There's been an awful lot of loot dropping on my PC over the past week. Between Torchlight 2 and my continued foray into Diablo III
I had plenty of dungeon crawling to occupy my time lately (and that's with me trying to stay out of Borderlands 2
as best I could). Everyone knew that the follow up to the original Torchlight
was going to be an excellent title, and I'm pretty much here to affirm that today. But is it better than Diablo 3? Well, that's a difficult call to make, since each game has strengths and weaknesses that seem to mirror each other. Where one game excels the other seems to flounder, and vice versa. But as it stands I can say that Torchlight 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor, and Runic Games should be applauded for their success at providing a quality product (that worked out of the box on the first day of release).
Now that that jab is out of the way, Torchlight 2 follows up shortly after the first game left off, the heart of Ordrak has been taken by The Alchemist, the antagonist to the player's hero who must track down the Alchemist and stop him from harnessing the dark powers the heart possesses. Told through some nifty drawn cutscenes provided by Klei Entertainment, the three chapters of the game span a roughly twenty hour experience for the first playthrough. Honestly it doesn't feel too different from Diablo 2's story, and is perhaps the weakest part of the whole experience. I wasn't expecting a reinvention of the wheel in storytelling, but it came off as a copy to the 'Dark Wanderer' that brought about trouble wherever he went. Though in the case of Torchlight 2, the Alchemist is stealing the essence of Guardians that keep the world in balance, so maybe it's not a total carbon copy. Along the way players will encounter familiar enemies from the original Torchlight along with a handful of new foes that threaten their adventure at every turn.
These new enemies and the old ones are looking pretty damn spiffy in the 2012. The character models have been improved tremendously but still keep the style of the original Torchlight, and some of the new bosses have some really fantastic graphical tricks that I wish were used more often throughout the game, the boss of the second act in particular comes to mind. There's a lot of color use that keeps the caves and deserts and forests from feeling too monochromatic, and it's all very detailed, and even has some weather effects to keep things fresh. The game runs fantastically well on my two year old machine, only having an occasional drop in framerate when there are tons of enemies on screen. While this is pretty common, I'm talking about a screen flooded with enemies as the rare occurrence where this game suffers any kind of performance hit. The level design team has also stepped up their game from the first Torchlight and I'm really impressed with the terrain in Torchlight 2. With hills and sand dunes that undulate and offer strategic height advantages (and disadvantages), it feels a lot more natural in design and doesn't just give off the feeling of a wide open space with random packs of enemies roaming around looking for trouble. Enemies will empty from tents, jump down from ledges and in general will make a hassle of the adventure, but they feel like they do it naturally.
Torchlight 2 is really about building upon the first game, and improves in a lot of aspects just by having more. Sound is an improvement just because of the variety of music across the different acts, no more of the melancholy guitar strumming while peddling wares in Torchlight. The mostly ambient music sets a mood fairly well and some of the music for the bosses feels quite epic and appropriate. The number of default pets has been increased and offers up plenty of options. My Outlander was paired up with Professor Hawking, and he's served my Outlander well, and giving pets the ability to bring back items from peddlers has made trips to the town almost completely pointless, and saved my ass in a number of battles, even with the two minute timer I was able to dodge attacks while at minimal health while my pet tried to haggle over the price of health potions. The stable of vendors remains mostly unchanged from the first game, though players now also have the ability to respec up to their last three skill points for the cost of some gold.
The new classes give players four options for how they want to play the game, all of which feel well balanced and enjoyable to play. The Outlander plays similar to the Vanquisher, working with ranged weapons and dealing out a great deal of damage with ricocheting skills and large explosives. Higher level skills can spawn shadowlings on a kill and will attack nearby enemies or summon a large brute to fight alongside the player. The Engineer feels like a cross between the Destroyer and Vanquisher, capable in large weapons and using mechanical bots to heal or deal large amounts of damage. The newest class and distinctly different Berserker is an expert in speed and hand to hand combat, and the skills the Berserker wields run the gamut from elemental skills to savage close range attacks that do massive physical damage. The last class is the Embermage that focuses on big elemental spells and uses staves and wands when enemies close the gap.
Loot for these characters will be everywhere, urns, tree stumps, pagodas, dead bodies, chests, literally anything destructible will house some sort of crap to lug back to town, or dump on the pet for some fast cash. What's mind boggling to me is just how much stuff there is to find. Sets upon sets of gear make collecting them all nigh impossible thanks to the meager storage options in Torchlight 2. One of the few areas I wasn't terribly fond of was how little storage a character can have. There's the main inventory window which holds 32 equipment items, potions, fish and maps get their own sub-menu under consumables, and spells are given their own inventory as well. Then there is the main storage which holds 32 items, and the pet inventory which can hold another 32 items, and lastly a shared storage that can be accessed by all the characters a player has created, holding another 32 items.
This may sound like a lot of space, but it fills up far too quickly, and with some armor sets taking up as many as eight slots it becomes a bit difficult to manage. I pined in agony over throwing away items, and sure I could have made mule characters but I don't think that's a very elegant solution for someone like me who will pick up anything blue, purple or orange under the sun. The addition of a shared storage is brilliant since it allowed me to find gear for other classes and not immediately chuck it, instead I'm able to try other classes at a relatively accelerated pace. The different pages for items and maps is a good stopgap but ultimately it doesn't stop me from needing to constantly return to town to offload my junk. By the end of my second playthrough I was avoiding green items altogether, but that didn't stop me from destroying every piece of property in the game in hopes of finding more sweet loot.
Killing enemies for that loot has never been more fast-paced or enjoyable. Runic Games felt it necessary to kick speed up a few notches in this game and as a result Torchlight 2 is a speedy, tight, and overall enjoyable experience. The characters move briskly across the terrain (and that's before haste spells and abilities that increase movement speed), and attack quickly, and thanks to the Charge bar, combat moves even more quickly. By constantly being in the heat of battle players will fill up the Charge bar and as a result will receive increased damage, critical hit rates, damage, or other facets based on their class. With skills and gems that can increase the charge rate or decrease the decay rate it's easy to stay fully charged when playing with others. Which players will be doing plenty of thanks to the multiplayer.
Multiplayer is a welcome addition to Torchlight 2, allowing up to six players to join up and track down the alchemist. Though it's a bit difficult to get a pick-up party going, players can opt to start and game and just leave it open for others to join at their leisure, though eventually it becomes like herding cats when the game gets full and people are just looking for some loot. The end-game in Torchlight 2 gives players two options, first up is New Game Plus, which keeps the players level and ups the enemy levels accordingly, though the difficulty cannot be changed, so if players want a consistent challenge, the Veteran or Elite levels may offer up the challenge they crave. Players can also clear the game to access the Mapworks, a parallel universe that allows players to purchase maps and explore dungeons, much like in the first Torchlight. Maps can only be purchased now, so it's not possible to just drop in to a map in the middle of an adventure, which is kind of weak considering that the main story path of Torchlight 2 is pretty linear, it has a few optional quests and easter eggs, but it would have been nice to be able to attempt to dive in to a dungeon that was ten or twenty levels out of my league for the prospect of high level loot.
With Torchlight 2 Runic Games has improved on nearly every aspect of the original game. The complaints and issues I have with the game are minor and didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the game. The amount of gameplay players will get with this game for their dollar is also really refreshing, and in an industry that has AAA titles costing three times the amount of Torchlight 2 it's nice to get a break every now and again. Torchlight 2 might not have beat Diablo 3 to the market, but it manages to beat Diablo 3 in a key aspect, and that's fun.