This review of Torchlight 2 is going to be short and sweet, because frankly, there’s just not a whole lot to say. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing; indeed my usual verbose tirades are usually reserved for the worst of the worst. Torchlight 2 may not be have anything new or revolutionary going on for me to gush over, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great deal of fun.
First off, I’m just going to get this out of the way: Torchlight 2 is freakishly similar to Diablo 2. From the story to the locales to the gameplay, this might have been called Diablo 2.5: The Torchlight Chronicles. To summarize (both games), one of the main characters from the first game (the Alchemist), upon vanquishing the great evil that plagued the town of Torchlight, has somewhat abruptly become the new big baddie and begins a journey to cure himself of the taint of evil. Your job, as one of four new adventurers, is to hunt him down, traversing forests, deserts and jungles, battling minions and saving magical guardians that are left in the Alchemist’s wake. See? I told you it was extremely familiar territory.
Okay, so the narrative, locations…hell, the whole game is one big “homage” (yes, that’s a generous word to use). Does that mean that if you’ve played Diablo 2, you will yawn at this game? No way. However for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just talk about the things that stand out as interesting or unique.
The first game’s cartoonish visuals make a return here, with vivid, enchanting colors and simple, but charming character models. I won’t lie, the style is not my favorite, but that’s simply personal preference; even though I tend to prefer my graphics a bit more realistic, I can’t fault anything in the visual department because it’s executed so damn well. Fires glow, sandstorms furiously whip around and magical effects light up the snowy night (yes, there’s weather and a day/night cycle). Likewise, dungeon interiors are not only quite varied (crypts, pirate hideouts, caves, temples, forts) with procedurally generated goodness, but even the backgrounds off in the distance are often modeled in 3D and add an amazing depth when crossing bridges or edging around cliffs.
This time around, there are four classes to choose from that boils down to mage, hit-and-run fighter, tank, and archer. There’s quite a bit of overlap there, though, as the Engineer can act as both a tank and a ranged bomber while the Embermage can serve as both a glass cannon or crowd control. This is simultaneously liberating, as you can more freely make the character you want rather than being forced down preset builds, and it could be a bit confusing for newcomers, as even I had trouble understanding how to make the Outlander’s skills synergize together in a productive, non-repetitive way.
On the whole, the game plays out its action-RPG fare with elegance. Most of the time you’re pounding those mouse buttons furiously and, by the end, juggling a fair bit of hot keys as the difficulty ratchets up. Helping you in that task is a charge bar unique to each class that fills up as you kill and when the bar’s blood lust has been momentarily sated, you gain access to a special buff or skill enhancement (such as the Embermage’s eight second infinite mana charge effect). There are few skills here and there that synergize with the charge meter but overall, it’s just a nice change-of-pace add-on.
Another notable feature include the wonderful, and flawlessly smooth multiplayer. While it was painfully missing in the first game, here it works the way all multiplayer in games should work: exactly as you would intuit they should, never calling attention to itself with bugs or bad design. Finally, the little extras thrown in, such as the random mini-level “phase dimensions” that pop up and the quest to find the key to open the golden chest in each area do a great job of diverting your attention for short bursts to keep things from getting too grind-y.
If I’m nitpicking, the only real areas where developer Runic Games could have gone that extra mile would be the length of the game and character model differentiation. Those three acts really fly by and even my over-thorough self barely clocked 15 hours on my first play through. Playing all four classes will help with that replay value, but that brings me to my next gripe: all the characters end up looking the same. Almost immediately while playing multiplayer with a friend, we went from an gunslinging outlaw and steampunk engineer to…two guys running around in hoods and furs armor. I realize it would have taken a huge amount of art assets and time to make all armor pieces match the unique character aesthetics, but without that effort, most everyone’s character will end up looking the same, barring the occasional class-specific rare finds.
Torchlight 2 is an easy game to recommend. It’s got everything you could want from a top down action-RPG with none of the recent pitfalls (such as Diablo 3‘s always-online requirement). And at $20, there’s very little reason to pass this game up.
See? I told you this review would be short. Go buy it!
Final Score: 90