Torchlight II Beta Preview

14 May 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Perfect World Entertainment
Developer:Runic Games
Release Date:2012-09-20
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
For starters, like the original Torchlight, the random loot drops are still a bit excessive. While things have been toned down slightly, there's still far too much useless loot that might as well just be dropped as money instead, since all players will do with this equipment is sell it. While finding powerful and unique items is actually a fairly uncommon thing, it still happens a bit too much, and the "standard" magic and rare equipment is too disposable for my liking. Some games, including Diablo III and Path of Exile, have got around this by tying loot into their crafting systems, where even basic, low-tier items are useful for melting down into components. Unfortunately, at least for now, crafting has been removed from Torchlight II, so all that extra loot is more or less worthless. Runic Games do seem to be aware of this problem, however, and have hinted that crafting of some sort may make an appearance down the line.

There are also some oddities with individual equipment. Although finding unique items is fairly uncommon, many of them have mediocre stat modifiers and bonuses, with magical items and rare items sometimes far outstripping them. There's also a lot of strange inconsistency in stat requirements - I've seen items that do less damage and have fewer magical modifiers require higher levels than ones that are twice as powerful, for example. Hopefully these things will be worked out as more types of modifiers are added and the loot tables are sorted out to be more consistent.

As much as I enjoyed the varied classes, I also had to say that the balance on a lot skills and even entire character types needs some work. I started out with an Outlander, a gunslinger character who can cast spells, and found that the low damage output from dual pistols simply didn't compete with two-handed bows, for example, and my basic starter skill, Throw Glaive, was far more useful at first level than some of my other skills and spells even when they had multiple points put into them. Meanwhile, my Engineer's Gun Bot, a summon-able robot with a machine gun attached, was so powerful that it could easily dispatch bosses in seconds without me ever having to take a swing myself. The Embermage, meanwhile, had some fun spells, but they were a bit too expensive to cast without chugging down Mana Potions constantly, and there was no way to boost Mana regeneration that I came across.

Last, while the basic combat was a ton of fun and well balanced on Veteran difficulty, the boss fights I played were a pain despite being well designed, due to excessive HP bloat. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first major boss took me about ten minutes of kiting and potion-quaffing, as well as multiple deaths and resurrections to beat, despite me being at the recommended level and having reasonably good equipment. That same boss, however, was a complete joke when played in multiplayer with other people, or when played on the Normal difficulty setting. In fact, Normal as a whole was a complete cakewalk, and at one point I had over 100 unused Health Potions sitting in my toolbelt - while it's recommended for new players, the game was positively boring on that setting and posed no challenge. A lot of tweaking needs to be done to ensure that all difficulty settings are both fun and challenging for different players, and in both solo and multiplayer contexts.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, despite those balance problems, I had a blast with the time I spent playing the Torchlight II beta. Runic have shown they're hard at work tweaking the game and collecting bug reports, so I expect things to improve that way once the game hits store shelves and digital distribution platforms in (hopefully) a few months. The improvements to the game world, character system and combat as a whole are very substantial, and despite being a budget-priced title, Torchlight II is set to pack a serious amount of gameplay, as well as a great deal more variety and more features than the original game ever did.

The bigger question that looms at the moment is, of course, "how does Torchlight 2 compare to Diablo III and Path of Exile?", its two biggest competitors, which are also shaping up to be high-quality games. The fact is that, despite the superficial similarities, all three games play fairly distinctly and have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as some fairly different business models and design considerations, and I can only encourage gamers to try out each of them to see which one they like the most. Either way, though, it's a great time to be a fan of hack-and-slash RPGs, and I look forward to playing more of Torchlight II in the coming months.