2 weeks ago, PC gamers rushed the Steam servers. Between Torchlight II and Borderlands 2, loot-driven maniacs got to pick their poison and get lost in so much content it was simply astounding. We each picked our choice, be it the block-buster multi-platform hit or the indie challenger to Diablo’s thrown. I think it’s pretty obvious which choice I made, but was it a good one? Read on, fellow dungeon crawling gamers… read on…
Story: Torchlight II begins directly with the results of the end of Torchlight. If you remember, the original game focused on the mining town of Torchlight, which was setup due to the mine producing a high volume of Ember, the ore that is the source of magic for this world. But using it comes at a cost, as it corrupts the user from within, and the source of corruption within this mine was an ancient creature named Ordrak.
Most who knew of him did so because they heard his whispers in their mind and fell to being his servant. But one man resisted: an Alchemist who ultimately destroyed the beast, but it did not cure him of the blight, the corruption of the ember he wound up with during the struggle. Desperate for a cure, and without much hope, the now insane Alchemist figured out that the still beating heart of Ordrak, despite being pure evil, could be his one chance to save himself. He began planning and researching.
Eventually, he strode out of Torchlight in a custom built suit of armor with the heart installed in his glaive and began to march a path of destruction to hopefully find his salvation from the blight that was consuming his mind and his life, either unaware or uncaring of how much damage he was doing and would cause to the entire world.
You play a hero who has chosen for reasons unexplained, to take it upon themselves to chase down this fallen hero and stop him before it’s too late and the world pays the price. This will remain the main theme through the entire game, though it will reveal details about exactly what is going on as you play, explaining reasonably well how the Alchemist is truly dangerous, why Ordrack’s death did not end the blight, and even a plot that runs beneath both games. It won’t give a lot of detail, nor will it tell this tale particularly eloquently, but considering the kind of game this is and how most players are not here to play through a story so much as kick monster ass, this is hardly a problem. What is here is good and well through out… it just isn’t that much.
Graphics: Torchlight II was never going to be the most gorgeous game you ever saw. Considering that the game just came out last month, yet it still runs on less then 1.5 Ghz on a single core processor, you should not expect this game to look like today’s bleeding edge titles. But what the game lacks in technical prowess, it more then makes up for in style.
Taking a graphical feel similar to World of Warcraft and using it in a birds-eye-view perspective, the game manages to create environments ranging from sunny forests to foreboding haunted places (both villages and under the earth), to deserts filled (without explanation) with sea-vessel wreckage without breaking a sweat. And each place has a host of enemies both unique and fitting, letting variety and style dominate your screen. You will simply not get bored of what you see…. ever.
Meanwhile, the interface you use has also taken some nice updates since we last played Torchlight. Resembling a blend between Diablo 2 and 3, your HUD will contain a “crystal ball” for your health on the left end and one for your mana on the right. Between this you will have a set of 14 slots that keeps your hot-keys/mouse buttons and all immediate information you need clean and from cluttering the screen, yet slimmed down in size so it likely wont even use the full bottom of your screen anymore.
Sound: When Runic creates music for their games, they always do an amazing job. As well they should, since these are the same people who made the first 2 Diablo games. Torchlight II is no exception. The game comes complete with a soundtrack to rival their earlier creations, and become the highlight in the auditory arena. And if you have played any of their earlier games, you know why and roughly what to expect.
The rest of the sound is basically descent sound effects of the type you would expect in a fantasy dungeon crawler and a handful of decently delivered chunks of voice acting, but this will matter little since voice acting is rare and when the sounds of battle are going off, they are generally going off in mass volume, creating a pure havoc of meshing battle that sounds absolutely great as one massive piece. For once, quantity really does trump quality.
Gameplay: When playing this game, anyone who has played Diablo 2 will instantly be reminded of it. Torchlight II is a birds-eye-view game of the same vein, complete with randomly generated dungeons tons of possible loot to collect, and hoards of evil monsters standing between you and the end of the level (as well as your next one).
