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Torchlight 2 Review: The Spirital Successor To Diablo 2

Loot craving gamers have had a tough year. Diablo 3 was set to be the mecca of the genre delivering an epic story along with standard setting gameplay and features. Or so we hoped. We all know how Diablo 3 was received and since then fans of the dungeon crawling, loot harvesting, action-RPG genre have been chomping at the bit for a game to sate their appetite. What was the logical target for their feasting? Runic Games’ Torchlight 2, of course!

For those of you who don’t know about Runic and their Torchlight series, the team is made up of many ex-Blizzard North guys who worked tirelessly on the first two Diablo games. They are built on tradition and recognize what gamers love about this genre. This was easy to see in Torchlight but it was also easy to see that it was mainly a “tech demo” of sorts to see how their talents and work would be received. The result? We wanted more and we wanted it bigger.

Runic has answered the call with Torchlight 2, a still familiar affair but set on a grander stage where friends can finally join your journey and the words “spiritual successor” come to mind.

Let’s delve deep into the world of Torchlight 2 and see how it stacks up in the genre and even if you should choose this game over Blizzard’s ailing yet recovering Diablo 3.

 

 

 

Let’s get this out of the way now. You are not going to play Torchlight 2 for the story. I’m sorry but this is the weakest part of the game. Weak in terms of cliche and uninteresting events. The Alchemist returns from Torchlight and proceeds to carve a devastating and destructive path through the world on this quest. Our heroes are brought in to stop him and save the Guardians who are being targeted and corrupted.

This all sounds fine and dandy but the way the story is carried out features an uninteresting cycle of events that tries to explain the reason why you are fighting these bad guys. Here’s how it mainly goes: the world of Torchlight features a ton of crazy, powerful enemies just sitting around waiting for some guy to walk by and make them angry enough to strike out. Well, those are your bosses. This is all a culmination of the Alchemist’s path of destruction.

To be honest, it isn’t that the story isn’t good or anything. It is perceived weak but it really just rides on cliches that we have all seen before and brings nothing grand to the stage.

Well, to be very honest, the story takes a huge backseat here because in my play time I have been subject to not caring about what was said because I just wanted to play. The gameplay in Torchlight 2 is something to marvel at. We’ll get to that soon, though.

That is where the story really takes a hit. The gameplay is so strong that you have an urge to just get through NPC meetings just to slay more monsters and pick up more stuff. I found myself more interested with what was on the ground than what was in the quest pop-up.  That in itself is an issue but I did go through and play another character and made sure I was reading everything and listening and I still found myself wanting to skip through and go into the dungeon ahead of me.

 

 

 

This is where Torchlight 2 shines through very brightly. I cannot praise the gameplay in this game enough. It flows very well to where there is almost no downtime at all. You will find yourself zipping through maps killing and looting with ease. That isn’t to say there isn’t a challenge present but this is mainly about how the gameplay works. It just works. Everything clicks (see what I did there?) and you’ll find yourself enchanted with your play sessions just through the gameplay.

Again, this can be a double-edged sword because the story really takes a backseat during your play sessions because of how engrossed you can get with actually playing Torchlight 2. Nothing really mattered except killing, looting, clicking, and clicking some more.

You’ll find the controls centralized around the genre standard Control and Alt keys. Control will keep you mounted still while attacking and Alt normally has the items on the ground show up with nameplates. Initially the game automatically shows these nameplates so Alt is rather useless here unless you bind the key to another function.

What’s interesting is the placement of the “use best health potion” and “use best mana potion” keys. They are Z and X respectfully and it really helps. You won’t be splitting your fingers trying to reach the number keys above or relying on your Razer Naga or Logitech G600 side buttons. The keys are right there for a simple reach over with your left hand. It feels natural and helps immensely with that gameplay flow.

There will be plenty of challenges along the way as nearly every monster has their own special attacks and properties. You’ll find armored foes need to be shattered before they take damage and plenty of enemies that charge you and stun. Add this to the myriad of special enemies and mini-bosses that can split into 2-3 smaller bosses and you’ll be finding the Z and X keys are going to get used a lot.

