Torchlight 2 released about a week ago, comes in direct competition of the ARPG behemoth Diablo 3, a sequel to one of the founding games of the genre. Even its predecessor, Torchlight, was more of an underdog, featuring a more cartoony art style instead of gritty, realistic art favored by most hack n’ slash games. The new offering by Runic is no exception. It comes a couple months after Diablo 3’s frankly, crap launch, and one of its main selling points is that it’s a solid ARPG that happens to not be Diablo 3. But still this little underdog, still manages to woo players with its wonderful cartoony graphics, and loot galore.
I suppose I have to admit my biases here. I was a great fan of Diablo 2, I still feel an attachment to my necromancer that has grown up so much over the years (Daddy’s so proud). Then when Diablo 3 came out my hopes were dashed. Always online DRM, crappy servers, real money trading, non-permanent decisions. Blizzard failed, simple as that in my eyes. Torchlight 2 is my last hope, and it has not failed me.
The game starts of controversially. Not in the, civilian killing, child murdering way, but in a, I can’t decide if its good or not. The basic premise is the Alchemist, one of the protagonists of the previous game, has gone crazy with power and is making his way across the land wrecking havoc and raising demons. Your job to begin with is to take a message to a nearby town , to warn them of the coming of the corrupted Alchemist. You venture your way through a canyon, with only one way forward. This is exactly the kind of game play I have come not to expect from ARPG’s I want wide open levels, hordes of monsters, and showers of loot. At least the opening had 2 of those, which made it decently fun, and at least let me hold on until later stages.
Once you break through the corridor-like opening and make it through the first town things start to open up. You enter beautiful rocky, and vegetation filled areas, branching off into multiple directs, also with hordes and showers of loot. And to add to that the game positively shines in its art style. Many people would be skeptical at a hack n’ slash ARPG. But the folks at Runic pull it off perfectly. They don’t make it purely cartoony in proportions, but keep it realistic enough that the characters look good, and that the medieval/steampunk/wilderness concepts are pulled of perfectly in relation together and on their own.
And the monsters also work extremely well. The game serves you a platter filled with exotic creatures, ranging from giant, spear troll, to ancient ghosts, finishing off with a heaping helpings of cannon fodder. The designers drizzle it all over a hearty gravy of unique skills, and stuff the meats with fine loots.
And the game is never, ever short of loot. From the start you will be picking up gems, socketed items, magic items, unique items, all thing that other games place heavy value on and make extremely rare. But Torchlight 2 takes the other route, it makes items common, and powerful. It won’t take long for you to find a new item more powerful than yours. Items are absolute really. On top of that, you often get items that are higher level than yours, which sets a goal for you to aim for.
One of the disadvantages of this system is that Runic sets up stats to be unlocking points for items, so for a unique dagger, let’s say, you would either need to be level 20 OR you could have 40 strength. This kind of takes away from investment in stats, you would end up investing more to get a new weapon than to advance your character.
However there is still a decent character skill tree, which allows you to create a unique character. There are passive skills as well as active skills, and most of them are spectacular, allowing to feel the power of ripping monsters and demons apart with your bare fists, or if you’re a mage, your mind. However, especially for the ember mage, skills of different type sometimes seem to blend into each other, not produce startling unique effects. And I understand that this is personal preference as a a gamer, but THANK GOD DECISIONS ARE PERMANENT! I like investing in my character and when I heard that Diablo 3 didn’t feature many permanent decision I threw a fit. I ranted and I raged. Now thank goodness this hasn’t happened here. At most Runic gives you the ability to roll back 3 skill choices, which lets you experiment with some things, while still keeping decisions about your character permanent over time. This is infinitely better in my eyes, than the shifting skills of Diablo 3.
But each class does stand out from each other. The Outlander is a ranged, damage dealer, combining magic and the guns that make Torchlight 2 unique within ARPG circles. The Berserker is your regular damage dealing, melee, in-the-fray kinda guy/gal. And then there’s a engineer, who’s sort of a mix between a healer, controller, and heavy weapons guy. The great thing about this game is that it makes it so that a class is never in a completely fixed role, they can take on anything. You could have an angry sword wielding magician, or a pistol toting berserker. All classes can play a specific role but that role is never set in stone, more like in shifting sands.
While this is good, it sometimes can be a limitation that there are so few classes. I sometimes find myself wishing for the, shape-shifting druid, or the dead raising necromancer of Diablo 2. It gives you freedom to make your own character through items, but takes away some of the fun of skill choice,For all its virtues I must say I still love Torchlight 2 in a large part, just because it satisfies my desire for an ARPG that happens to not feature always online DRM, and just happens to Not be Diablo 3. But Torchlight 2 goes above and beyond the call to action. It creates a simply beautiful world, that’s always a joy to explore, giving you new experiences throughout. The weather predictions are slight rains with a strong chance of heavy showers of loot. Combine this with perfectly balanced violence and you have got a recipe for a damn good ARPG, a worthy successor to Diablo 2