Review by Sain_of_Caelin
"The quintessential sequel"
The original Torchlight was released 10/27/09 to a generally warm reception. It was your classic dungeon crawling lootfest, and did most things well enough. But it also had a weak story, repetitive environments, and a very mild difficulty curve, along with many other minor slights. But with a strong modding community, many of these faults could be worked on. But beyond all else, many fans yearned for a sequel. And so, 3 years later, we have Torchlight 2 (henceforth referred to as TL2), a sequel with much to prove.
The plot continues almost immediately from the end of Torchlight. The big bad has been killed, but a new threat rises from the ashes. And so the quest begins to track down this new threat and end its corrupt existence. The plot exists, but it's not a focal point. The writing is acceptable, though unimportant. The overall plot is apparently similar to Diablo II, not surprising considering Runic Studios is compromised of many of those who worked on D2. It's difficult to knock points off TL2 for a meh plot, as too much plot emphasis would only injure the loot based aRPG, and so the plot gets an average:
The presentation is similar to Torchlight 1. For those that are unfamiliar with the series, both games employ a cartoony aesthetic. Though the games don't come across as adolescent at all, those looking for a super mature and dark experience might want to check screen shots or a demo before purchasing. Regardless of one's view on art style the graphics are undoubtedly impressive, especially considering the price point and requirements, both of which are very low ($20 and just about any computer post 2005).
One of the points that will be hammered upon repeatedly will be the level of improvement from Torchlight 1. The style is similar, but almost every area has been improved and picked over with a fine tooth comb. Monster models are not only more detailed, but more varied as well. This isn't your traditional aRPG where you kill 20 slightly different types of zombies in a row. There is loads of unique creature types, many not even from the traditional fantasy lexicon.
This theme of variety is one of the main pillars of TL2, and an often overlooked one in terms of presentation. And it continues in terms of dungeon types. TL2 is split between 3 main sections: outside sections, dungeon sections and towns. And all span a large number of tile sets, connected thematically, but varied enough not to bore. For example, Act 2 opens up in a dry desert town. But your travels through the randomly generated areas will span from traditional desert dunes and sandy pyramids, to deep stone chasms and tall towers. And throughout the game you'll also come across maps during both day and night, all sorts of weather effects, jungles, lakes, classic dungeons, frosted plains and blighted countryside.
The items as well are visually pleasing. Even the potion icons give off this vibrant glow, a polish that is found all over the world of Torchlight. Gone are the days of minor color swaps. Most armor is completely different in design from the previous types, and due to the cartoony style, somehow easily identifiable whether you play zoomed close in or far out. Weapons too cover a wide variety of styles, though, in my experience, less so than the armor. But this is balanced by how prominent most weapons come across visually. I have a greataxe called Boneshredder and damnit, I believe it can.
Torchlight 2 immediately begins with it's strong main theme and not surprisingly holds this high standard throughout the game. Matt Uelmen of Diablo fame composes the games sombre tracks that hold an interesting, but not unwelcome, contrast to the bright and vibrant gameplay. In a loot based aRPG like TL2 it's easy to forget the music, and I admit the low and rich sounds do sometimes fade into the back of my mind, but I find it to be a pleasant experience. The music disappears as you whack monsters and chug potions, and in your seconds of reprieve that you use to sift through your new items, you are reintroduced to this chocolatey, mellow soundtrack.
There are other aspects to the sound design, but nothing that is immediately as recognizable as the soundtrack. The small tings and gulps of leveling up, moving inventory and the like are functional, but minor. The voice acting, while good, is used sparingly. It is fortunate in that it keeps gameplay smooth and constant, but if an option to skip it were available I would have loved more of it.
The controls are mostly boilerplate. They function, and no major mistakes were made, so credit should be given where it's due, especially considering the design changes utilized since the beta released, where Runic tweaked both the user interface and minor things like enemy hitboxes, making fighting a dream. All the controls are also highly customizable. However, the one problem I have is that sometimes your character will stop moving inexplicably and you'll have to click again to continue, but it's a minor concern.
