You know, every once in a while a game comes along that just gets everything right. You know the ones I mean, the ones that hook you and suck you in until you’ve spent so many hours within the boundaries of the world that you begin to believe it. I’ve seen it happen with some of the people I love. They become hermits, living and breathing a game until they wake up one day only to realize how isolated they really are and begin to reach out to friends again. They are the World of Warcrafts, the Final Fantasy VIIs, and the Shin Megami Tenseis. This addiction has happened to me in varying degrees with different games throughout the years and Diablo II was the worst (or best?) of them all. I am, even as we speak, fighting that hermitism which comes from playing a truly great game.
Torchlight II is the game with which I am currently fighting for my social life. The first game struck a chord with me almost instantly, but I found my interest wane as I reached down, down, deeper into the Ember mines. I have been told that the main story is actually very, very short for this first installment of the game. Regardless, I have never completed a playthrough because of all the side quests, extra dungeon floors, and all the time I spent filtering through the spam of white loot to find the equipment which I wanted. Torchlight II fixes some of the complaints I had with the first game (No multiplayer? Seriously, why didn’t the first game have multiplayer?) and goes above and beyond what I had anticipated for a sequel to a rather good Diablo clone. This game mixes elements of World of Warcraft, the first two Diablo installments, and Fate, as well as a good helping of unique Torchlight-isms. This recipe ends up being a beautiful, fun, and totally addictive dungeon-crawling lootfest. Salt to taste.
Let me begin delving into the world of Runic Games’ latest title by talking about the basics. Torchlight II is a top-down action-RPG in the classic sense. If you have played Diablo or any of its multitude of clones or sequels, you will understand the basic mechanics of the game. You control a single character. Left-clicking will either attack, interact, or move, depending on whether you have clicked on open ground, a landscape feature or NPC, or an enemy respectively. Right-clicking activates a more powerful ability and can be bound to any active skill you have trained. You can assign abilities, potions, or other single-use items to the hotbar. After that, activating these abilities is as easy as pressing the number keys across the top of the keyboard. Holding shift while left- or right-clicking will allow you to root yourself in place and attack, which is useful for ranged classes which you won’t want accidentally running into the fray and becoming goblin chow. The Z and X keys are used for your health and mana potions, this frees up some keys on your hotbar for class abilities, which is a rather nice little touch which speak volumes to the playability of the game. The map has various orientations (accessed by the M key) and is easily navigable. The space bar opens up two tabbed windows which replace all (every single one) of the various stat and inventory screens which most Diablo-likes suffer. This streamlining of the menu system (and really all of the controls) is a beautiful thing, and my big fumbling fingers are very glad to see these changes implemented in Torchlight II. Finally, you are given quests by various NPCs that will appear in your quest tab and which are marked on your minimap. Most of the game is driven by these quests and the pursuit of the XP and loot that completing them will grant.
The presentation of this game is not unique or progressive in any way. The way Runic Games has managed to piece genre standards together to create something highly familiar is, for me, a great thing. Being an older gamer, I am enjoying the wave of nostalgia the game industry is currently undergoing, and this instant recognition of one of my favourite game genres spoke to me as a long-time action-RPG player. The only issue that I am having with the reinvigoration of old ideas is the newly-archaic, barely-respeccable skill-tree which Diablo III has famously thrown in the garbage. Tochlight II‘s skill-tree is highly customizable and very interesting for each class, so I am having fun creating several builds of the same class. The problem I am finding with the system is more an emotional one in that it mars an otherwise perfect game. I feel as though the skill tree is finally an anachronism that should have been left where it was thrown, having been perfected and finally bettered, in the gutter of the new age of digital download and instant gratification. It just takes too damn long to build that perfect ricochet-type, crowd control Outlander.
The improvements over the initial release of Torchlight are manifold. The first thing that I noticed were the graphics. They are sleek, colourful, comic, and squared, not unlike the art style featured in World of Warcraft. This kind of aesthetic will cut the rendered polygon count to a reasonable amount, allowing for even older PCs to run the game at a fairly good rate while still looking recognizable and even pretty on lower-end machines. The graphical settings are deep enough to customize your experience without being stupidly over the top (I’m looking at you, Rift) as are the rest of the options menus.
One bit of detail that I am very happy with Runic adding detail to, rather than streamlining, are the Item Display options. This allows you to customize which kinds of items have visible tags when they are dropped onto the ground by mobs or chests. No more white-item spam all over your screen as you are trying to play! I find that as my character achieves higher levels, I can turn more of the less valuable items off in the Item Display menu. This streamlines the cumbersome inventory management that comes with a loot-heavy dungeon crawl as, while attacking, I tend to pick up less things accidentally. I also find myself moving on to the next set of cannon-fodder without wading through the pile of loot which was dropped. A stitch in time and all that jazz, yeah?
Another handy improvement over the initial release which speaks directly to the problem of cumbersome inventory management is the function which allows you to send your pet (yes, transformable pets are back!) to town and sell his entire inventory. This allows you to use your pet’s inventory as a junk drop-box which can be emptied at the click of a button. The pet spends a minute or two out of commission as he or she runs all the way back to town (Runic, why wouldn’t I simply open a portal to make that trip nearly instantaneous?) This being without a pet for a minute is a small price to pay for being able to continue your adventure without having to drop tons of crap on the ground or make the trip back to town to sell your huge stock of useless junk.
The music is genius. I am reminded at every turn of the hauntingly ethereal music of Tristram from the first Diablo title. This kind of familiarity made me want for that old imp-slashing feeling as I quickly turned blade to throat and began my wrecking spree. Little details in the music such as tiny gem-drop sounds from Diablo II make their way into the soundtrack as well, allowing this set of atmospheric tracks to bear the standard as the perfect soundtrack for the nostalgic Blizzard fan. I will be buying the soundtrack as soon as possible, and it will be one of the very, very few video game OST’s to make it to my main playlist on my iPhone. (I’m a music grognard, sue me.)
If I had to hazard an opinion on the matter, I would say this game simply blows Diablo III out of the water. Not only is it better looking than the official sequel in the seminal series, but it plays better as well. You can play offline single-player, and the multi-player supports up to 6 players simultaneously, something Blizzard didn’t even seem to think of. The maps are more open, allowing for more exporation, and the dungeons are more cleverly put together. The music is notable, which is 100% more than I can say about Diablo III. Should you get Torchlight II if you already own Diablo III? Simply put: Yes.