Have you played Diablo II? Then you know how to play Torchlight II. The former was clearly the latter’s inspiration, and everything in it—from looting to the skill trees to the interface—is copied directly from Diablo II. It is no mere imitation, though, as it fixes many of the minor annoyances from that Blizzard game.
There are four classes available, each with skill trees broken into three pages. At level up, you can add one skill point and five points into your stats (stop me if this sounds familiar). While playing the game in preparation for this review, I played the Outlander and (on the advice of my friend Ron) the Engineer. The latter is definitely overpowered (though not to the ridiculous extent of Diablo’s sorcerer and Diablo II’s sorceress) and will probably be nerfed in a patch soon.
Unlike Diablo II, Torchlight II’s skills don’t require points put in earlier branches of the skill trees. When you reach the minimum level, you can just learn them. Also, there’s a guy in towns who can undo your last three skill points for a price, which encourages experimentation with skills you haven’t tried before. This is one of Torchlight II’s many little touches that make it a polished and enjoyable experience. In addition, there are spell scrolls that can be used to permanently learn various miscellaneous spells (similar to the first Diablo), giving you even more options and flexibility.
Let’s talk about loot. The purpose of quasi-Roguelikes like this is to kill monsters, become stronger, and acquire new items to improve your killing capabilities. Torchlight II has gobs of loot, of course, but the process is streamlined to a significant degree. You have galaxies of space in your inventory, your pet’s inventory (I’ll get to pets in a minute), and two stashes (one private, one that can be used by any of your characters—muling no more!) for all your packrat needs. You can save items for future use, unique situations, or other characters and probably never run out of space. Even item sets (identical to Diablo II’s) are now actually feasible due to the storage space available. I love it.
Walking over gold picks it up automatically (my carpal tunnel syndrome thanks you, Runic Games). There are fewer worthless items lying about. Tons of items have sockets you can put gems in (one of the game’s loading screens even mentions that gem combining technology has been lost, an obvious reference to Diablo II’s Horadric Cube). You can keep your equipment after death; I kind of miss hunting for my corpses using my backup equipment, but Torchlight II’s solution of allowing you to respawn in town for free or respawn at the entrance to whatever area you died in at the cost of some gold is a great compromise.
Another thing I appreciate is that buying items is actually useful. In the Diablo games, equipment sold in stores is prohibitively expensive and will usually be rendered obsolete by something you’ll find in a barrel in five minutes anyway, meaning that it’s better to save your money for potions, repairs, and gambling. Torchlight II instead offers strong equipment for sale that is useful for all classes. A little touch like this probably wasn’t hard to implement but I appreciated it greatly.
In Torchlight II multiplayer, the game spawns separate items for each player. This means that you can snatch up any items you see without worrying about denying items to your teammates. It also means that griefer scum can’t ninja loot everything in sight and mock their victims. This solution should please everybody without removing any incentive to keep adventuring. Also, after completing quests, you get your choice of one of three different items, drastically increasing the chances of you getting new equipment relevant to your class.
At the start of the game, you get a pet. The game unfortunately doesn’t tell you that all of your pet choices are functionally identical, but this is mitigated by the usefulness of the pet in question. They can hold enemy agro, equip their own items, hold loot for you, temporarily power up using magic fish, and even go back to town to buy and sell stuff for you if you don’t feel like using a scroll of town portal. They are nowhere near as varied as the hirelings from Diablo II but also not as imbalanced, and the fish powers make up for this.
The interface is nearly identical to Diablo II’s. Red and blue orbs for life/mana, ten slots for quick item use, and F1-F12 keys to set skills. You can even press W to switch weapons. Everything about Torchlight II’s interface was immediately familiar and intuitive to me.
Maps have big open spaces, hidden areas, treasure chests, lots of dungeons and quests, and something else I found interesting: minimum level suggestions. The entrance of a few area or dungeon will say “Levels 21-24” in parentheses to give an idea of when you should attempt it without being under- or over-leveled. (If you’re playing an Engineer, you can probably go through these at 4-5 levels under the suggestion.) Another one of Torchlight II’s little quality of life improvements over its competitors and its obvious inspiration.
The Penny Arcade guys were correct when they said that you should play the game on Veteran difficulty. I didn’t even give Normal difficulty a second thought. In fact, after playing so many hours of Dark Souls, I found Veteran in Torchlight IIa bit too easy. Keep this in mind when you start a new game.
One area in which Torchlight II doesn’t hold up to Diablo II is in the monsters’ visual designs. You get generic fantasy standbys like goblins and spiders rather than Diablo II’s jackal mummies, electric beetles, exploding Tiki men. This is an aesthetic observation that has no bearing on the gameplay, but it was worth noting that Torchlight II isn’t superior to its forefather in absolutely every respect.
You might think by this point that I’m laying on the comparisons to the Diablo series a little too thick. You would only think this if you haven’t experienced both games. The similarities are more many and glaringly obvious. Even the music sounds like Diablo’s spoooooky acoustic guitar sound. But so what? Torchlight II does everything Diablo II does better (and much, much better than Diablo III). If you’re sick of playing those two games, Torchlight II won’t offer you anything drastically new or revolutionary. It is definitely tread well-trod ground. But it spruced up that beaten path in a fashion that is worthy of praise. Torchlight II brings that dead horse back to life and pounds it through predictable but interesting places.
After playing Torchlight II, my first thought was “There is no reason to even think about Diablo III ever again.” Blizzard has lost it, and Runic Games has taken up the mantle.