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As the PAX East demo progressed, grassy hills and meadows gave way to cavernous underpasses, and eventually a magma-filled underground dungeon. Playing as the melee-focused Engineer class, I foolishly ran ahead of my co-op partner, engaging in crowd control as a skeleton army of about two dozen gathered around me. Trying to put distance between myself and the tougher enemies -- while picking off the weak ones -- made for a frenetic few minutes of combat, and a welcome change of pace from the earlier, mostly one-hit encounters.
Unlike the first game, which was entirely single player, Torchlight II has drop-in/drop-out co-op. During co-op, partners are bathed in pillars of light, which helps them stand out in the chaos, and monsters scale in difficulty and spawn rate based on the number of players in the area. Furthermore, each person only sees their own loot, meaning alliances need not come under strain from resource sharing.
All of the maps are randomly generated in Torchlight II. The overworld areas and dungeons are always different, so the replay factor is almost infinite. There are even random quests scattered around, such as soldiers who need help fighting back wolves. If you save him, you'll gain experience, a few coins, and he'll give you some loot. Even though it's all random, it doesn't feel like it; if you told me that someone designed these levels, I would believe you. The camp area I started in reminded me of one of Titan Quest's zones. Whatever magic Runic is crafting behind the scenes works well.
The newest feature that Runic has revealed about Torchlight II is the charge bar. This bar fills up during combat, and it drains when you're not fighting. Upon filling it up, you can use a special ability that is unique to every class. Engineers have more powerful attacks, Berserkers have every attack become a critical hit, Outlanders can move faster, and the Embermage is able to cast spells without draining mana.
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The newest character class, however, is the Engineer, sort of a combination of summoner classes from other RPGs. The Engineer focuses on building machines to do its bidding. I didn't play the class directly, but I was told that things like turrets and robot minions will be part of the Engineer's artillery. Setting traps will also be one of the Engineer's most relied upon skills.
Each character also has a variety of customization options as well. Characters have several different outfits, colors, and faces to choose from as soon as you generate them. You can also choose from an expanded list of pets as well. Though we tried various different pets during our hands-on time with the game, we could not detect any noticeable difference between the cats, panthers, dogs, tiny dragons, and more. For now, it just appears that pet choice is a cosmetic decision.
That visual variety helps distinguish areas from each other. While Torchlight sported plenty of layers to the dungeons, each area would look internally similar. Sometimes environments would be so unchanged it was easy to backtrack without realizing it, or lose my way. Torchlight 2 has more unique vistas with distinct locations to explore, making for easier exploration and more of a visual treat.
That world will also be better fleshed out with a better-defined story, delivered through stylized cutscenes and the main quest lines. Schaefer claims it's "a lot more coherent," thanks in part to the studio's decision to hire a dedicated writer.