Torchlight II Review

01 Oct 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
Introduction

Torchlight II is the follow-up to 2009's action RPG Torchlight.  It's definitely a "more" sequel, as developer Runic Games has added in more classes, more pets, more skills, a bigger world, and, well, more.  But do these additions actually improve the game, or is it just meaningless excess?  Keep reading to find out.

Characters

Torchlight II comes with four character classes: Berserkers (animalistic melee specialists), Embermages (magic specialists), Engineers (heavy weapons specialists), and Outlanders (ranged specialists).  Each class gets 30 unique skills organized under three trees, and each skill has 15 ranks.  If you played Torchlight, then you can already see the "more" nature of Torchlight II, as Torchlight only had three classes, 30 non-unique skills per class, and 10 ranks per skill.  The difference is that you're given way more directions to go in Torchlight II, and so two characters -- whether they have the same class or not -- might not play anything alike.

As an example, when I played through the campaign, I used a Berserker, and I had him focus mostly on the Tundra tree.  That meant he could use Stormclaw to add electrical damage to his attacks, Permafrost to damage and freeze all enemies around him, and Cold Steel Mastery to improve his melee and cold damage.  Other Berserkers might choose the Hunter tree for clawing skills, or the Shadow tree for shadow wolf skills, or some combination of the three.  One of the nice things about Torchlight II is that the only prerequisite for skills is your level, and so you can cherry pick the ones you like best.  Each tree also has three passive skills, so if you don't like juggling a lot of active skills, you can make things simpler on yourself.

Each character also has four attributes: Strength (physical damage), Dexterity (critical chance and dodge chance), Focus (mana points and magical damage), and Vitality (health and armor).  This is completely different than how attributes worked in Torchlight, but the change is effective.  All of the attributes are important for all characters, and so you might need to think about how you allocate the attribute points you receive each time you gain a level.

Finally, when you create your character, you also get to choose a gender and an appearance (both of which were fixed in Torchlight), and a pet.  There are eight pets available, including hawks, ferrets and bulldogs, but as far as I can tell they're all identical except for their appearance.  Pets work about the same in Torchight II as they did in Torchlight -- they help in battle and give you extra storage space -- but now along with returning to town to sell items for you, they can also buy staples (potions, scrolls) that you might be low on.

Gameplay

The controls in Torchlight II are identical to what they were in Torchlight.  You left click to move, interact with something, or use your standard attack on an enemy; you right click to use a skill or a spell; you press tab to switch between two right-click skills / spells; you press w to switch between two weapon sets; you press shift to attack without moving; you press alt to highlight objects on the ground; and so forth.  The control scheme was simple and effective in Torchlight (and dozens of other action RPGs that have used roughly the same system), and they work well again here.

One of the main differences between Torchlight and Torchlight II is the pace.  After playing some Torchlight II, I went back and played a little Torchlight, and it sure seems like everything in Torchlight II moves about 25% faster.  For a while this really bugged me, as I felt like I was stuck in permanent FF mode (and worse, when my Berserker started a frenzy, it was like 2X FF mode), but then I eventually got used to it.  However, the pace means that the game is much more hectic than it used to be, especially in co-op games, and once you get mobbed by enemies, it's frequently difficult to tell what's going on, and you just have to start clicking like crazy to survive.  That is, just because you enjoyed Torchlight, that doesn’t mean you'll enjoy Torchlight II, especially if you're a part of the older and slower generation.
I mentioned co-op games in the previous paragraph, and that's one of the shining new features in Torchlight II.  Now in addition to playing solo, you can branch out via the Internet or a LAN to play with your friends.  For the Internet mode to work, you have to register with Runic Games, but then they allow you to import your Steam friends, and so it's easy to get started.  There's even a matchmaking service, so if you don't have any friends playing, you can look for public games that suit your needs.  I only played a little of Torchlight II over the Internet, but I didn't notice any lag or synching issues, and the mode appears to work well.  Better yet, if you don't want to play online, you're not forced to log into anything, and so the Internet isn't required.

Depending on how skilled you are with action RPGs, Torchlight II offers four difficulty modes (from "casual" to "elite"), plus a hardcore mode where your character can only die once.  I played on the default "normal" mode with my Berserker, which I found to be mostly easy, but then I moved up to "veteran" when I created an Outlander and an Engineer, and that was more of a challenge.  Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any way to change the difficulty after creating your character, so if you find things too easy or too difficult, there isn't any way to make an adjustment.

Otherwise, what you do in Torchlight II is about the same as what you do in every other action RPG.  You kill a bunch of stuff and you collect loot, over and over.  Your character can wear 12 items and your pet three more, and these items range in quality from normal (white) to magical (green) to rare (blue) to set (purple) to unique (orange).  There are also supposedly legendary items (according to the Steam achievements), but I never saw one so I have no idea what color they are.  Set and unique items are fairly common (they even show up for sale in towns), which is nice, and it means you might actually be able to complete an item set without jumping through a lot of hoops or pestering your friends.  Of course, to compensate for this, spells, which now include all of the utility skills from Torchlight (including Treasure Hunter and Weapons Expertise), have become strangely rare.

