When Torchlight launched in 2009 it drew quite a few comparisons to the original Diablo. It was set in a single town perched atop an enormous dungeon. It featured three classes that fit into the fighter, mage, and archer archetypes. Oh yeah, and it was made by a lot of the people who created Diablo. So that's a little similar.
But there was much more to the game than that. Movement and combat were snappy, with fluid animations that conveyed plenty of character. Each character started off with a loyal pet that helped out in combat by casting spells and made the process of storing and selling loot easier. Mods were embraced in a big way with a powerful editor that made it possible to tinker with everything from skills and items to entirely new classes.
It was a terrific game. Not perfect, but a rare treat in a genre that hadn't been well represented.
If it's inevitable that comparisons will be made between Torchlight II and the Diablo series once again, I might as well give it a shot: This is what Diablo 3 could have been if Blizzard had focused on fun just a little bit more. Auction houses that fundamentally change the distribution of loot and make finding stuff less meaningful? Nope. Excessive gameplay interruptions butting in with inane dialog that conveys a terrible story for the nth time, even though you wish you hadn't experienced it at all the first time around? Nah. Loot tables and difficulty curves that have been sterilized and polished with such a heavy hand that there's no unpredictability? That doesn't sound like a good idea, so no.
Okay, I'm finished venting about what Diablo 3 wasn't. Let's talk about what Torchlight II is.
It's lengthy, for one, and packed with variety. All of the original Torchlight could fit inside the first two chapters of Torchlight II. By the time you finish that second chapter you will have encountered more environments, enemy types, secrets, and styles of gear than in the entirety of the first game.
Each act is comprised of a chain of large outdoor maps. Within each map, there are entrances to several lengthy dungeons, usually with a quest giver hanging around nearby. Sometimes you'll simply run into something odd, like a ghost ship that brings you to a nautical-themed single floor cavern with tons of pirates and evil crabs. Occasionally you'll run into an enemy that creates a portal when killed, leading to a room with a specific challenge such as defending certain points on a map or poisoning spider nests.
As a result of all this you're constantly in motion, hacking your way through a different tileset every couple of minutes. These areas are sprinkled with secrets that reward alert explorers. Smash a normal looking vase to trigger a hidden pathway. Discover objects that can be picked up or looted even though they aren't labeled as interactive items. Press a concealed panel in a dungeon wall to active a sliding door that leads to piles of treasure. There may or may not be a mysterious bottle of lotion in an underground lair that does something creepy when it's placed in an unlabeled basket.
Skills are better this time around, though they continue to be uneven. Investing multiple points in a single skill will unlock tiers that provide additional effects, so you aren't just plugging away at a single number. Some abilities build up a new Charge meter, while others capitalize on the level of charge. Playing a few skills off of one another to maximize the effects of your Charge can add quite a bit to combat. That said, if you aren't a fan of one of the lower tier skills you'll wind up saving your points for quite a while, which results in a whole lot of left clicking and not a whole lot else. Annoyingly, some skills (such as summoned pets and auras) can eventually have 100% uptime, but only by allowing them to expire then immediately casting them again. This is a personal pet peeve of mine in action RPGs, as these should either become permanent casts or toggled abilities.
Of course, most of these problems will be addressed by mods when the game's editor comes out, but until that happens you'll probably feel a little constrained by the choices that most classes present.
Torchlight II presents a tremendous amount of content, polish, and plain old fun. It's pretty much a no-brainer if you're even remotely interested in snapping out of a fugue state in front of a screen full of corpses and color-coded loot. And really, who isn't interested in that?
After beating the campaign and playing through most of New Game + mode, I loaded the game to check one minor detail while writing today's review and wound up playing a new wolfman character for two hours. 9/10
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