By – Stuart Young

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Engineering is important in Torchlight 2. This bright fantasy ARPG peppers its stock swords-and-sorcery with voguish steampunk/clockpunk aesthetics. For example: players can wield brass repeating shotguns – or shotgonnes, to borrow the game’s faux-archaic vernacular, face off against magical automata and one of the four player classes is a hammer wielding Engineer.

It’s perhaps fitting then, that Torchlight 2 is perhaps the most carefully engineered RPG released this year. Everything fits together like a precision-tooled machine, completely trimmed of excess, pushing the player forwards a continuous, gratifying cycle of loot and reward. Like most Diablo-modelled action RPGs, the whole game, lasting 15-20 hours on a first playthrough, fits into a comparatively simple formula. You click on enemies a lot, they die, you hover up the ridiculous goodies they drop, and move on to the next batch. TL2, however, has been utterly trimmed of any fat or frustration.

It’s got all the vaguely sinister loot-drop timesink mechanics of a subscription MMO or a free-to-play game, but Runic games appear to have a relatively benign interest in exploiting their focus-tested and perfectly-balanced creation. Runic want an entry fee of approximately fifteen pounds, and after that, the skinnerian delights of Torchlight 2 are yours to enjoy in their entirety. It’s moddable, there’s multiplayer (the headline addition over Torchlight 1), and there’s no real money auction house or always on connection in sight – a fact which will prove enticing to Blizzard fans disappointed by the more controversial ‘features’ of Diablo the Third.

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Torchlight 2 opens with a hand-drawn anime style cutscene. The three playable characters of the original Torchlight have gone their separate ways, but The Alchemist (mage) has been corrupted by ember (magical unobtanium) and provides the main antagonist. His former pals the vanquisher (rogue) and destroyer (warrior) try to take him down but fail, destroying the town of Torchlight. It’s up to you to right some wrongs and eventually defeat the new big bad. So not a complicated plot – and it’s not told with any great subtlety in the game, with plenty of confusing names thrown around from the get-go.

This isn’t a great problem, though. The quirky fantasy world of Torchlight has enough charm to mask any storytelling deficiencies, and rather wisely Torchlight cuts straight to the goon slaying almost immediately. One of the nice little details is the thesaurus-raiding approach the developers have to loot naming. It may all come at random from a data array, but it’s nice to be offered quirky loot like a “Vampiric Vented Shotgonne” or an “Ice-Surge Forest Skullcap”.

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Torchlight 2 plays as a simple, stripped down RPG at heart – your left button attacks and moves your character, your right button performs a special. It’s presented in third person, from a slightly tilted bird’s eye view. You’ll occasionally tap a number key to drink a potion or use another skill, but in the main, this is a game that can be played one-handed. Your exact play routine, however, will vary depending on your choice of character class and the dizzying array of different builds and specialisations on offer.  Unlike the first game, Torchlight attempts to move away from the tired old warrior/mage/rogue tropes with four classes that buck the trend a bit.Torchlight 2 has dabbled with The most straightforward is the Embermage – your basic spellcaster. The others are a little more exotic.

There’s the Outlander, the closest class to a ranger-style character, wielding guns and casting spells simultaneously. There are two more melee-focused classes. One is the Engineer, a tough character specialising in hammers and constructing steampunk robots to help with the fighting. The Beserker, a sort of wiry northern barbarian focuses on close quarters, hand-to-hand melee and can transform into a wolf. In addition to health and mana, all the characters have a kill bar. This can be topped up by regular kills but drops down after a while, giving you an incentive to keep pushing forward and compensating when enemies appear in overwhelming numbers. When full this provides class-specific buffs or abilities – for example, the Beserker enters a frenzy state with automatic criticals. It’s a really rather great idea to keep things exciting and encourage the player to take risks.

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Torchlight 2 also has a novel skill system. Rather than making old skills redundant by introducing higher level skills that completely superseded them, each of your class specialisations can be constantly improved by investing them as you rise up the ranks. My outlander’s basic “Glaive Throw” was as useful in the final battle as it was in the first. Socketable gems return, adding in another level of customisation as you pimp your gear with scraps of ember or more unusual finds – the eyes of major monsters are often more than just a gory trophy. There’s the option given to destroy the item, thus returning the gem (or vice versa) which avoids the awkward should-I-commit situation that often leaves me hoarding the most valuable resources in RPGs.

