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Page 2 of 3Combat has also received a very substantial upgrade in Torchlight II. When played on Veteran or Elite difficulty, Torchlight II provides a surprising amount of depth and challenge. Enemies and bosses frequently have modifiers that actually impact play-style in substantial ways - some will eat corpses to restore their health, which introduces a risk/reward element of either luring them away from corpses to stop them from healing, or taking advantage of their feasting to get free attacks in, for instance, while others have the dreaded "lightning enchanted" and "explosive" modifiers. These sorts of tactical considerations are everywhere, and they go a long, long way towards reducing the monotony that can sometimes set in with hack-and-slash games, as each mini-boss introduces a new challenge to deal with. Combined with the extremely fast and responsive controls and lag-free gameplay, I can safely say that no other game of this style has occupied me moment-to-moment or been consistently as much fun, at least any time within the last several years.
A Whole New World
One of the other things Torchlight II does quite capably is creating interesting and varied environments to explore. While the first game's randomly-generated levels were certainly impressive to see in full 3D, they also got repetitive after a while. Torchlight II takes a page from Diablo III by having slightly more fixed elements and more consistent game-to-game direction in its levels, but it doesn't give up the randomly-generated feel in the process, unlike what I saw of Blizzard's own title.
There's almost always something interesting to come across, from individual monster encounters, to a few secrets and Easter eggs, to full-blown side-quests. Most of these appear on repeat play-throughs, especially the side-quests, although often the details change in subtle ways. In one quest to purge a tomb, I was required in one game to fight a couple of shamans with power over fire and ice magic, while in another game I had to smash some monuments. While there's a bit more potential for random elements (I would like to see more side-quests and secrets to find), it also gives Torchlight II's world a hand-crafted feel that make exploration fun, without everything being completely predictable for repeat plays either.
Going beyond the single town the first game took place in has also required Runic Games to expand their game world. Some of the monsters familiar to fans now have their own villages that you'll get to raid and demolish, for instance, while you'll also have to fight off bandits on the road, hike through snowy landscapes and dark, dank caves, and more; while not in the beta, it sounds like deserts and jungles will also make an appearance. It's all stock standard stuff, but there is a lot of variety both in the look of the different environments as well as in their overall layouts - some are wide, open and vast, while others are craggy, rocky and narrow. It's a huge breath of fresh air compared to the repetitive dungeons of the original game, and combined with those underground labyrinths, there's a very nice contrast and a good sense of pacing to the gameplay that never sees one location wear out its welcome.
Unfortunately, Torchlight II stumbles in actually explaining its world and characters. Supposedly Runic Games hired on a professional writer for the game, but truth be told it's impossible to tell. Who is General Grell, and why is he attacking me? Who, exactly, are the Zeraphi people, and why are they clad in golden armor? Why is my character taking orders from the Grand Regent? What are these "Guardians" that are being corrupted? Many of these characters and things are brought up, but given almost zero explanation - the game presents universe and story, but never bothers to make players feel remotely invested in it, because it never goes beyond the MMO-style quest dialogue boxes. It's not a huge deal in a game of this sort, but it still feels like a missed opportunity - even if Diablo, Titan Quest and other similar games are simple, at least they try to make a little sense and have decent stories to drive their action.
Although Torchlight II is, generally speaking, a big improvement over the original, with more interesting characters, skills, a more varied game world, and challenging and engaging combat, there's also a lot that still needs to be fixed up before the game releases. The majority of these are balance considerations, and I'm sure they'll see a ton of tweaking over the next few months. Even so, I think it's worth going into detail here, if only because it'll be interesting to see how the final game changes.