Since combat is so vital in Torchlight 2 I found the class abilities and skills to be rather uninteresting. I played through the game with the Engineer and Embermage while hitting through Act 2 with the Outlander and Berserker.

 

This is a normal Flame hammer use. No charges.

 

The Engineer’s skills are few and far between useful. I found the Flame Hammer, Healing Bot, and about two or three passives to be my main set up through the entire game. Flame Hammer is very poweful and its use of the class’ Charge mechanic is lovely in terms of damage and AoE spread.

The Embermage is a bit more flashy with much more useful skills and I found this class to be well rounded in its abilities. There is just more bang for your bang across the board here and it makes the Embermage a blast to play.

The Outlander sees a few more skills fun to use and applicable to situations than the Engineer. The ranged ability of the class seems like it needs a bit of a boost. Then again, I found range damage overall too low. Nothing quite kills efficiently like melee — two-handed weapons especially.

The Berserker can kill quickly but I found him most efficient with the claw weapons. Players may find this class a bit limiting as you can really see a difference in weapon usage with the Berserker. You’ll find yourself favoriting a certain style over any of the others.

There is a sense of limitation with Torchlight 2’s classes and that is really the by-product of the skill tress. Many skills are just uninteresting or not useful. The first skill you receive as an Engineer should not be your most efficient one. I went from game start to end relying on Flame Hammer and it wasn’t because it was overpowered. It was just too useful that it made everything else seem weak or limited.

I think the worst part of this is that there is no full skill respec system or token. The Skill Repec NPC only lets you cancel out the last three skills you spend into. In the case of my Engineer I was using the Flame Hammer two-handed spec for so long that I wanted to try new things out. I had to activate the game’s console command to reset my skill points just to try out different things. Ultimately I settled on staying with the Flame Hammer but it was the point of how difficult it was to test things out. If Diablo 3 did anything right, it was not forcing players to literally spec their characters in one way and keep them there or penalize of them for wanting to change. All you had to do was switch up the skills, of which you learned them all anyways. Torchlight 2 would benefit from an in-game, non-console reset skill mechanic.

 

 

 

You’ll be plenty impressed with the world of Torchlight 2. Gamers wanted a bigger game and they got it. The maps in the game are large enough to include multiple dungeons, plenty of quests, and loads of special enemies and mini-bosses.

In fact, there are plenty of things to do in each map of the game. You’ll run across fishing spots, dungeons, boss pits, event locations, phase instances, and special loot areas. The best part, however, is how detailed and filled the world is. Every area has something unique to it. You may be in a normal forest then the next map will be misty or corrupted. You won’t see the same map over and over again just with a different shape. The game rotates scenery often enough to keep your eyes happy with the visuals.

The game will take you through the corrupted mountains, a desert hiding ancient machinery deep below, and a haunting forest filled with dwarven ruins. Each area is enchanting and fun to look at and run through. They are also filled with several dungeon maps that help change the look of the game from time to time. Overall, the whole point of this game’s world and map design is to keep it fresh in the mind and eyes of the player. It works well enough but there is still one thing that bugs me…

Oh yes, it must be that if you worked for Blizzard North at one time in your life you must be obsessed with the plains, forests, mountains, tundras, and underground settings. These games always seem to include the same locals. In fact, let’s look at these examples:

  • Diablo 2: plains, desert, jungle, underground, mountains/tundra (Act V)
  • Diablo 3: plains, desert, tundra, cityscape
  • Torchlight 2: mountains, desert, forest

In fact, the last dungeon crawling game I remember that took us through completely fresh locals was Titan’s Quest. The still in-development Path of Exile is doing a pretty good job so far with the locals in the game. I just don’t understand why more games in this genre don’t try new and exciting locals. I’ve been through enough deserts and plains to last me a gaming lifetime.

At least Torchlight 2 does it with a wonderfully done style and design.

 

 

 

Multiplayer was missing back in the first game, something much to the displeasure of the player base. Still, it was easy to take the first game for what it was: an introduction. It was an introduction to Runic Games, the Torchlight universe, and its key characters.

Now, online co-op has made its debut in this series and it generally works very well. Each player gets their own loot so there is no stepping over toes when it comes to picking up stuff. You rummage through and head on. Most importantly, multiplayer does a great job at keeping the game’s great flow intact.