The gameplay is really the meat of any game, it's life blood. And Torchlight 2, while formulaic, executes what it sets out to do in the highest fashion. Anyone familiar with the Diablo-esque style of aRPG will feel right at home in Torchlight 2. The main concept behind it is that you are a hero, one of 4 classes: Beserker, Outlander, Engineer or Embermage, who goes out on quests, chasing mages, saving children, killing monsters, the normal fare. You fight to gain gold, experience and perhaps most importantly: loot.
With every level you gain you can distribute stat points across 4 areas: Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality, as well as allocate one skill point. Each class has a unique skills trees that allow you to learn passive or active skills. Passive skills are always activate and include things like powering up your defenses, or boosting your fire damage. Active skills are a bit more hands on, they cost you mana to do something like cast an ice storm, or smack someone with a hammer to break his shield. There is no standout class that is better than the others, though there are some areas of imbalance. But patching is supported by Runic and problems have already been solved.
Along with the fighting, looting is the other focal point of TL2. One of the greatest joys in gaming is finally finding that spear or glove that you've been looking for. And of course consequently selling that item in favor for an even better item later on! TL2 takes this formula and perfects it. With 12 armor/weapon slots to fill, there is always new loot to find. And because of the sheer number of slots, it's very easy to find a constant stream of even newer, better, shinier loot. Runic has found a key balance between work and reward. And even if killing baddies doesn't outfit you with the best gear, you could always socket a few gems into your items to make them more powerful. Or visit the gear shop, or gambler to try your luck at a nice new piece of armor.
One of the most unique and amazing features from the Torchlight series is the pet system. In many aRPGs your inventory is a constant problem. It fills up too fast and you have to constantly use scrolls to teleport home to sell all your extra items. But in TL2 you have a trusty pet to fight alongside our daring heroes. You can choose between all sorts of animals, cats, eagles, a few kinds of dogs, and more. Now when you're out adventuring you can give all your unwanted loot to your pet to hold. And better yet you can send your pet back to town to sell your extras. You can even give it a shopping list to buy any potions you might need. All the while you can continue exploring. Beyond that you can also use scrolls to teach you and your pet spells. Nothing like being healed from the brink of death by your loyal pet ferret. Or, alternatively, charging into battle with your group of zombies raised from the dead by your pet ferret.
Of course all this is for not without basic tenets of gameplay design in place. Most of the world of Torchlight is randomly generated, to great success. The difficulty options, which were a problem in Torchlight 1, are much more balanced now. The 2 easiest difficulties are a bit below where they should be in ease, but the 2 higher difficulties, Veteran and Elite are well done. In a genre bloated with tanky slugfests TL2 manages to infuse some skill in terms of dodging into it's gameplay. Your character moves fast enough to actually avoid many spells and attacks, adding an extra layer to the often stat driven experience if you chose to embrace the option.
The full game will last you in the 15-30 hour range. A very solid romp, considering the $20 price tag. When you factor in that there are 4 very different classes to try, an ample New Game+ feature, as well as shop where you can buy dungeons maps to play through at your leisure, randomly generated worlds, and online coop, well, the replay value is pretty high. Also, remember that TL2 is in the process of becoming a Steam Workshop title, with mods very likely incoming.
In the end, it's the little things that define TL2. Things like extra end game material through map shops, the entire pet feature, extensive mod support. The glossy layer of refinement over the foundation Torchlight 1 set up. The larger creature roster, loot drop rate perfection, and masterful ambient soundtrack. There are hitches, minor movement problems, the cartoony appearance which may turn some off, but overall TL2 is the ideal sequel. It not only reinforces the foundational concepts but also reconfigures it's weaknesses to make them strengths.
Final Score- 9.2/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/01/12
Game Release: Torchlight II (US, 09/20/12)
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