Some pieces of equipment have sockets, which means you can insert gems into them.  Most gems are based on the different types of magical damage -- so fire gems add fire damage to weapons or fire protection to armor, for example -- but there are also some unique gems that offer different sorts of bonuses, including extra damage and health steal.  As you play through the campaign, you'll gain access to vendors who can remove gems from items (by either destroying the gems or the item), and so there isn't any reason not to put gems into sockets as soon as you find them.

Finally, while Torchlight had an interesting enchanting system -- items could be enchanted over and over again, but each enchantment made it more likely that the item would get disenchanted instead -- Runic Games completely gutted that system in Torchlight II.  Now items can only be enchanted at most three times, and they can only become disenchanted if you pay for it to happen (so you can try for better enchantments).  Sadly, the enchanting system is far too expensive.  I never had a lot of excess money in Torchlight II, and by the end of the campaign I could barely afford anything.

Campaign

The campaign in Torchlight II revolves around an enemy hero called the Alchemist.  As the game opens up, the Alchemist steals the heart of Ordrak (the end boss in Torchlight), and then using it starts stealing power from the Guardians so he can eventually destroy all ember everywhere.  You then decide to stop the Alchemist, but you find yourself one step behind him for most of the campaign, and so you have to deal with his minions and the problems he leaves in his wake as you chase after him.

The good news is that because the campaign is a chase, that means you get to travel through forests, deserts, swamps, crypts, caves and more (which is a nice change of pace after all of the underground dungeons in Torchlight), and you get to fight against a whole slew of enemies including trolls, zombies, roaches, pirates and of course helicopters.  The bad news is that while the look of the game changes, the gameplay remains the same.  The enemies in particular are disappointing.  They are colorful and varied, but they all blend together and they fight about the same.  Contrast this to the Diablo games, where I'm guessing most people come away loving or hating some of the enemies because of their unique attacks or fighting style.  In Torchlight II you might not even remember the names of the enemies at the end of the game.
The quests in Torchlight II are about what you'd expect from an action RPG -- go somewhere and kill something, or go somewhere and collect something.  The storyline and the quests do just enough to nudge you through the game world, but they're about as interesting and distinctive as the enemies.  That is, they're not.  However, the Torchlight II world isn't a terrible place.  All (or almost all) of the maps are random, and every so often you find a minor puzzle or an event, or you kill a phase beast that grants you access to a challenge map (such as fighting in an arena), to keep things from getting too repetitive.

The campaign lasts about 20 hours, and you're likely to finish it somewhere around level 50.  At that point you gain access to the Mapworks, which allows you to explore random maps, or you can start a new "plus" game, where you repeat the campaign with enemies 50 levels higher.  Since the four classes play so differently, that means you could spend 80 hours in the game just playing them through the campaign once, or you could spend 160 hours or more trying to get them to level 100 (the level cap).  You can't retire characters in Torchlight II like you could in Torchlight, but that's just as well.  I'm not sure how popular that feature was anyway, and every time I tried it, my heirloom item would break and become way too powerful anyway.

Graphics and Sound

If anywhere, the graphics and sound departments are where you can tell that Torchlight II is a budget game.  Let me start with the graphics.  The game doesn't use a particularly high polygon count, so everything looks a little boxy, the animations and spell effects are on the simple side, and Runic Games didn't show any restraint, so when you get a lot of enemies fighting you at once, you can really "taste the rainbow" (so to speak) with all of the spells and combat moves triggering at once.  There are also some minor issues, like despite the game being in 3D you're not allowed to rotate the camera (you can only zoom in and out), and when events get blocked by foreground objects, instead of those objects turning transparent, creatures are either outlined in red (for enemies) or blue (for you and your allies), making it difficult to tell what's going on, especially since enemies continue to show up for a couple of seconds after they've been killed.

That being said, I don't think many people are going to complain about the graphics.  The game has a cartoony look, but this is probably intentional, and it helps to prevent exploding enemies and other violence from appearing too gruesome.  There is also great variety to the environments and the creatures, and they're all colorful and appealing.

The sound, on the other hand, doesn't fare as well.  The voice acting is not impressive at all (possibly because the script doesn't give the actors anything to do, and the Alchemist doesn't get any lines at all), and only the main quests are fully acted.  Meanwhile, the music and battle effects get the job done without being memorable one way or the other.

Conclusion

Torchlight II is a fine sequel and a fine budget game.  If we were to give an award to budget RPG of the year, then it would probably win.  It's just that, to me at least, I look at all of the talent working at Runic Games, and it makes me sad that all they're making is a by-the-numbers action RPG.  They should be making the next great thing rather than yet another iteration of the last one.

But you can't go wrong buying the game.  Torchlight II gives you all sorts of options for creating and developing a character, an expansive world to explore and kill things in, and a bunch of loot to sort through and brag to your friends about.  What's more, because Torchlight II is a budget game, it's even an excellent deal.  So if you like action RPGs, then Torchlight II is definitely a game to try out.