Battling them involves the use of your equipped skills and weapons, all visible between the two crystal balls that represent your health and mana. On the very left you will see the weapon you have equipped and can use by clicking the left mouse button. If it’s a shooting weapon, you will run to get into range to shoot the enemy you clicked on. This can be stopped by holding the shift key (much like Diablo 1 and 2 did).
Your right mouse button is a hotkey used for a skill of your choice which shows in the bigger icon on the far right of this bar. If you have it, you can put it there. The smaller icon is your alternate skill, allowing you to swap which one the button does by the TAB key instead of having to reassign it anytime you need to change the button you have the quickest access to. Meanwhile the 10 in the middle are hotkeys to your number buttons on the keyboard. Like your main skill button, you can put anything you want in these, finishing a slim and speedy interface you will use to destroy the monstrous hoards.
In addition, you will have the ability to upgrade your character via levels, fame, and loot. Loot will vary immensely throughout the game, some of it random, some of it predetermined unique items. Some of it will be available by random drops while others will only available from certain enemies/finishing certain quests… and even then not all the time. Expect to see a large difference between what you or any other player get as you play.
Levels will, of course come with experience between killing enemies and completing quests, but it will give you 5 points to upgrade your base stats with as well as one “skill point” you will get to use to either get new skills or upgrade the ones you have to both increase their potency and possibly get a bonus effect by reaching a new tier. All active skills have 3 such tiers, while passive skills have none. As long as your level is high enough, you can spend your skill points on anything you want. In addition to this, you will also have a fame level which increasing will also give you a skill point to use in the same way, letting you customize your character as you see fit. You can, however, only increase fame by killing unique monsters… bosses and champions you find wandering the map. Just be aware that while this game does let you respec your character if you change your mind, it only lets you go back 3 points. If you REALLY screw up, you will have to live with it.
All this combines to be one hectic and varied dungeon crawler that then only gets more insane when you bring it online where up to 6 players can get together in the same game! Having had one or two randomly join my game, I can assure you the chaos is more then rewarding as between an embermancer and an outlander (me) we had enough effects going at times that it was really tough to see what was really happening… and it was awesome! Until you are ready and absolutely want to get through a specific boss, I would highly recommend being online as much as possible with this title.
And those bosses will highlight the game. While the way to win against them can be very samey (run away and shoot with my pet on aggressive saw me maybe die twice to a boss in the entire game), each one has their own feel, their own moves, and really is epic in their own right. You will enjoy them just for the pure awesome they display on your screen.
Bugs: Throughout my entire run, I ran into only 2 bugs, and likely by the time you play they will no longer be there, as Runic is actively patching this game. In the past 2 weeks, I have personally witnessed my game updating twice.
Out of the map: This one was annoying, but while I was in one of the many levels of this game, an enemy threw an explosive at me with knockback… and somehow I was in the wall. I didn’t realize it at first since I couldn’t see myself, but it didn’t last before the game realized I wasn’t where I should be and shifted me up into a space where you are not supposed to be able to get. As a result, I was trapped up on a cliff and while I took the opportunity to avenge myself and mow down enemies who couldn’t reach me via “death from above” style gunplay, I soon found myself with a problem… I couldn’t leave the place I was in, and quitting would save me to this place.
Thankfully, there were two options to me, one of which because I had the item, the other is available to anyone. I opened a town portal and walked back to the map, kinda laughing at the portal still up there that I had left behind, but the other option would have been to quit and play online since that forces you to start in town instead of exactly where you quit last time.
Map reset: And that is the other issue I found. Towards the end of the game, I decided to finish up single player to ensure I wasn’t distracted by random rampages, and when you load your single player game, you are supposed to start exactly where you last finished. This did not work once as I found myself on the right floor, but at the very beginning with nothing explored… anywhere… on any map. This could have had something to do with the update that had just occurred resetting the maps, however.
Overall: If you are any kind of dungeon crawler fan, you need to get your hand on this title. It is easily the best “Diablo-esque” game in the past few years, if not this generation, and at $20, it’s a no-brainer. When you consider the game comes with it’s amazing (if traditional) soundtrack as part of the download, it’s a damn steal! I recommend playing Torchlight first, but considering how little story there is in either title really, this is not required for anything.