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PAX 2010 Hands-On Preview of Torchlight II

Updated Tue, Sep 07, 2010 by Ethec

The recent announcement of Torchlight II was bittersweet news for the fans of the upcoming Torchlight MMO – bitter that the MMO won’t be Runic’s next release, but sweet that in early 2011 we’ll have an expansive new world based on the hit original action RPG to explore. Better yet, this time around we can explore it with friends, as Torchlight II will have integrated small-scale multiplayer. How small is something still under consideration, but we comfortably ventured out with a four-person party at PAX.

PAX 2010 attendees had a chance to tool around the first few levels of the game with two of the game’s classes: the Railman and the Outlander. The Railman is a brilliant blend of John Henry and a garden variety robber baron, sporting both a giant hammer and a fashionable monocle. The Outlander, on the other hand, has a look that combines a little Indiana Jones with Lawrence of Arabia, attacking from range with a quiver of four-bladed weapons called glaives. As we noted in our first look article from GamesCom,  player characters will be customizable, but all characters will share the same “faction” and starting area. Depending on your class choice, however, you may hear some subtle dialogue differences that give some color to your character.

The Railman is a fun fusion of steampunk and melee DPS.

With such unique yet functionally familiar classes, I asked how the Runic Games team comes up with class concepts, Producer Travis Baldree noted that the emphasis is on style. “We want it to be more God of War than Excel,” he laughed, explaining that he wants players to focus on how cool and powerful they are, rather than focusing on “fiddley” stats and abilities to make themselves more powerful.

Not that you can’t fiddle – as in the original, each class will have three archetype skill trees and assign skill points to one of four stat categories (strength, dexterity, magic, and defense) every level. Only a handful of these skills were in the PAX demo – those that had definitively made the cut. “We make tons of skills, then throw most of them away,” Travis noted, explaining that the skills that make it into the game have to be both cool and powerful, but also unique enough to differentiate themselves from other skills.  

For example, the Outlander’s skill set included Sandstorm, a magical glaive attack which summoned a bouncey sandblasting tornado around the screen (more than one could be summoned at a time), and Severing Leap, a jump attack that did damage to all enemies in the direction of the mouse cursor. Combat consisted of using skills assigned to your left or right mouse button, with lesser-used skills and potions assigned to numbered hotkeys.

As with the original, Travis noted that skill respec might come in a patch after launch. I could tell that he’s hesitant about the concept in general. “I guess we want players to bite their nails a little,” he jokes. Travis noted that a big part of the fun in action RPGs like Torchlight is players making semi-permanent decisions and changing their playstyle to suit their chosen build, rather than vice-versa: constantly refining their build to suit their playstyle.

Runic is in the process of creating bigger overland world to share with friends.

Pets, the loyal helpers that not only fought beside every class in Torchlight but ferried your extra loot to town and returned with money, are back in Torchlight II. We saw one of the new pets – a ferret, and I saw that pets had more spell slots than in the original game. Everyone loved the idea of a zombie-summoning cat in the original Torchlight, and Travis explained that pets’ mobile turret capacity would be equally important as their “muling” capacity in Torchlight II.

The biggest question I had for the Runic Games team was this: how will gameplay grow to make the addition of multiplayer worthwhile? After all, four-plus groupmates and their pets would make short work of anything in the original Torchlight, even if enemies’ hitpoints were simply scaled fourfold. Travis explained that Torchlight II’s classes would have more support abilities and positional abilities than their predecessors, skills like healing or damage buff rings that players must be inside of to take advantage.

Also, the boss battles will require a little more cunning and coordinated movement than in Torchlight I, and that was immediately apparent in our level three battle with the fire-breathing General Grell (who cooked my Ten Ton Hammer counterpart Sardu a time or two, sorry man). But Travis emphasized that as with skill respecs, when a decision between accessibly joyous hack’n’slashiness and hardcore micromanagement must be made, Runic will side with the former.

Runic doesn’t plan on having any public presence at end-of-the-year events like New York Comic-Con or GDC Online, so PAX Prime may well be our last chance to check out the game before it goes live next spring. If so, we can say that Runic is making full use of the strong foundation of the original Torchlight; that they’ve found a formula that clearly appeals to gamers and are simply scaling up to support a larger overland world and multiplayer areas. As for any other surprises Runic might have in-store, we’ll have to wait and see.

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