The first Torchlight was lauded for being the best dungeon-crawling experience since Blizzard's Diablo. It's a bold claim, but it's also one that hangs over Torchlight II's steampunk head .
Players can choose from four classes that are more than the standard archetypes of muscled fighters and elderly mages. The Engineer is the steampunkish warrior whose magic lies in heavy melee or the machines that he (or she) can summon as bots to heal the party or dish out damage. They also have a special kind of magic, such as shielding themselves with a glowing bubble of protection before charging at an enemy with a massive, two-handed hammer.
If you want more of a mage character, the Embermage aims to please with a couple of elemental-focused spells that provide short- and long-range attacks. As long as they have mana, they can litter the battlefield. Berserkers are brutal, close-combat toughs who specialize in dishing out damage — especially when armed with dual claws, Wolverine-style.
Lastly, there's the Outlander, who specializes in long-distance smackdowns against anything that can shoot. They also have a few clever magic tricks that enable them to do more. With the right skills, flying shadowlings erupt from slain foes to aid the fight, or a powerful glaive can bounce between enemies as if they were role-playing the movie, "Krull."
Players even get a pet, which can be a scrappy dog, an inquisitive ferret, or even a hawk. These permanent friends grow up alongside the main character, though there's no customization aside from a few cosmetic changes, collars and tags for them to wear, and spells that they can learn. They have hit points, too, but they'll always run when it's too low, and they never die. They won't win your battles without you, but they're handy in whittling down the bad guys or lending a quick heal or two for you or the party.
At its core, Torchlight II plays by old-school rules with statistics, such as Focus and Strength, along with a raft of class-specific skills. What Runic Games has done is make all of this accessible to players regardless of their level of expertise. Explanations are tacked on to everything, and there are more than enough numbers for meticulous players to crunch to achieve the perfect build. Though points invested in attributes can't be changed, skill point investments can be rolled back, albeit up to a point. You can't completely re-roll the characters once things take off.
Earning a level awards five points that you can invest into stats and a single point to dedicate to a skill that players want to unlock or improve. In addition, fame points are earned for killing particularly tough "champion" monsters and quest bosses. For every rank in fame earned, a skill point is awarded.
Loot pours off of the battlefield, and there's a respectable mix of goods. Not only are there standard types of bows, pistols, portable cannons and swords, but elemental shards are also dropped to enhance the loot. Electrical shards, for example, can grant armor additional protection against electrical attacks. Put it in a weapon, and it could deal the same kind of attacks to enemies.
Slots are found on almost everything, so players can mix and match. If a mistake is made, you need to find two special NPCs lurking at one of the hubs. They can destroy the gem to free up a valuable slot for something else, or they can destroy the item to save a rare gem.
Adding even more variety to what is found are the color grades that determine the rarity of items. Weapons and armor can be stacked with a bunch of buffs (or as few as one or two), so it's important that you think over the desired skills. There's always the feeling that you'll find something better later on.
Stash chests keep any extra loot you find, freeing up limited inventory space for you and your pet. Another chest can allow you to load up your other classes with gear if you're playing more than one character. With the exception of socketable items, which demand that the item is at a certain level, most gear isn't level-based. Most allow you to use them if you meet the statistics requirement, so if your level 14 character has the right amount of Focus and Strength, he or she can use that level 30 helmet.
Other bonuses include enchanters, which give weapons and armor powerful buffs. Each one is also varied in what they can do. So as long as they have enough cash, players can burn through enchantments or remove them to make room for others. Enchants are random, so you can't pick what you want to add, only gauge what you might get from the subtitle that hints at how good a particular enchanter may be. There's even an alchemist who can mix together items, shards, and potions to roll up a new potentially powerful goody.
Torchlight II throws out the idea that armor, weapons and trinkets can be class-specific. Anyone can dual-wield, so if you want an Embermage mage with a wand in each hand, do it. If you want them to have pistols, no one's stopping you. The only thing that might be an issue is that certain rare items are class-specific. It was great seeing "mysterious" orange items drop from mobs until I used an identification scroll, which revealed that my Outlander character couldn't use the items intended for the Berserker.
Players can map their most-used keys, though those hoping to use a gamepad are out of luck. Difficulty levels are also set once the game starts, and they can't be changed for your solo character, even though multiplayer games won't restrict you in the same way. Also, the difficulty level of "Normal" may be too much on the easy side for some players, but if you want to hop on a server set on "Elite," there's nothing to stop you from doing so. To play online, you'll need to set up a Runic Games account to sign on to the service.
Every time I fought something in Torchlight II, the action was quick and easy to grasp, though some things felt more "clicky" than I like. I went through the single-player campaign dual-wielding pistols with the Outlander, and one of the things you can do, with any class, is to hold down the Shift key and point in a direction and shoot off spells or ranged weapons. This was definitely a help, especially in lowering the wear on the mouse when I wanted to shoot up a mob of monsters.
Death is also treated differently. You can opt to resurrect at the beginning of the current area or dungeon, both of which will exact a price in gold that scales upward with the more you have. Or you can resurrect back in town for free. Town portal scrolls make traveling much easier, if you remember to set a destination.
Multiplayer options allow up to six friends to be added to the campaign, either on a LAN or via the Internet, and the experience was extremely smooth without lag. Getting into a game, though, was a little finicky. I had to try multiple times to get into a friend's Internet game before I was ever challenged for the password.
Runic has also innovated here, as loot isn't a free-for-all. Dropped loot is visible to each player, but the items are individually theirs. No one else will see the same thing, so everyone can be greedy without worrying about divvying up the spoils after a big kill or someone looting a valuable item online and then logging off. It's a great solution to an age-old problem, and if players want to trade something they found, they're free to do that.
The story is pretty standard. Cut scenes and in-game quests tell you what is going on and flesh out the backdrop to Torchlight II's world, but it's nothing that you haven't seen before. It clearly takes second place to the actual gameplay.
Torchlight II's world, on the other hand, is lovely to view, and that helps when you're farming the wilderness or the dungeons buried beneath it. It's cartoonish and whimsical down to the look of the characters, and that contributes to the game's fantasy, action RPG aesthetic. Spell effects burn the screen while subtle effects on weapons and armor can make characters appear as avatars of destruction. While it doesn't have a hard edge, it's easy to overlook when you and your friends' pockets are packed with gear.
Enjoying my time with Torchlight II seems like an understatement. It doesn't "boast" the price tag that other titles might have. The title gleefully demolishes the archaic perception that "cost equals quality." I easily spent as much time with Torchlight II as I did with others like it, such as Titan Quest, and I'm looking forward to diving in again. Finishing the game unlocks a "Maproom," where you can purchase maps that open up new dungeons to loot and bosses to fight — and the game keeps generating more. You can also hit up a New Game Plus mode and start all of the quests with what you have.
Torchlight II eagerly empowers the player with many of the things that made classic ARPGs great, and then it builds even more into the formula. It's perfect for an hour of your time or an online weekend binge with friends. Like many of the things in this game, it's up to the player on how they want to play it. For those who are still looking to fill their pockets with coins, collect mysterious weapons from a faraway land, and carefully craft their avatar, adventurers can't go wrong with Torchlight II.
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