Delayed Reactions: Torchlight II
So, here we are. Torchlight II. Does it justify using roman numerals in it’s name over alpha-numeric characters? Can it live up to months of hype and without even finishing this sentence or getting to the bottom of the view I can tell you yes. Oh lord, yes.
YOUR PET — HAS DEPARTED
It’s probably not fair to either Blizzard or Runic to start this off with a comparison between TLII and Diablo 3. Having said that, allow me to start this off with a comparison to TLII and Diablo 3. I’ve only played D3 fleetingly through the Starter Edition. It’s a fine dungeon crawler, if not quite worth the $60 asking price. That’s not my biggest issue with it, though. I’ve expressed this opinion before, and I’ll do it again here – There’s a real sense of malice with how Blizz has handled D3. Even more so than Ubisoft, I get the general feeling that Blizzard finds me to be an annoyance on their way to huge profits. I’m sure many people love the whole “we know what’s best for you and will force it on you” mantra, but I’m not a PC gamer because I like being told what to do by people who obviously hate me. It’s the same reason I don’t buy Apple products – “You will do what we say with our product, when we say it, and how we say it, and you will thank us when it’s over”. You will start off on a mid-level difficulty. You will play with friends or randoms. You will never lose your internet connection. And you will use the real-money auction house when you want to tackle Inferno mode. It’s a bit like people abiding by ridiculous dress codes, rude bouncers, and overpriced drinks to get into the hottest new club.
There’s none of that in TLII. Through my 20 hours of playtime, I never once got the impression that Runic was bossing me around. Want to start off on the hardest difficulty? Go for it. Want to use mods? Be our guest. Want to play offline? Play how you want. It goes a long way to engendering a sense of goodwill, and makes for a happier gamer. Happier gamers like your game much more, flaws and all. This isn’t some trendy, expensive club. This is your favorite watering hole with the best jukebox you’ve ever seen, people surrounding you that genuinely care about how your day was, and bartenders who don’t sneer at you when you don’t leave a 20 dollar tip on every drink.
YOUR PET — HAS RETURNED
If you’re reading this review, you already know how TLII plays – we need not get into specifics here. I should also get the worst part of the game out of the way now – it’s storyline. I haven’t a clue what’s going on and I don’t care to. It makes references to the previous installment, but ‘sonofabitch’ I can’t remember a thing about that one’s tale either. Oh well. Onto the fun stuff!
For all my love of the first Torchlight, it was a small game. One town on top of one dungeon. Fun, but claustrophobic and tiresome after a bit. TLII, on the other hand, feels open and sprawling. No unique environments within the genre per say, but each one is beautifully rendered with tiny details that don’t show themselves at first. The instinct of every gamer is to keep the camera as far out as possible in a game like this. Do yourself a favor – every so often, zoom all the way in and observe the detail in every fight. Enemies aren’t just static boxes of hit points. They’re well animated, with impressive facial gestures on occasion. This is one game worth zooming in for.
And the loot? Dear god – it’s tasty. You’ll be finding so much interesting gear that it’s almost hard to decide on a build for your characters. I’ve been rolling with a Berserker, carrying two blades at once, with one of them having a vampiric buff, which allows me to drain HP from baddies with every hit. This makes up for my admitted lack of defensive armors – I tend to pick gear that ups my offensive stats. But you know what? I can switch anytime. Every few minutes, something else will drop that makes me reconsider my build. It allows me to experiment and have fun with gear, knowing that I’m not locked into anything. The skill tree is a bit harder to re-spec, only allowing your last three allocation points to be altered, and even then you must find an NPC to do it for you. Not optimal, but I put a lot of thought into how I build my skill tree, so I can’t say I was bothered. Still, if you’re the indecisive type, be forewarned.
Another word of advice – explore. Take your time. I was wandering around the hillside, slashing the shit out of everything that looked me awkwardly, when I came upon a ghostly fisherman. A few clicks and he sent me on a fetch quest that lasted far longer than I anticipated. These sorts of neat little side quests are peppered throughout, but you’ll need to seek them.
Visually, we’re somewhere between the first game and “Mickey Mouse farted a rainbow”. The varied environments gives TLII a chance to show off a more varied palette in turn. You’ll find very little of the “videogame apocalypse” effect here. It’s the type of world that can only happen in a videogame – therefore, it is my favorite type of world.
In addition to it’s robust single-player, the entire game can be played via co-op, with up to six players laying waste to the screen at once. Myself, Rob, three friends, and Trollware decided to test this baby out one night. Here are some random thoughts.
For one, the net code is surprisingly nimble. Not once during our playthrough did anyone complain of lag or disconnects. Keep in mind, we were playing from NYC (fist pump), Pittsburgh, Indiana, and Canada. We were all on Skype, and Troll was also streaming a disconcerting amount of loud Japanese tentacle pornography in the background. Not a single hiccup. As always, your mileage may vary, but color me impressed.
In it’s best moments, the co-op provides a literal explosion of sound and color onscreen. You will lose track of your character and cursor at times. Your speakers will rumble with the sounds of six different spells being unleashed at once, followed by the raucous cheering that inevitably follows taking down a giant Cthulhu-esque monstrosity and wallowing in the loot with some pals (and Trollware [what's with all the troll-bashing? Ed.]). It’s incredibly rewarding, and is something that everyone should experience at least once…..a night. And about that loot…..
TLII doesn’t go the “shared loot” route, and it’s a smart decision here. For the minor niggling I’ve heard about having to open the trade window to swap gear with your chums, as opposed to just dropping stuff on the ground, I came to enjoy the minutes of calm as we gathered around to gift each other high-level gear. It’s a wonderful reminder of why I enjoy playing games with friends. The openness of TLII’s design works wonders here, as well. Example – Rob and I were of a higher level than everyone else (Fuck yeah – Ed.). At a certain point, we decided to wander off into some high-level dungeons and kick ass. After numerous misadventures where I, the dashing hero, had to save Rob, the bumbling sidekick, we emerged into the daylight to find our co-op partners involved in a huge scrum with the Undead. The game did not plan this – it just happened that way. There was no leash binding us to one another. We were free to wander off, meet up again, and save each other asses as we pleased. It’s the type of game experience I dreamed of when I was a teenager. It sums up why I’ve become a gamer again – games have finally caught up to my imagination. ADVENTURE!!
CLICK, CLICK, CLICK
And all this….for 20 bucks. I can’t think of a better indicator of the generosity of Runic. From top to bottom, this is a game imbued with love for the genre, and love for the player. It likes spending time with you as much as you like spending time with it. TLII amounts to a giant, friendly bear hug that you would be wise to return. This is a game I will be playing for years, rolling and re-rolling, trying out mods, and scouring the corners of the maps in search of epic loot. And all this, for a small investment I made today.
Well played, Runic. Craft beers and blow on Gamecrashers next time you’re in NYC. It’s the least I can do for such generosity.
Torchlight 2 is developed by Runic Games and Distributed by Perfect World & Steam – It is now available on the PC through Steam, Perfect World, Torchlight II website. A Mac port is in development.