Torchlight 2

While I adored the first Torchlight, it had potential to be improved upon with a sequel. More end-game content, a stronger story, multiplayer, and so on, could have made a good game into something fantastic. I still recommended the first installment in my previous review, as it is a good game, but since the team wanted to start at the beginning instead of improving upon the ideas of Diablo 2, it did feel like a smaller project than what the team had made before. However, Torchlight 2 was set to improve everything and be the game people would choose over Diablo 3! Yes, there was a huge competition in the fanbase between mainly these two titles and personally, I was not a fan of Diablo 3 with the exception of a few mechanics. So I went over to Torchlight 2 and did not stop. In fact, I even bought the game for my sister and a couple of my closest friends so we could play it together. I was hooked, addicted, and afraid it would affect my life. To this day since its release, I am still playing this game, and I want to share with you why.

An optional story

I have actually never paid attention to Torchlight 2’s story before I took on this review, but it is something I highly recommend. We start of many years after the first game, where the alchemist (one of the playable characters in Torchlight) has become obsessed with Embers, which are magical crystals with great, raw powers. If that wasn’t enough, he has also stolen Ordrak’s Heart and destroyed the town of Torchlight. His search continues to siphon the magical energy from the Elemental Guardians around the world in his quest of taking over the world’s six elements, leaving only the world in chaos. That is, unless you can stop him.

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The story has a traditional setup with a clear goal and villain. However, the quest has a good progression and will take you through different worlds, discover unique monsters and cultural inhabitants that might need your support, and also shows how they are affected by the current events, giving the world a great sense of scope and personality. The sidequests you will encounter, are also very interesting if you take your time to read the dialogue, such as helping a ghost get his everlasting rest, or help another getting her “unique” pets back. Some quests are definitely more humorous than others, with one demigod-like creature in the main-path just needing to be entertained before he will let you onwards, which I did find comical and baffling. Torchlight 2 shows that it wants you to feel the presence of evil and uncertainty in its world, but also acknowledges that this is a fantasy adventure that can have lighthearted moments, which it succeeds in balancing out. Discovering creative settings like caves with Dwarven machinery or a swamp that houses the dead, you are definitely in for an interesting adventure that knows how to balance a lighter and darker tone.

The plot, as stated, is nothing special, with you traveling around the world to save it, but it is filled with unique creatures and characters to make it intriguing and interesting. The dialogue is also strong and gives each character a clear personality. Not to mention, the world has interesting lore about the embers and the areas you visit, which provides more for those who enjoys getting lost in these sort of things. It is really a game that focuses more about the journey itself than the end-goal, and provides both a clear setup for those seeking a simple adventure, and provides more for those wishing for some depth and insight into a story. It really is your choice on how you want to tackle the story, but while you don’t have to pay attention to the story and the game is clearly letting you choose these options, you will definitely get more than what meets the eye if you do.

Story Score: 8/10

Loot Hunting at its finest

Similar to the first Torchlight, this entry is a point & kill RPG, with an overhead view and active combat. Before you start the game, you are presented with four classes to choose from: engineer, outlander, berserker, and embermage. Each focuses on certain ways to play the game, with outlander being more about long-ranged attacks, embermage is clearly favoring magic, berserkers can have fierce attacks, and the engineer creates bots for support. However, this is only at first glance. Each class conveys plenty of ways to play them, making them quite interesting to experiment with.

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It starts out with the four stats: strength, dexterity, focus (which is basically magic), and vitality. All are quite self-explanatory, but they have different uses that can be important. For example, berserkers can have more focus on being a tank with high vitality and strength, but what if you put your points into focus for the ability to use both your weapons at the same time, and using his summon skills for calling on wolfs instead? This kind of diversity goes for every class and it is already here that Torchlight 2 shines in terms of experimenting with what type of character you want to create. There are so many ways to make a character with each class, such as a fierce summoner, an acrobatic supporting gunner, a magical tank and more. This is an amazing way to make a character unique to the player, and we have barely gotten started.

Another important aspect to the character-creation are the skills, which are character-specific. They complement varied playstyles and you can mix and match whatever you feel like to create an interesting character. Each class gets three different skill-sections, though they are not the traditional skill-trees, so you are never forced to go down one path, but rather take the skills you want to, as long as you are at the appropriate level. These can be passive or aggressive skills and making good combinations will be important to consider, though there is hardly any wrong answer. For example, I made one playthrough focusing on a berserker using ice-damage and a skill which shattered enemies into more ice to freeze others, but in the next I was more into summoning and made my beasts attack and take the aggro, while I ran through them with a healing-attack. Both were effective ideas, making it so I can always make something interesting and unique, despite that I have a soft spot for animal companions.

