Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Perfect World
Is there such a thing as a 'perfect' game?
Speaking objectively and empirically, probably not. How could there be? After all, something as subjective as a videogame can't please everybody, nor could it live up to all of our expectations. Speaking as a critic, identifying and reporting flaws is important for our readers and developers alike, who genuinely appreciate our feedback and take it to heart when designing their future games and patches.
But sometimes a game can cater to its target audience so comprehensively to be considered perfect. After months of delays, Torchlight II is finally with us... and I'm hard-pressed to find anything wrong with it. Runic Games have taken the dungeon crawling, loot grinding, power levelling ARPG sub-genre and made it more fun, iterating on every aspect of the original while fixing many of the problems inherent to the genre. Blowing the niche wide open, allowing players to get involved on their terms and play it the way they want. All for £14.99.
It's a sequel that, for some, will feel like the true successor to Diablo II - not just the original Torchlight.
It's no surprise that Torchlight II shares much in common with Blizzard's franchise seeing as many of the Runic Games team worked on Diablo II. The core conceit is identical: it's a grind, a click-heavy infinite treadmill of enemies to kill, loot to equip and experience to power up your character. You'll click on enemies to attack them, map a selection of skills to your number keys and keep a close eye on health and mana represented by coloured globes. After the Alchemist from the original game goes rogue, destroys the titular town and puts the entire world in jeopardy, four new heroes are propelled onto the conveyor belt headfirst throughout dozens of hours of addictive questing. The premise may be familiar, but Torchlight II's execution is nigh-on flawless.
Your first decision will be a difficult one, since Torchlight II's four classes offer an exciting mix of abilities and playstyles. The Engineer, a steampunk-inspired heavy hitter, excels at wielding massive two-handed weapons, all while summoning a small army of robots to attack enemies and heal allies. Unless you decide to specialise as a tank with potent passive shield skills and attacks. Or marhall devastating ranged cannons. Or employ any mix of the above to create a well-rounded adventurer.
This level of customisation and depth extends to all of the characters, such as the heavy melee-centric Berzerker who can summon animal spirits to enhance his own skills or even unleash packs of wolves onto the battlefield. If you like to sling guns, perhaps the Outlander will suit your predilections, calling upon a versatile range of pistol buffs, traps and magical skills to survive in any given situation. Of course, long range obliteration is aptly provided by the pure-caster Embermage, who excels at blasting out elemental beams and bolts aplenty or collapsing the very ground itself. Critically, there's a near-infinite wealth of potential specialisations and variation within each class, allowing you to really get to grips with markedly different builds.
It's a much more traditional levelling system compared to Diablo III's versatile freespec, one that locks you into your decisions once you've made them. Only the last three skill points can be reallocated, which initially feels a little restrictive. However, this serves to make your character yours, a unique avatar who you can distinguish from others with attribute points and specialise the way you want. Not just a clothes horse. Skills thankfully scale with character level, thus staving off any potential buyer's remorse. Plus, this also means that standard attacks will remain powerful and relevant rather than just becoming a an arbitrary percentage tied to constantly-spammed abilities. All characters can use almost every weapon and item, of which there's an insane variety - everything from traditional swords, axes shields and to massive handheld cannons that would make Sam Stone blush. We'll get to the loot later.
After ploughing through a couple of tutorial levels, you'll discover that Torchlight II is enormous. In terms of raw playtime, a single playthrough will set you back 20-30 hours, followed by multiple New Game + modes and randomly generated Mapworks bolstered by an ultimate level cap of 100. Not only are the randomly-generated environments huge in scope and markedly different each time you play, featuring secrets to collect and fun extras to strive for, but at times it feels like a truly open world. More than that: Torchlight II provides an actual world to explore, containing several towns and artistically unique areas rather than a disjointed collection of levels. Runic's trademark colourful animated visuals imbue the whole endeavour with real personality (featuring plenty of humour), something that the vast majority of dungeon crawlers usually fail to provide.
Expansiveness is all well and good, but raw content means nothing if the gameplay experience isn't any fun. Dungeon crawlers tend to have an uneasy relationship with the concept of fun (most settle for compulsion over genuine enjoyment), but Torchlight II proves itself to be one of the most exciting and engaging RPGs out there. The combat is visceral, furiously fast and deep as an entire menagerie of different enemies challenge you with varied tactics, engagement ranges and weaknesses. Weapon attacks feel powerful and satisfying; swords clashing, hammers smashing and enormous cannons shattering foes into clouds of blood and powder. Massive bosses force you to switch between attack, retreat and defence, using your c0lourful and powerful skills to devastating advantage.
The new charge bar adds a twist to the combat. Most attacks act as generators, filling up the metre with energy to discharge for extra damage or effects. Each class boasts several unique ways of tapping into this powerful new feature (several of which will change the way you play), providing yet another element of tactical depth that was absent from the original.
Eyecatching presentation also helps to set Torchlight II apart from its numerous peers. Though the graphics perhaps lack the technical refinement of Diablo III, it runs well at multiple resolutions and boasts generous minimum specifications. However, the colourful cartoony art style lend Torchlight II an adorable childlike quality that belies an impressive amount of variety and attention detail. Monster designs are varied and distinctive, inhabiting gloriously unique environments peppered with exciting randomised design elements, weather conditions and themes. Animations have received similar attention, with characters always willing to show off their unique personality even when idle or spamming attacks. You've always got something new and interesting to look at - or kill - ensuring that the experience always remains fresh.