Players in your game will be highlighted by a beam of light so you always know where they are at a given time, thanks in part to the mini-map.

 

 

The hardest part of multiplayer has to be setting up a game for you and your friends to play in. Runic makes it mandatory that players sign up for a Runic account and sign into it to play multiplayer. For a game on Steam, it boggles my mind why you have to do this. You can’t simply Shift+Tab to bring up the Steam overlay and join your friends’ games. You have to sign in, friend them using their Runic accounts, ensure they friend you, find their game, and enter. You know what it feels like? Nintendo’s Friend Code system. You can’t do anything with them without both accounts friending each other. Unless you randomly find their game in the lobby list and try and join, you’ll be going through this experience.

It certainly isn’t streamlined or carries over the game’s flow. Cassidee, the Senior Editor here, and I had a helluva time trying to get into a game together. This process took over 15 minutes until we were both on the same page and were able to find the game.

Aside from the troublesome friend and account system, you’ll find Torchlight 2 a blast to play with friends. With the game supporting up to 6 players at once, the difficulty swing and epic loot can intensify highly. I suggest playing the game with at least one person. Although, you can still enjoy the game thoroughly by yourself.

 

 

 

Torchlight 2 vs. Diablo 3. This is a huge subject with the fans right now and even something that we have covered here on Leviathyn. The fact is that they are two very different games albeit in the same genre.

While Diablo 3 runs on story guiding the player through the game, Torchlight lets the gameplay make the player want to go through it.

I consider Diablo 3 the evolution of this genre. It employs many new systems and bucks out the ancient traditions that Torchlight 2 does such a great job upholding. Torchlight 2 is indeed the spiritual successor to Diablo 2’s throne of traditional dungeon crawling action RPGs. This is the game everyone hopes Diablo 3 would be back before it was announced. Runic has listened to what the fans wanted from both Torchlight 1 and a new Diablo and made that into a game.

You can’t fault Blizzard for wanting to take the name of Diablo and move it forward in time. For many it worked. For many others it did not. You’ll never please everyone but it was surprising to see how many players just wanted a brand new Diablo 2. They need not look further.

Torchlight 2 employs many of the same systems and features that made Diablo 2 a mainstay and instant classic, only enhanced. You’ll find a full 100 levels to work through, New Game+ modes, gemming, item gambling, more than 4 players in multiplayer, and a lobby system which suits this genre like it always has. The best thing, however, is how the game will continue to be fresh thanks to the community. Modding, a feature that made Torchlight live way past its first year out, is back in Torchlight 2 and that will ensure that you will find new classes, areas, quests, stories, and even more levels. Runic is encouraging a modding community and through that the game will find a great longevity.

It really depends on which game you should get. If you want Diablo 2 but better, Torchlight 2 is the game for you. If you want Diablo 2 experimented with and in testing mode, then go with Diablo 3. You really can’t go wrong with either one as both as games that should be experienced. You won’t get the story in Torchlight 2 but you’ll find better gameplay and more of an array of features.

 

 

 

I spent a lot of time playing through Torchlight 2 with two characters. Each act takes a good chunk of time to run through, especially Acts 2 and 3. I had a blast playing this game but felt like it would have been enhanced with a better story and skill system.

If you are hell bent on playing through a worthwhile story  you may be disappointed here but if you’re really looking for a fun game, you can’t really beat Torchlight 2. The game reminds me of the fun I used to have with Diablo 2 and Titan’s Quest. It has been a long time since those two games and this felt like a breath of fresh air for the action RPG genre.

I played multiplayer with two players and four players and each time the fun was intensified with the random quests, events, and boss pits we came across. Fighting in the Faceless King boss pit was very fun and one of my more memorable moments with the game so far.

I think the most important thing to tell you is that I will still be playing Torchlight 2 and I believe I will be for quite some time. It continues in a traditional, yet refined and updated, path in a genre that I absolutely crave. I cannot get enough of the dungeon crawler games and Torchlight 2 scratched an itch that Diablo 3 was unable to get rid of.

Ronald reviews Torchlight 2 for the PC.

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