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Speaking of beasts, you will again be able to go on this journey with one pet of your choosing. There are 14 different kinds to choose from, including some from the world of fantasy, but they all play the same with the ability to be aggressive, defensive, or a combination, and can equip three different items. What is quite new, is that you can now give your pets loot to sell at the store, but also now tell them to shop for potions or scrolls that create portals to town or identify items. This cuts down on backtracking in a great way, but it is a nice risk vs reward as you can’t have the support from your pet while he/she is away. They might not be the strongest fighter, but are competent and can even learn spells.

Both your character and pet can learn upwards to 4 spells by finding scrolls throughout the worlds to learn them or buy them at stores. They can be passive for finding better treasures or active like healing, but as you can’t have more than 4, you must be careful about what you add to your collection. Fishing at ponds can also yield sea creatures to your pet for transformation like in the last game, and experimenting for unique results is highly recommended and fun.

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The last of the new additions to your classes, is the charge bar in the middle of the screen, filling up by specific requisitions and is basically the limit-charge for unleashing a powerful stance. For example, the embermage’s charge bar at full can cast spells at no mana-use and all of their offensive skills gain a 25% damage bonus on top of any other bonuses that is already applied. However, some skills don’t charge this bar, so you can only use it as a support and it, again, must be charged, making it so you can’t rely on it. It is simply a nice way of getting an over-the-top moment for skillful play.

I know I have been talking a lot about customization for your characters, but that is where games like Torchlight 2 shine, similar to the first one. What armor you wear for what protection, stat-boost, what weapon you will focus on, stats, skill, all are important for making your style of play and character, which is fantastic. Gems also return to give armors with slots an upgrade in defense or weapons in attacks, which simply continues with the amount of customization. Some equipable clothes get even more stats if you combine them with more from the same set. Should you also be unlucky with loot, there are plenty of shops that can hold some strong items or help you in the customization, like taking gems from clothes, or reset the last skillpoint you used, though nothing comes cheap, so do save the gold.

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Though the active part of the game itself is also fantastic. Each location is randomly generated and thus, each playthrough will provide something unique with what loot you will gather, what secrets to uncover, what shrines might bless or curse you, what dungeons you can encounter and layouts with traps and conventions will be different. It is quite exhilarating to explore throughout the lands and try to discover every nook and cranny for hidden goodies, even if a chest turns out to be a mimic. Including the exploration for tons of diverse loots, fighting different types of enemies is a joy as each has different strengths, weaknesses, and habits. It is still more about what type of character you have created, but due to more active moves like skills for dodging and more diverse attacks, it is more action-oriented and interesting, making fights incredibly engaging and tough. There is a reason you have 9 hotkeys for getting ready with your attacks.

This can be especially said about the boss-fights with clear attack-patterns and a huge amount of enemies to fight against, keeping you always on the move and plan every attack and defensive action as quickly as possible. You can’t even use warp-scrolls in these areas, and your potions, mana, and skills have different cooldown times, so you can’t be overconfident. As mentioned, this is an RPG and thus you will gain XP for discovering new areas, killing fiends, and doing tasks, which can also yield reward. These side activities, as well as the main mission,  are always about killing or exploring, keeping to what Torchlight 2 knows to do best and the rewards are always worth it. Leveling up will provide five statpoints and one skillpoint, all to be used as you see fit. However, you have a lot of skills you can experiment with and level up, making fame a good addition, which returns from the last installment. Fame will be upgraded by fighting optional and main boss-fights, as well as doing some quests, showcasing your deeds and accomplishments. Leveling fame up will increase your skillpoints, which will happen more frequently and keep your upgrades flowing.

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This is something wonderful about Torchlight 2, you always feel a progression, but you will have to endure some harsh difficulty without it never becoming unfair. The game offers four difficulties, and if you take the one you are familiar with from Torchlight, you are in for a challenge. With varied monsters to attack, regenerating worlds, rewarding exploration, fun sidequests, and engaging customization, it is hard to fault Torchlight 2 on pretty much anything. It focuses on improving upon the ideas of both Diablo 2, but also takes in considerations why Torchlight worked and what it improved upon the Diablo-series, which is fantastic. It is the perfect sequel, taking inspiration from the old and the new.

Gameplay Score: 10/10

More magical than the fires of a torch

I want to compliment one part Torchlight 2 already fixed from the previous title: it gives you some customization to your character’s face, hair, and sex. This makes it possible to personalize your character, which is important in a game where customization is a main part of the gameplay. Each equipment is shown on the character with even the weapons having elemental aura if they can produce such damage, like poison or ice, and I love how the varied attires you can acquire will make you fashion-obsessed. Though you can toggle on and off visuals for helmets, which is a nice touch.

