Torchlight II Review

September 26, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Runic Games
Distributor(s): Runic Games, Steam, Perfect World
Release Date: September 20, 2012
Platform(s): PC

When the original Torchlight made its way onto Steam, it was hailed for its ingenious, simple design formula and painterly art direction. While the players devoured every tasty morsel of gameplay that Torchlight had to offer, they all cried out for the same thing: a cooperative multiplayer experience. Runic meticulously dissected the feedback from their player base when they started designing the sequel, and when it came to the overwhelming desire for a multiplayer mode, Runic eloquently said, “we listened.”

The Good
- Ridiculously beautiful characters, environments and spell effects
- Fully-fledged randomization engine that ensures great replay value
- Absurdly rich character classes with unique abilities & play styles
- Seamless transition between single player, LAN and online multiplayer

The Bad
- Somewhat repetitive fundamental gameplay mechanics
- Occasional confusing/misleading minimap navigation
- Certain items not stackable, which clutter inventory
- No “true” complete skill or stat re-spec system

If you’ve played a dungeon crawler, then you’ve probably played Torchlight in some fashion. While that might seem like a huge turn-off, it’s actually the game's selling point. Part of the reason behind Torchlight’s success can be derived from its incredibly simple gameplay formula: it’s easily accessible to the masses and offers that little bit of classic RPG flavor that genre veterans crave. It might then be unsurprising for you to discover that a handful of developers that worked on Diablo and Diablo II are now at Runic, and have lent a helping hand in sculpting the Torchlight experience. Suddenly, it gets more interesting.

Diablo This, Diablo That 

Most critics out there find it incredibly irresistible to scrutinize Torchlight II and nit-pick parallels within it and Diablo III. And obviously, it’s incredibly hard not to. Both games are contemporary dungeon crawlers with similar tastes and styles. However, comparing the gameplay of Diablo III and Torchlight II would be like comparing the taste of a Thanksgiving turkey to a chocolate crepe. While both are savory in their own regard, you expect the taste of one and ultimately enjoy the other with more intensity.

Without going into the realm of “beating a dead horse” with boring compare/contrast arguments that you’ll find littered around almost every game review site on the net, or delving into why you’ll ultimately get more out of a twenty-dollar game than you will with a sixty-dollar game, I’ll safely say that both games have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. Playing Torchlight II simply has more advantages than disadvantages, and its weaknesses are so minute in comparison that the mere thought of playing Diablo III again makes you feel a bit awkward on the inside.

Oops, look at that – it happened anyways. Moving on.

(Very) Basic Training

One of the main selling points I mentioned earlier boil down to the simple game mechanics that Torchlight has to offer. You point and click, you slay, you loot – rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. The only variation comes with how you choose to slay the monsters. You’ll probably ask yourself at some point, “Why do we play games like this?” It boils down to a simple risk versus reward system, in which Torchlight II has managed to land a big bull’s-eye. Rather than running the same boss or dungeon dozens upon dozens of times in search of a particular set item, vendors in town have a chance to sell them along with other various pieces of attractive loot. The difficulty levels are straightforward and can get extremely challenging, and while battles look grim you know there’s a chance that you can win. While this might sound excruciatingly elementary to some, it’s essential for good gameplay, and more importantly, it keeps the player motivated.

Ask, And Ye Shall Receive

Something needs to be said for the transition between single player and multiplayer, as this is something that some games have been trying to get right for years. Upon choosing a character, you have the option to play either in a single player game, a multiplayer game, or through a LAN connection. There’s no drawbacks or catches, there’s no penalty for going from single player to multiplayer, or vice versa. In an age where most games require a constant internet connection in order to play, I think I can safely say that I’m not the only one who finds this to be a bit refreshing. My faith in the spirit of a good old-fashioned LAN party might not die after all…

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?

While the original Torchlight boasted an impressive, unique art style that remained consistent throughout the game, Torchlight II keeps the main aesthetic and steps it up several notches. This is most notably seen in the environments, which have been painstakingly hand-painted and lovingly placed by hand into modular assets that the game can use. The characters, which don’t particularly fall into conventional or easily recognizable RPG archetypes (except for the Embermage), are exaggerated but not in a distracting or annoying way. The music is also beautifully crafted by MattUelmen, who also worked on the Diablo franchise as well as Starcraft and World of Warcraft soundtracks as well. Just running through the first zone gives me flashbacks of running through the moors of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. Fond memories, indeed.

The spell effects and ability visuals have all received an upgrade, and this is most apparent in a multiplayer game with four or more people. When I reach that threshold in a multiplayer game, my screen erupts into a colorful disharmony that while looking pretty actually reduces my frame rate quite a bit. When you get several people using area of effect abilities in tandem, it gets a little nutty. However, turning down your video settings can easily rectify this.

Perhaps “Bad” is a Misnomer

No game is without its faults. While sifting through the notes of my first initial play-through, it became apparent that the things that I found irritating or needing improvement were so minor that it’s more nit picking than anything else. There is no better example than the re-spec system in game, which allows players to speak to an NPC and refund only the last three skills in which they invested. This has its pros and cons – players can spend points in new skills without a huge penalty, but as you level and unlock new skills, you can’t go back and reduce points you spent early in the adventure. Runic hasn’t addressed this directly, but it is assumed that this will be among the first things rectified when the modding tools are released to the public. Runic wants people to tinker with their game and I’m guessing they’re counting on the player base help them craft a solid solution for this. The modding community in the first Torchlight was vast and active and I expect the same to be true for Torchlight II.

Other small issues that I encountered involved inventory clutter and confusing minimap navigation. Torchlight II’s outdoor environmental generator is light years ahead of the first Torchlight, and this is mostly due to the fact that the original Torchlight took place underground. Issues arise when trying to find a specific path up a hill, cliff or mountain because there’s no indicator of a change in elevation. The other issues I had were with ember shards (ember being the magical element within the game) – they’re simply not stackable, and they should be considering the frequency at which you discover them. These are minor grievances in the grand scheme of things and to be honest, I initially had trouble finding things that needed improvement because the game (simply put) is already incredibly polished. But, as a wise man once said, “the greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.”

Torchlight has come a long way since its initial release in 2009 and to that, there is no denying – Torchlight II delivers on all fronts. It’s refreshing to see such dedication to all aspects of a title and it makes me wish that more studios shared such a thorough enthusiasm for the art and design process that Runic has displayed with Torchlight II.

I’ll leave you with this one final question: if you own a PC, and you’re reading this article: then how come you haven’t purchased it yet?

No, seriously. Do it.

Final Score “Most Bang For Your Buck” 9.0
No question about it, the visuals are amazing. Torchlight II has incredible environments, characters and spell effects – everything is stylized and it fits together in a neat, cohesive package.
While simple in terms of mechanics, Torchlight II offers much in terms of replay value. Several gameplay elements have been improved upon from the original and new ones have been implemented (namely multiplayer).
With a modest twenty-dollar price tag, Torchlight II has incredible value. The areas are vast and because of the randomization algorithm, each play-through is unique.
The music is stellar, for lack of a better word. Matt Uelmen has set a captivating mood for each zone that brings an entirely new level of immersion to the game.

Review by Jordan Powers

Jordan Powers is an artist originally hailing from Williamsburg, VA. After with a degree in illustration, he worked as an instructor at one of America's leading tech camps where he taught multiple 3D game design & digital media curricula. He was once a member of a prominent Quake II clan and also played Counter-Strike for three seasons within the CyberAthelete's League. Currently in Florida, he is pursuing a degree in 3D game art and seeks to combine his passion for art with his love for games. All Articles by Jordan.

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