Strikes Twice – A First Look at Torchlight II

Depending on how you choose to view the past decade in gaming, one of the biggest trends to emerge has been the inevitable sequels following the successful launch of a new title.

Depending on how you choose to view the past decade in gaming, one of the biggest trends to emerge has been the inevitable sequels following the successful launch of a new title. Some of time these sequels are planned for from the beginning, such as BioWare’s epic Mass Effect trilogy, though in many cases these sequels tend to feel like little more than an attempt to ride the IP gravy train while it’s still on the tracks.

However, unlike sequels in other entertainment mediums, a video game sequel in particular needs to not only continue the story established by the initial release but also expand upon the gameplay in meaningful ways across the board. In other words, while more of a good thing is never necessarily a bad thing, as gamers we not only want the opportunity to continue the saga of a beloved game world but we also want that experience to bring plenty of new tricks to the gameplay table.

When the original Torchlight was released last fall, we knew that Runic Games had the goal of creating an MMOG set in the same world in mind from day one. But the highly experienced development team also realized that diving directly into the MMOG scene can be a much easier transition when doing so with an established IP, thus opted to give players a first look at the world through a single-player lens. Needless to say, Torchlight became an instant favorite of fans and critics alike, earning numerous awards and accolades over the following months.

So while we knew a Torchlight MMOG was a very real possibility sometime in the future, we were pleasantly surprised to hear the recent announcement that a sequel to the original Torchlight was in the works. The big question on everyone’s minds though, was how will Torchlight II stack up against the original? Will it simply take us deeper into depths, or will it have the hallmarks of a worthy sequel by expanding on the core gameplay in meaningful ways?

This is what we set out to discover at gamescom 2010 where Team Hammer had the opportunity to speak to Runic about the decision to create a sequel to the original Torchlight. Not only that, but Torchlight II was fully playable on the show floor which gave us the opportunity to experience one of the biggest game changers in the new title first hand.

I’m speaking of course about the inclusion of multiplayer, and from what we were shown it should give fans plenty to be excited about. With this new feature you’ll be able to scamper around the randomized outdoor areas and dungeons in the game with your friends via LAN or online connection which alone makes Torchlight II a worthy new entry into the series. But the improvements to the overall gameplay experience don’t end there!

One of my favorite discoveries in the live demo is that the UI has been given a full revamp, making it much easier for players to quickly access important functions in the game. For example, in the original game your pet’s inventory would appear on the far left of the screen while your personal inventory would open on the far right. In Torchlight II both will open side-by-side which makes it incredibly easy to see what loot you’re lugging around and allows you to drag and drop items into individual slots between the two far easier. Call it what you will, but streamlined inventory management in this type of game is always a massive win in my books.

Speaking of pets, according to Wonder Russell, Minister of Culture at Runic Games, players can expect to see not only a return of their favorites from the original Torchlight, but a number of new pets will be added as well.

Another cool new feature is the ability to customize your characters this time around. While customization won’t be full of excessive amounts of sliders for things like tweaking the eyebrow to nose hair ratio, it will still give players new options for the basic appearance of their characters. Most notable among these options is the ability to choose the gender of your character which should be a welcome change for those players who want to play a particular class but don’t necessarily want that decision to dictate the gender of a character they’ll be playing for countless hours online with their friends.

New classes have also been added to the mix, as well as an updated version of the TorchEd editing tools. Not only will you be able to create your own custom maps in Torchlight II as you could in the original, you’ll also be able to share maps and play them with your friends online. While we didn’t get to see this in action during our hands-on time with the game, we certainly look forward to seeing how the integrated map sharing feature shapes up over the coming months.

Fans of Matt Uelmen’s soundtrack from the original game are in for a real treat in Torchlight II as well. The live demo at gamescom was using music from the first game, but Wonder let us know that Matt has written all new material for the sequel, some of which he’s currently in the process of recording with a live orchestra.

Overall, Torchlight II is shaping up to be an incredibly fun game. It retains many of the core elements that made the original such a success to begin with and still manages to expand on just about every aspect of the game in interesting and meaningful ways. We’ll be keeping a close watch on the development in the coming months, but so far I think it’s safe to say that with Torchlight II, Runic Games is proving to be a PC gaming force to be reckoned with.

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