Does competition foster quality? Or is passion all it takes? Sometimes, it doesn’t matter when the end result is a good product. Such is the case with Torchlight II, developed by Runic games. The kicker here is that the team that worked on this loot-centric RPG also worked on the first two Diablo games, lending one hell of a pedigree to what amounts to an extremely high-quality dungeon crawler that costs a third of Blizzard’s monolith. This game is good—really good.
Developed by remnants of the team behind the original Diablo games, expect Torchlight 2 to have a progression similar to those games, and to classic RPGs. When you level up, you can allocate points to the primary attributes Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality. These, in turn, affect elements such as attack damage, critical hit chance, mana, and overall health. Other factors make things a little more interesting, such as armors that bestow specific elemental resistances and weapons that steal health or share damage between enemies.
I love the skills available in Torchlight 2. None of them feel useless and all of them do something unique. In my review playthrough, I chose the Berserker, who appears to channel primal forces in his attacks. He can summon a spectral wolf, howl to terrify enemies, or execute a series of slashing attacks with escalating damage. These skills can be assigned pretty much anywhere—to the right mouse button as a secondary attack, or to any of the numbered toolbar skills. Learning skills is largely permanent, so you have to think when assigning skill points. I love that not all of the skills can be learned in a single playthrough, so no two characters will be exactly alike. Some characters may prefer ranged attacks, while others may choose to focus on skill buffers. However, all of them get noticeably more powerful when points are dumped into them.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the game is cooperative play, something that the original game lacked. The format works great, with only one latency issue in my time with it. In an interesting twist, the games are pulled from a server list, and you can either join a random game and meet some new friends, or create a restricted server that only you and your buddies can play in. Loot and monsters also scale to the host player, and running around with a friend is a lot of fun.
There are a small handful of little interface issues that require some extra work to bypass. While it is a good thing that every player gets his or her own loot drops, you can’t “give up” a piece of loot for a friend. Instead of dropping the loot and making it free game for a teammate, you have to open up the trading menu. The strangest part is the fact that when you enter a friend’s game, the current quest isn’t displayed on the screen, and the world reflects only what you have done so far. This led to some awkward moments in which my partner could go through doors that I couldn’t because he had completed the requisite quest that I was still working on. I had to lead him around since he had no visual cues for my current quest. At the same time, I suppose this could be intended to allow two players to simultaneously complete their own quests in the same place, but it would be better to have a buddy to tackle missions with.
Dungeon crawlers have always been about the loot and this one has quite a bit of it. The loot here differs from other games of its type by including smaller percentage bonuses to damage and mana, or special features such as damage reflection or health transference. Others provide bonuses to base stats, so that strategizing carefully can yield huge dividends. In these situations, it pays off to crunch the numbers and experiment with different types of effects; while one weapon may do 115 damage, another weapon might only do 96 but add 7 points to your base Strength stat, increasing your overall damage. These situations are satisfying in that they reward careful combinations of weapons and armor. The weapons can also be slotted with a multitude of different gems and shards to augment their abilities, (i.e. providing elemental resistance or increasing damage). I’m a huge fan of number crunching, and Torchlight II does the job.
One thing I love about the game is the presence of an animal companion. This companion fights for you, as well as (and this is my favorite feature) carrying your extra loot to town and selling or buying basic items such as potions. It’s remarkably convenient to not have to return to town every time you have to offload excess loot, particularly since the rate at which better loot comes along is very impressive.
I’ve never been sold on the Torchlight games’ colorful style and exaggerated characters. I’m not sure why; it just doesn’t seem to fit with the world. Generally, that would be a very small issue, but here the explosions of color can become mildly disorientating. This comes with the territory, as this very same issue can also create pandemonium in Darksiders II or Diablo III. It doesn’t make it any less bearable, however. Luckily, concentration and hand-eye coordination can help alleviate this, and the issue really evaporates after a while.
On the other side of the coin, this style comes with some delightfully inventive character, creature, and loot design. As I said, I don’t care for the in-your-face colorfulness, but the range of creativity in this world is impressive. In particular, many pieces of loot have their own look, and it’s really satisfying to come across a sweet-looking piece of loot that makes your character look totally badass.
It’s not really a detriment, but the story of Torchlight II is thin, confusing, and not even really there. It has something to do with the Guardians of the Realm being possessed by dark spirits controlled by a wayward Alchemist, but there are no compelling characters to speak of and the story feels more like an excuse to keep killing stuff. I’m not complaining.
Despite these minor hitches, it’s hard to find any reason not to pick up Torchlight II, unless compelling narratives are a requirement or colorful art design is against your religion. The main story will probably last somewhere between 25 and 30 hours, but you can continue past that for secondary campaigns, as well as delve into the other characters. The possibilities are literally endless, and for $20, you’re rewarded with an insane amount of game here. If you have a soft spot for the allure of loot hunting, Torchlight II scratches that itch admirably.
Torchlight II was developed and published by Runic Games. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.