September 28th, 2012 | By Petey A.M.
Every once in awhile a developer comes super close to hitting the nail on the head. They release a game that is teeming with goodness and fantastic in its potential. The unfortunate reality of that statement is that it means the developer just missed and made something special that was not quite ideal. Occasionally in this situation, the developer earns a second shot because of a healthy amount of commercial success, which earns them ample money to give it another shot. Such was the nature of the original Torchlight, which was so close to incredible but handcuffed itself with some missing dynamics and sometimes tedious linearity. Luckily, because of the commercial success of Torchlight, Runic Games was able to release Torchlight II, and it succeeds nearly everywhere that Torchlight struggled.
So I suppose for those who have not heard of Torchlight II, I should give a brief overview. Torchlight II is an isometric top-down action RPG from Runic Games. Got it? Oh, you want more? Well, in Torchlight II players can choose from 1 of 4 classes to play as. Classes include the melee focused Berserker, magical Embermage, pistol-toting Outlander, and arcane technology wielding Engineer. This guy, meaning me, favored the Engineer cause he totally can wield cannons and make robots. Robots people. Then the character is given a pet companion, of which players can choose from a bulldog, panther, wolf, or a few other choices. Players are given tasks throughout the world that are posed as quests, which I hear is some kind of stalwart in the RPG world. Correct me if I am wrong. Players then gain experience and fame through kicking enemies butts, destroying bosses, and completing these quests.
Well, thus far I pretty much described every isometric action RPG as well as the original Torchlight with the exception of the four new classes. Torchlight II innovates upon the foundation of Torchlight in many ways. First of all, the world is now open for exploration. I mean, it isn’t exactly open like Skyrim, and the level progression is recommended and leads to somewhat linear paths, but players are not forced to travel through the same dungeon, just descending lower and lower into the abyss. There are plenty of dungeons and there is no particular order to approach them in any certain area. So you and your friends are not forced through any areas.
Friends? Yeah I said friends. Oh, you haven’t heard? Torchlight II added coop for this iteration and it costs nothing to join up with friends. The absence of coop in Torchlight was a large issue for a number of fans of the genre and the addition of it to Torchlight II is much welcome. Players can begin coop with any character at any level with other players of any level; however, it creates no issue as players can limit the level range of players who join their game. It is a fantastic feature which makes multiplayer painless.
Okay, enough about the features let’s move on to some opinions. My primary love of RPGs is character customization, but the customization process is reliant on smooth progression. For an RPG to stay engaging the player must feel as though their character is improving to meet challenges. Torchlight II has incredibly fast progression, as challenges quickly increase and players characters become powerful equally as fast. I measured myself leveling up around 3 times per hour. My characters fully evolved into the builds I wanted in hours and the challenges steeply increased to meet the progression of my vaunted Engineer, named Gin Whiskey, and my destructive Embermage, Magey (it was late and my creative juices failed me).
Accompanying the incredible pacing of skill progression is a diverse skill tree full of depth. As my characters so speedily progressed I was given numerous skill upgrades, which all have all of which can take a like-class character and change the style of play. Do you make a magical defensive engineer who fights from a distance with a cannon and throws spider mines , or imagine an offensive close ranged wrench-swinging engineer who summons battle-bots? There are three separate types of skill trees, all of which have different strengths and tend towards different play styles. It is up to you to use the skill tree how you please and makes the 4 classes feel like 12 to 15 classes. Simply put, the game advancement and skill trees are near flawless.
Likewise, with the positive sentiments continue, combat is a blast. I mean, it is nothing more than rapid clicking, but the skills at a character’s disposal make combat feel new with each level gained and area explored. I at one point had a process where I would deploy a healing bot, gun bot, then shield myself and my allies, and stand back and fire cannon shots into an area of enemies. Within three level ups, I was deploying a massive smashing bot and going to town on enemies face holes with a wrench. My whole strategy towards combat changed immediately after I unlocked the ability to summon this hulk of metal. Combat never ceases to be fun, which is necessary, as Torchlight II does not exactly buck some of the normal flaws associated with the isometric action RPG.
Those flaws, which we commonly associate with other isometric RPGs, are of course story related issues. I mean, the story hardly displays itself as a factor in the game. It is fully there, but there is almost no reason to pay attention or care about what is going on. It is the opposite of engrossing and I could not have cared less about it. Unfortunately, the story is not the only deficit. Boss fights are fairly disappointing. They are little more than hack and slash and most of the bosses use the same tricks. They could of proved dynamic and interesting but instead really came up flat. The last problem are the items. You loot constantly, but the vast majority of it seems meaningless. You sort through mounds of crap to find one good thing per 30. It is frustrating and leads to your pet having to head back to town constantly.
Luckily, these are but teeny problems in the world of Torchlight II, as the rest of the game proves engrossing and a hell of a fun ride. Torchlight II is the kind of game you get obsessed with, because your character is constantly on the precipice of greatness. You feel your character is one level from perfect. Character progression is the driving force, but Torchlight II‘s combat is what keeps you playing. Put that together with outstanding graphics, habit-forming level progression, and a fantastically envisioned open world, and you have one of the best RPGs of the year.