In the wake of genre giant Diablo III, it may be easy to accidentally gloss over Runic Gamesí mouse button-mashing action RPG Torchlight IIóbut having sunk my teeth into this indie gem over the last few days, I can say without reservation that itíd be a crying shame to miss out on this unassuming but robust game. Itís hard not to compare Torchlight to Blizzardís Diablo series, not only because the gamesí mechanics and design share marked similarities, but because they come from the same roots: some of Runicís co-founders are ex-Blizzard North staff of Diablo fame, and the development teamís experience with the genre really shows.
Most of you are probably already very familiar with this particular style of action RPG, which primarily revolves around frenzied mouse-clicking and exploding hordes of monsters for a steady rain of gold and randomized treasure. Torchlight II has this formula down pat and runs like a well-oiled machine: starting a new game spits out the player mere seconds away from frenetically paced monster-splatting, loot-gathering goodness, and this process can easily continue ad infinitum, as desired. Even when youíve finished the game, you can start a New Game Plus with rerolled randomized maps and greater challenge. Whatís more, you start the game at the difficulty level of your choosing, rather than needing to run the treadmill at easier levels to unlock harder ones.
Where Diablo III dabbled with on-the-fly skill swapping, Torchlight II staunchly clings to and builds on Diablo IIís traditional skill tree system: each level, characters earn points which can be invested in statistic and ability upgrades. Each of the four character classes has three technique branches with specialized active and passive skills, each with multiple upgrade tiers. Abilities and items can be dropped into a number key-activated quick bar, and players can tab between two skills activated by the right mouse button.
Invested points are relatively permanent, as only the last three points spent can be undone at any given time, allowing just a little wiggle room for experimentation. I expected to feel hampered by the inability to respec[ialize], but on the contrary, I liked that it gave each of my characters their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. As a result, I can see myself replaying the game additional times just to try out new builds. Speaking of different builds, I like that each class can be either male or female, and each characterís appearance can be somewhat personalized. The options are a bit limited but definitely beat having none at all. Each character also has a customizable pet, which can be one of several animals, and pets surprisingly proved to be one of my favorite features in Torchlight II.
Besides looking terribly cute and keeping you company during those lonely dungeon delves, your pet fights for you, transforms into a number of more powerful creatures by eating the fish you catch, learns and casts spells, carries a hefty amount of loot, and, best of all, runs back to town for a couple minutes to help you sell unwanted items so you rarely have to take a breather from dishing out slaughter to return to civilization and unload your spoils. Heck, if you give your pet a shopping list, itíll even come back with the potions or scrolls you asked for. Itís just about the best thing ever, a simple but ingenious improvement. I could hardly believe how much more fun I had from just cutting out the annoyance of constantly porting back to town in similar games. This feature may have been in the first Torchlight, but for a newcomer to the series like me, itís an eye-opening boon.
While I havenít played the original Torchlight, word has it that playersí main complaint was the lack of a multiplayer mode. Torchlight II, fortunately, includes a multiplayer mode over either Internet or LAN, and it allows up to, not four, but a whopping eight people to play together at once. I loved that the higher player cap meant I could get more family and friends together for some quality monster-smashing time. Games can be open to the public, friends-only, or password protected, and Runicís system conveniently shows each gameís difficulty level, whether it belongs to a friend, whoís already playing, and what class and level they are.
The social aspects of the multiplayer mode arenít as developed as Diablo IIIís, perhapsóparticularly, I couldnít find a way to link items to show my teammates, and the game didnít notify me when their characters died, which led to some confusion during some of the hairier fights when my allies mysteriously vanishedóbut it covers the basics, like chat, common emotes, item trading, and individualized loot drops.
Overall, I have very little to complain about Torchlight II. Story and characterization are admittedly not its strong point, and I encountered one bug that prevented me from completing a non-essential quest, but these flaws honestly detracted relatively little from the fun. As an indie title, Torchlight II doesnít have the larger budget and surface polish of some other games, but Runic makes excellent use of a simpler and decidedly brightly colored art style more reminiscent of World of Warcraft than Diablo, with gargantuan and cartoonishly beefy bosses, gear-ridden Steampunk dungeons, expressive animations, and beautiful hand-drawn cut scenes. Similarly, while the soundtrack and voiced-over dialogue are perhaps not quite as memorable as some examples from said larger-budget games, theyíre well done and suit the game universe.
At its $19.99 price point, I really canít think of many reasons to pass this one by. For those of you who have been looking for the next great mouse-mashing action RPG, particularly if you liked Diablo II but werenít a huge fan of the changes introduced in Diablo III, you may really enjoy Torchlight IIís alternate take on how Diablo IIís mechanics could have evolved. I certainly do.