Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Torchlight II

Post-Launch Review
Torchlight II
Developer: Runic Games
Released: September 2012
Played: 7 hours as Outlander; story complete in 17 hours as Engineer

About

The Destroyer, the Vanquisher, and the Alchemist defeated Ordrak and ended the ember corruption... but the Alchemist, corrupted by the power of Ordrak's heart, has attacked and destroyed the town of Torchlight. As the Alchemist razes a path of destruction with unknown purpose, a new hero must rise to stop him.

At Launch

 Torchlight II was quite well received, earning average review scores of 88%. Reviewers stated that the game doesn't do much new, but it does everything very well, with great monsters, loot, skills, and secrets. The fast pace was praised, and the popular pet system introduced in the first game was again well received.

Post Launch

Frequent patches have added additional pets and language support, improved performance, fine-tuned balance, and fixed a great deal of bugs.

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I played this game for about 7 hours many months ago, but only recently did I actually seriously play for review purposes.

Torchlight II has Steam Workship capability, which means there are a ton of easily accessible mods to try out. I played with the More Pet Skins mod because I saw a llama and I couldn't resist, but it also included a majestic stag so I ended up using that instead. I also used a mod that added respec potions, because Torchlight II only lets you reassign the last 3 points you've spent, and I hate sinking 10 points into something only to eventually realize that it doesn't suit my play style and not being able to reassign those points.
One inevitable downside to mods is how the game saves characters and progress. You can launch the game in normal or mod mode, and characters are saved to separate folders for each - meaning that if you start a character, then install some mods and launch in mod mode, you can't access that character. Runic Games has pointed out that you can copy your save file from one folder into the other, but they warn that this isn't guaranteed to work and may cause some issues, especially moving a modded character into the unmodded folder.
But anyway, on to the actual game.

Torchlight II has a much greater range of environments than the first Torchlight. Instead of taking place all in one large varied dungeon, Torchlight II has the player trekking across the landscape through all kinds of different environments: snowy mountains, forest and swamp, desert, various styles of ruin, and a bunch more. The chunky, colourful art looks great, and the lack of hard edge lines makes things look layered and soft as necessary despite the cartoony style. Lighting and visual effects aren't fantastic but the style makes up for it. Characters and pets look great, but unfortunately you won't get to see them close up very often because you'll probably want to zoom out enough to see all the monsters attacking you.
Pets haven't changed much, and that's fine because they are awesome. Send your pet to town to sell all your spare gear without having to leave the dungeon. GENIUS. You can give your pets a shopping list now, to have them buy potions and scrolls for you while they're in town. This is an excellent addition because it means you REALLY don't have to go to town. Ran out of identify scrolls? Send your pet to town. Pets can learn spells too, which is quite handy. And one of the available pets is an adorable ferret with saddlebags and goggles, so that's great.
Fishing hasn't changed either - you can still catch fish that will transform or otherwise buff your pet to give it a boost in combat, and sometimes you'll haul up gear as well. I never used the transforms though - the pets are so cool or adorable that I can't see why I'd want to change them into something else. Why would I want to turn my majestic stag into a zombie torso? And the stat changes aren't explained on the item so it's extra hard to want to use them.
The skill trees are pretty diverse and there's a lot of room for each class to accommodate several play styles by picking one of a class's three trees or mixing and matching between them. The Engineer, for example, has a greatweapon-focused tree, a cannon/invention tree, and a sword/shield/armour tree. I started on the melee line because it seemed fun, but I switched to going mostly down the cannon line for the robot minions and the damage boosts. I also grabbed some survivability upgrades from the armour skills.
The charge mechanic is pretty interesting, and differs by class. You build charge as you land attacks, and each class uses the charge in different ways. The barbarian goes into a short rage that grants increased criticals and speed when the bar fills; the embermage's spells cast for free and power up for a short time when the bar fills; the outlander gains stat bonuses the larger the charge; and the engineer can exchange charge to power up various attacks. It's a nice way to differentiate the classes outside of the usual gear and skills, and it's especially cool because the charge builds the same for everyone but each class uses it differently.
Probably the biggest complaint I have about Torchlight II is that with a click-to-move system, when you get surrounded by a large mob of enemies, it can be impossible to move. Not because the enemies create a wall that blocks you in, but because you'll click on what seems to be empty space, and instead your character starts attacking. I'm guessing it's because creatures have fairly generous hitboxes (clickboxes?) so it's easy to rapidly select a target, which is actually a hindrance when you're trying to move and not attack.
 The story is a bit more substantial than in the first Torchlight, and has you trekking across the land first to clean up after the Alchemist and figure out what he's up to, and later to catch up and stop him from carrying out his plan. The handful of animated cutscenes look really nice, but otherwise the story is told purely through quest dialogue when you're accepting a quest or turning one in. The story has potential but the way it's told is lacking in depth or character development, so it kind of fades into the background as the excuse for why you're running around killing stuff.

Probably my favourite element is how quickly you level up. I ended my 17-hour playthrough at level 55. The fast pace keeps loot exciting and frequently has you upgrading and trying out new skills, which really helps draw you along and keeps the game feeling fresh.
There's co-op now, a much-needed boost over the first Torchlight. It supports up to 6 players, which is kind of interesting. One thing that's really great about the co-op is that loot is entirely separate - if you can see it on your screen, the loot is yours; other players see their own loot on their screens. This isn't exactly a new feature anymore - as far as I know it was newish when Guild Wars came out in 2005 -  but it's a feature I always appreciate. You can give another player off-class gear if you want, but if you hold on to it for another of your characters your co-op partners won't be notified.

To be honest I'm having a hard time writing this review. I enjoyed Torchlight II well enough but there wasn't much in particular that stuck out to me. Have I covered enough yet? Let's wrap things up.

Recommendation: play it.

Torchlight II is a well-put-together action RPG that's easy to learn. It looks good and it plays fast and smooth, with a respectable but not overwhelming number of options. Steam Workshop adds to the longevity with mods that add more classes and gameplay, or just improve existing functionality. It didn't grab me enough to replay on my own, but I'd definitely enjoy running some co-op.
My Engineer shortly after the final boss. Majestic stag comes from the pet mod.

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