Torchlight II does for dungeon crawlers what Borderlands did for shooters. It will reel you in for countless hours, not just for the loot and experience, but because you'll be having an absolute blast.
The original Torchlight was universally praised for streamlining much of the busywork that tends to plague the genre, and its sequel contains numerous small improvements and concessions to convenience. Hitting the space bar closes all open panes, or brings up the most important ones at a single touch. Items can be effortlessly sold or transferred with a simple Shift-Click. The slick GUI can be rescaled and resized to your heart's content, putting everything you need at a glance and allowing you to map skills wherever you want them by dragging them around directly from the menu. You'll spend less time micromanaging and more time in the action, which is how things ought to be, really.
Of course, there will be loot. Great voluminous heaps of stuff. You'll discover a wealth of mundane weapons, armour pieces and accessories, tiered magical variants and socketables; a conveyor belt of new gear to experiment with and sell. Continually finding and equipping superior (or markedly different) items will be as aggressively compelling as you'd expect from the genre, and the 'just one more level/item' factor is present and correct.
You could potentially argue that there's too much loot, but that would be like suggesting that there are too many planes in an Ace Combat game or guns in an online shooter. It's also a moot point, since Torchlight II features a couple of unique ways to deal with your ever-expanding swag bag. The options menu contains a command to only display items of a certain calibre on the screen, making junk practically invisible and allowing you to get on with your adventure free from useless gear. More importantly, though, the pet system has been given a major overhaul.
You've now got eight animal companions to choose from at the beginning of the game, all of whom can be tasked with ferrying items back to town, selling them and bringing back the proceeds. If you're running low on potions, item identification scrolls or other useful consumables then you can even send them back with a shopping list. However, your pet is infinitely more than just a pack mule, acting as a surprisingly capable ally in combat who can deal out major damage, access powerful spells, change form by consuming fish (which you'll catch yourself in a fun minigame) and benefit from a hefty selection of equippable gear. You'll never feel alone while playing Torchlight II solo... but unlike the original game, you don't have to play by yourself for long.
What's fun in singleplayer absolutely shines when you get a few friends involved - up to five others, in fact. You'll need to create a Runic account to play online (a relatively painless procedure), but doing so allows you to seamlessly enjoy the interplay of classes and skills by adventuring together, or just merrily explore your own agendas, chatting merrily away all the while. A robust item trading system allows us to barter to our heart's content, while the omnipresent aggravation of loot stealing has been completely removed since different items are generated for each player. There's even some limited PvP functionality at launch, which is forgettable but nice to have regardless.
That said, one of Torchlight II's few failings is that playing with others can become slightly frustrating if your character levels don't match up. Enemies don't scale client-side to balance the experience for lower or higher level players in the same match, which we've become used to thanks to the likes of Guild Wars 2. If you plan on regularly playing with friends, you'll probably want to keep some designated characters aside for your sessions to avoid becoming unbalanced. It's easy to find players by level, though, and Torchlight II is still one of the most satisfying cooperative RPG experiences out there. Better yet, you can do it your way.
If you want to play it with five mates on a LAN, you absolutely can. Offline singleplayer? Go for it. We're still debating whether or not Diablo III's DRM is a necessary evil, but Torchlight II takes the opposite tack by blowing the whole thing wide open.
Speaking of blowing things wide open, Torchlight II's least visible feature may also be its most important coup, something that barely matters now but will become increasingly more revevant throughout the coming months. It's fully moddable at launch, and a free editor will be released very soon.
Rather than closing off their game and dominating the player base, Runic are keen for players to tinker with the experience, to create their own content and share their adventures with others. Compared to an auction house, I'll take a thriving player-led modding community any day - and we're looking forward to seeing what comes out over the next few months and years. I daresay that the six-player multiplayer limit will be the first thing to go...
As I stated above, the search for a perfect game is arguably a futile one and there are always flaws to be found if you're willing to look for them. Not every NPC has voice acting. The PvP could be much more comprehensive. It won't change your mind if you don't enjoy dungeon crawlers. Little niggles that might have added up if Torchlight II commanded a premium retail price... but for £14.99, become utterly meaningless and pedantic. Just shy of fifteen quid will net you a perfect mix of fun, value and life-ruining compulsion, a perfect example of the dungeon crawling genre and a perfect way to spend countless hours alone, online or over a LAN.
- Gloriously fun, visceral, deep and accessible hack & slash combat
- Visually engaging, compelling beyond words
- Enormous world to explore - alone, online or over LAN
- Ludicrous value for £14.99
- Weak PvP
- You'll need to play with characters of broadly similar levels in multiplayer
- Perhaps a little too easy on normal difficulty (choose veteran if you're a genre fan)
The Short Version: Torchlight II is everything you could want from a loot-driven RPG; an emphatic marriage of style, substance, compulsion and proper, undeniable fun. Runic Games have given players everything they could want and more, and a gameplay experience that approaches perfection if you've even the slightest interest in the genre.
Considering the unbelievably generous price, longevity and inevitable slew of fan-created content, you absolutely cannot afford to miss this one.