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The combat is a visual highlight, however, with all attacks being flashy and sights to behold, enemies dying in over-the-top animation or reduced to pools of blood, and even leveling up provides a huge bolt of light around you, signifying your accomplishment. It all feels satisfying and the number of enemies that can be on the screen can be overwhelming. I also love how enemies once again appear from different areas instead of being stationary, like cracks in the wall having spiders, or impaled skeletons using the weapon they got stabbed with for attacking you, adding to the creativity. The style has also gone from just having a medieval fantasy-setting, to also include a steampunk-vibes, which is a great upgrade that adds in another stylish aspect to both the character design and the world itself. The cartoony artstyle also provides great attention to this mix of steampunk and medieval fantasy, and gives characters and enemies huge possibilities for expressions and a clear style that makes it original and unique.

The world is brimming with variety, colors, and unique set pieces. The desert caves include machinery and traps from an ancient civilization, the frozen caves has spiders coming down from the ceiling, and the burning villages have people in distress and sorrow. Having details like these or by how one place changes subtly as you travel to another location, such as the warm forest changing to a cold mountain, adds to the immersion of the world. They even put in extremely small spiderwebs on certain areas for the atmosphere alone and small details like that are everywhere, which clearly shows a huge amount of dedication.

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An interesting shift, however, is that while you will be visiting caves with multiple layers and big drops where you can see the ground or maybe even be too far above to see it, there is a more focus on the landscape with huge far and wide areas, than the depths of caves. It is still there due to the dungeons it provides, but not as much as the first one where you got to travel through cave after cave. It is just an interesting shift, though the worlds are varied and detailed to be memorable. What is a bit of a shame, is that the more varied locations won’t be shown before the end and while the first act has a clear difference between snowy locations and green forests, there is not much of a difference in the other acts. Still, they do a lot to change up and provide variation, so it is rather a minor issue and the areas never become stale because of what they do with the different setup, making less still become more. There are also some added cutscenes and while they are few, they are a great break for showing the start of a new act, giving it significant importance.

The music by Matt Ulman is still fantastic, providing the unsettling emotions from Diablo, but makes them more lighthearted and stronger instead of horror-themed, similar to the first game. All tracks are grand and diverse, be it a drum-heavy bossfight with el-guitar in the distance, or flutes in the wilderness, all tracks are fantastic and create an emotion of loneliness, with a glimmer of hope. The sound effects of attacks from your weapons, powerful magic, devices being used, or the simple rustle of equipping weapons or bubbles from drinking potions, are iconic and wonderful, adding to the gorgeous atmosphere. Lastly, we have the voice actors, adding some good personalities to the main cast, and nice voice-samples for the lesser ones, adding enough to make this world feel alive, dangerous and worth saving

Presentation Score: 9.5/10

Your quest is far from over

After you are done with the main story, there is so much replay value, that I don’t know where to start. You can go for a new game+ where you begin the game again and retain all of your gear, level, and skills, and the enemies and the loot you can gather are scaled to match your level. Basically: this is an even harder version than what you can start out with, with maybe the exception of the hardcore mode you can toggle on or off. The world is always randomly regenerated, so you are never having a similar experience like the last one, making a second playthrough incredibly fun.

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If you would rather continue onwards, however, there are a lot of dungeons to take on, all representing old areas from Torchlight 1 as well as those in Torchlight 2. This is done through the Map Room where you can purchase maps containing new and random dungeons filled with fiends, bosses, and items corresponding to your level. Enemies can also feature random buffs, so you must be ever careful and don’t get overconfident. It is amazing when this alone is so varied and engaging that you will be inclined to get to the level cap at 100 just because of how entertaining it is.

If you want more to do as you play the first run or start a new game completely, there are plenty of sidequests, the hardcore mode puts you on the edge, and with so many ways to play the different classes and experimenting with new builds being always engaging, it is easy to start a new game whenever you feel like it. Not to mention, the game is open to co-op with up to 6 players (8 with the official mod by Runic) and you can even easily mod the game further if you are into this. There is so much to do and a huge amount of reasons to revisit this game, I honestly am not surprised that I still find myself replaying Torchlight 2 more than I would like to admit.

Extra Score: 10/10

Verdict

Torchlight 2 is the perfect example of what dedicated developers and enthusiasts can do with a project without the force of bigger corporations. I am amazed at how far they have gone from the first title, which was good on its own. However, by modernizing, listening to critics, taking into consideration what made their previous products so engaging, and still adding so many details in, they closely perfected what they already brought to the table. Torchlight 2 has so much to offer both in its replay value, game mechanics, presentation, and even in its story, that it really makes it one of the best action RPGs ever made.

95/100

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