Why do we play games? Is it because we like to be immersed in a grand and sprawling world that essentially comes to life? Is it because we want to simulate and recreate things as they appear in our ordinary lives? Is it because we want to simulate and recreate the things that don’t? Or, is it just because we want to have fun? Well, as far as I’m concerned, these are all reasons people play games. Torchlight II, for example, isn’t a realistic game with sprawling and immersive vistas; it’s just an extremely fun game to play. If you looked up the definition of fun in the video game dictionary, Torchlight II would probably be one of the first examples.
[one_fourth]Torchlight II is a ridiculous amount of value for its price.[/one_fourth]
Torchlight II is the sequel to Runic Games’ award-winning debut effort: Torchlight. It’s an action-RPG series that involves lots of clicking, killing, and looting. You do those three things constantly, but it never stops being fun. Many of the people at Runic Games are formerly of Blizzard North fame (Diablo and Diablo II.) Max Schaefer, CEO and co-founder of Runic Games, was an executive producer of Diablo, Diablo II, and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (you should check out my Q&A session with him if you want more information on his philosophy.) Obviously there will be lots of comparisons between Torchlight II and the Diablo franchise (namely, Diablo III) but that is a discussion for an article in and of itself. This will be the one and only comparison of the two games in this review: they are both extremely fun and well made games that deserve your attention.
Torchlight II isn’t really a game that takes itself seriously, or a game that gets you emotionally invested in the story. The stroy involves the players facing off against The Alchemist, who becomes corrupted from the evil that plagued the town of Torchlight. None of that is really that important though, but the characters are interesting, the voice acting is very well done, and the world itself really is full of life.
The delineation between main quest and side quest in TL2 is almost non-existent; this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because it means that no matter what you do, you have something driving you forward. Do you want to go into the dungeon and defeat the Punishing Monster-something of Doom to retrieve someone’s lost relic? Or should you go into that cave and clear out the undead minions and eventually conquer the Skeleton Lord of Some Sort of Epicness? Well, what you choose isn’t really important, because it will basically involve the same thing: fighting dozens of enemies and looting their exploded corpses.
Well, for a lot of people, this is also a bad thing. Since the quests themselves all run together (besides being color coded in your quest log) the game does lose some if its meaning. A lot of people play games to feel like an important hero; you will still feel pretty awesome and powerful, but the motivation does end up being pretty basic in the end.
With that being said, the story isn’t the point really. The beautiful things about Torchlight II lie in the details. It’s not the quest itself that keeps people interested, it’s the game’s balance. Somehow, the developers were able to create such a perfect rhythm, that while you’re playing, it just seems like everything happens perfectly. You level up basically every half-hour, you find new and useful items every 15 minutes, and you’re killing something every 20 seconds. It sounds simple and repetitive, but in practice it really is amazing. The fact that all of the maps in the game are randomized reiterates this point as well. You could literally go through the same dungeon over and over and it would be a slightly different experience each time (assuming you re-entered and randomized the maps.)
Many of the gameplay elements in Torchlight II will be very familiar to fans of the genre, with some minor differences here and there that add a lot depth to the game. Your left mouse button can be assigned either the default attacks for your equipped weapons, or a specific skill. The right mouse button can be assigned two skills (and pressing a key switches between them.) Then each of numbers 1-0 on the keyboard may be assigned their own skill or item as well. Thankfully they’ve assigned individual keys on the keyboard for using your best health and mana potions, so that frees up your skill bar during gameplay.
When you die, you have three options: restart at your current position with a hefty gold penalty, restart at the beginning of the dungeon or area for a smaller gold fee, or restart at that areas town for free. Depending on your class and playstyle, you might find yourself dying a lot. If this is the case, play with more people and work on teamwork, or adjust the difficulty accordingly. It is VERY easy to get overwhelmed in combat in this game, don’t be ashamed of playing on Easy!
Another great tip is the CNTRL button. By holding this button in combat, it keeps your character standing in place. This is useful because you also move by clicking. If you try running into combat (especially as a ranged character) without holding CNTRL and click on the ground a pixel away from your opponent by accident, you’ll run to that spot instead. Holding CNTRL allows you to stand in one spot and have your clicks only activate different skills.
Leveling up is probably the best and deepest facet of this game. Each time you gain a level you are awarded 5 stat points and 1 skill point. The stat points are yours to distribute among Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, and Focus. Your skill points are given to you with your choice in investing in three different skill trees. For example, the Embermage has a different skill tree for Fire, Ice, and Lightning based magic. Each tree has is massive.
On top of all this, all of your weapons and armor can be enchanted multiple times and some of them have sockets for upgrade gems. Between the activateable skill points, passive skills, stat builds, and upgradeable items, the possibilities are basically endless. You are free to build your character in pretty much any way you want. This is compounded by the fact that most all weapons and armor have a level requirement, or a stat requirement. So, if you’re a battlemage that wants to use a wand and shield, go for it. Maybe you want a wand in one hand, and an awesome sword in the other? That’s fine too, the choice is yours.
Runic made it extremely easy to play with friends as well. When you start up the game and pick which character you’ll be playing with, you choose whether or not to play in an offline single player game, an online game, or a LAN game. If you choose online, you can either host your own world (complete with level ranges and password requirements if you want) or you can join someone else’s from a massive filtered list. The same character can be used in all three modes however you want without restriction. They have even already opened the game up for modding – the game is seeping with content from all angles.
On top of the pure and just stupid fun that’s to be had, when you take the time to listen to quest-givers, they actually do have a lot of interesting (and often, very funny) things to say. The voice acting is top notch, the soundtrack is absolutely wonderful (and free for download right here,) and the production values are off the charts. The art style might not particularly appeal to everyone, but you cannot deny the level of fidelity on display here. Plus: it’s optimized incredibly well for machines of all calibers.
With a price tag of only $20, which is a third the price of most big releases these days, there is literally no reason not to play this game. It’s one of the most fun games released this year and will continue to be played for months to come. Content is basically oozing out of Torchlight II, and free DLC has already been confirmed by Max Schaefer himself. Don’t take this review as a comprehensive analysis of everything in Torchlight II: there is way too much for a simple game review to cover. In order to experience the breadth of content in Torchlight II, you really have to play it for yourself.
What are you waiting for? The game is already out, you should be playing it right now! Torchlight II is available for PC and you can even download the free demo right here. Let us know what you think of the game and this review in the comments below!
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Runic Games.