Another special mention should be made of the pets in Torchlight. No longer limited to dogs or cats, your pet is both a way of storing/selling/buying items remotely and is also a valuable fighter, taking the heat for you in combat. Furthermore, the customisation options for your pet are surprisingly deep – they can wear armour, and you can even feed them caught fish to boost their abilities or temporarily transform them into more dangerous creatures. Fishing is implemented with a simple timing mini game, but it’s worth engaging with this system for the often interesting items you can find, primarily for your pet.

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It’s always a big decision whether to send your pet off into town to buy some more health potions or to keep him by your side for that extra minute. Pets now include birds, cats, dog breeds (including an adorably jowly bulldog) and even a ferret – with tiny wee goggles to boot! The pets highlight the vibrant, chunky, cartoon-like artwork, which is just as fun as Torchlight I and has the added bonus of being laptop friendly.

The next change of note is the addition of an overworld. No longer is the sole setting multiple levels of a big mine with what amount to art swaps. Torchlight II has taken a step towards feeling like a convincing fantasy land with large outdoor sections and unique locations. Starting in a rocky mountain region, T2 moves through a sandy desert wasteland and ends up in a gloomy forest reminiscent of the Brother’s Grimm. Those are just the broad brushstrokes, though – along the way you’ll find a broad palette of locales from haunted pirate coves to dwarven ruins and dragon-infested towers.

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This makes for a greater variety of ‘feel’ as you traverse the world, however good a job Runic did of masking the inherent repetition in Torchlight I. There’s still random generation, but it feels more crafted and cleverly hidden than it was in the game’s progenitor.  There are also a few nice little moments where surprising or unique gameplay mechanics split up the clicky-looty business as usual. One section has you searching an abandoned sawmill for the journals of the dead in a scene that could have come from Bioshock. Another forces you to progress through a level while keeping pace with a moving bubble of protection to placate the whims of an egotistical genie.

Readers of my pre-review may remember that it missed out any detail about the multiplayer because I hadn’t had a chance to try it at that point. Now I have, and I have only this to report; it works. That sounds like faint praise, but it certainly isn’t. Multiplayer is extraordinarily seamless – making the implementation this smooth is a substantial achievement. You do need to create a Runic Games account, but this isn’t particularly onerous by comparison to other game registrations. After that, it’s just a matter of picking one of the public net games or creating your own. If you want to play with pals, you can set a password or select an option to only allow your friends list. Connection is quick and reliable, and the game balances for numbers smoothly. It’s all co-operative, and loot drops are individual thus preventing squabbling.

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Is It Worth Your Money?

If you like ARPGs and want something a little less po-faced, more anarchic and more generous of spirit than a certain 800-pound competitor, then I really can’t recommend Torchlight 2 enough. Torchlight II is just clicking on things to kill them, but rarely has this blueprint been better engineered.

Torchlight II Technical Summary:

  • Time Played – 25 hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – GTX 560 Ti, 3.3GHz Core i5, 8GB RAM
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – Yes

 

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  • meh

    I downloaded the demo to try it for 20 minutes. After 2 hours I had to close it. TII is excellent at what it does keeping all the classic mechanics. I’m not sure if I’ll buy it though. I’m waiting for Grim Dawn but it looks a long way until its release.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuartalexanderyoung Stuart Young

      Grim Dawn looks rather superb. Keeping an eye on that one.

  • http://www.handsometrustworthy.com/ Armaan Khan

    I love the vibrant art. And I love that someone finally drew a connection between action RPG mechanics and F2P shenanigans. Same trap, you just pay up front for one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuartalexanderyoung Stuart Young

      The thing is, I’m very conscious that this genre is all about mechanics that Jonathan Blow would probably call evil or exploitative – on the other hand, everything about Runic’s presentation and business model absolutely isn’t.

  • Russell S

    I’ve mainly played the MP with my girlfriend and we’re loving it. Loot hoarding hasn’t been as much fun since Titan Quest ! I’ve also found that the 4 classes are different enough that it’s fun to start a all over again with a different character.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuartalexanderyoung Stuart Young

      And the four classes are very well balanced, too. None of them feels weaker or less fun.

  • Avioto

    I love this game. It’s just all about having fun, unlike that other game.
    One of the best games of the year for me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuartalexanderyoung Stuart Young

      I should have probably added a few more negatives in my review. One of my weapons did go missing at one point, so evidently the cloud syncing isn’t 100% perfect. The skill system may mean you end up only investing in the first skills unlocked. And the zoom doesn’t go quite far out enough for my taste. But I’m really struggling to think of bad things here – it is a genre that some may not warm to, but you can’t claim it’s not one of the best examples of it.

      • Avioto

        I didn’t lose any weapons so far, but yeah that kinda sucks. I think the review is fair though. It’s a great review as well, and deserves way more attention in my opinion.