Preview: Last week, Runic Games finally answered a question many of us have been asking for months: when is TORCHLIGHT II going to be released? But as we just can’t wait until September 20th, here’s how the sequel is going to be even better than its predecessor.
Torchlight II has spent a long time sat tantalisingly close in the Steam “coming soon” tab with a Summer 2012 release date. After slipping from 2011 and dodging – whether intentionally or not – a David and Goliath showdown with that similar game from Blizzard, a short beta period back in May has given the best glimpse of just how the sequel is turning out. Now, with a release date confirmed, I thought it best to reflect on that short time with the game and consider how Torchlight II will build upon its strong foundations.
For all its successes, the original clearly had its limitations: there were some excellent core ideas in there, but still just a bunch of ideas looking for a more solid framework. Descending into the deep and dark caverns below Torchlight alone was fine, with environments that would change from maze-like mineshafts to overgrown subterranean ruins, but it often felt far too restrictive. The single dungeon may have been spread across multiple floors, but cracks in the facade were obvious and any sense of exploration was lost after your first few steps into new surroundings.
Thankfully, the sequel is set to escape from those confines, taking a new band of adventures from the eponymous town to chilly, snow-capped mountains and from festering bogs to ancient, decrepit ruins. There’s still a familiar back-and-forth cycle between dungeons and town hubs, but now a single, far-reaching map takes the place of layer upon layer of underground. There are less obvious paths to explore, more frequent side-quests to complete and a general sense that you’re part of a world now and not some mass-produced, isolated theme park for adventurers.
It was really Runic’s execution and confidence in their ideas, though, that helped the game past its limitations. The expansion and polishing of those ideas in Torchlight II is all I could really ask for. Loot elegantly pirouettes from fallen foes and bountiful chests with such a pleasing sparkle and clink: the sight of an orange sends you into delirium and even a rusty old dagger is a delight to receive.
There’s the satisfying crunch to attacks. A visual splendour to magic and abilities. Even the ridiculous, gut-wrenching anxiety of simply clicking that stupid, secretly scheming button to enchant the crappy item you didn’t want anyway, so you don’t even care the attempt failed and you lost it forever to the ether.
Damn that Skinner Box
It’s the exact sort of constant feedback loop you know you’re being somewhat manipulated into enjoying, but you – just – can’t – help – it – and OK then, just one more dungeon.
It’s a feeling only amplified by the one feature the original game was crying out for: multiplayer. There’s just something far more engaging about playing a game of Torchlight II’s ilk with friends: building your characters to support each other one minute and then fighting over loot the next.
Classes have left the strict RPG staples behind to offer slightly altered roles. The foundation of warrior, mage, and thief are clearly still present, but have been cast in a different light to reveal new approaches. For example, the tanky fighter, the Engineer, has taken inspiration from steampunk technology to create a sense of uniqueness which might be lost if he were just another guy in chainmail with a sword and a shield – something taken even further with the twists on common RPG abilities to suit the individual characters.
Still, the game’s classes and skill trees appear far from the dynamism of Diablo III’s setup. The number of abilities may have been limited, but the ways in which you could customise certain moves with additional effects made for countless combinations in Blizzard’s latest.
When you can alter your basic attacks to teleport yourself to your target, or hit groups with a forceful shockwave cone, or chain lightning between enemies, or reduce your foe’s attack speed, and so on, Torchlight II’s incremental damage boosts to skills or slightly improved passives on level up appear dull.
Granted, the trees were still being tweaked, so hopefully Runic will adjust the investment cap of each skill to offer more worthwhile and immediate character progression, which will in turn make hitting those level milestones more exciting – as much as a rudimentary skill tree system can, at least.
But where Torchlight II is likely to maintain an active community is with modding support. Torchlight received marked improvements from but a few fan creation additions – even mundane fixes, such as increasing the stack limit on potions and providing more stash space, removed so many niggling frustrations. Some took it further, adding whole new quests to complete and dungeons to navigate, ensuring there was always another challenge for high level players to tackle. If embraced just as enthusiastically, Torchlight II will be blessed with near limitless new content too – not to mention the DLC plan that must be in the minds of Runic.
In fact, I was that absorbed by the beta that I would have paid for more content then and there. So much did I want to stay in the world that I even stood around fishing for the chance to see how else I could warp my pet into another monstrosity to carry my loads back to town. But, eventually, I’d emptied every last chest, slain every last foe and clicked every last clickable. September 20th may still be two weeks away, but I can already feel my finger twitching in anticipation.
Torchlight II, from Runic Games, will be released on September 20th for PC and Mac.