There’s something intrinsically addicting about killing monsters and collecting loot. Torchlight provided plenty of that, and, judging from the beta, its sequel is shaping up to provide even more. It also caused my inner hoarder many moments of anguish, which was drowned out by the excitement of fast paced action and new loot to plunder. I had the chance to give the beta for the second game a go, and it provides all that and more.
Like in the first game, there’s a shared stash and individual stash. The character inventory is separated into equipment, consumables, and spells, making it easier to quickly find and sort items and provide more space to carry all your loot. However, you’ll likely still find yourself trying to make room for items or dumping them on your pet to sell. My inner hoarder initially cringed at having to give up so many items to make room for newly discovered loot, with the cloying appeal of, “But this could come in handy later! You might regret pitching it!” However, the constant discovery of new loot helped distract said hoarder and made it easier for me to let go and to make way for better gear.
Upon starting up the beta and choosing a character and pet, an animated intro starts things off, which already establishes that more worldbuilding and a greater production budget were invested into this game. Torchlight II‘s visuals have drawn comparisons to World of Warcraft, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you heavily prefer Diablo‘s darker palette. The graphics are easy on the eyes, with a bright colorful palette that has a subtle watercolor paint aethetic and a cartoony steam punk vibe to it. The little animations in the environment, such as branches swaying gently in the wind and fireflies by the water, help make the world feel more alive and provide more visual candy. Other details, like the skeletons in hanging cages—some occasionally reaching out, others lying limp—demonstrate an attention to detail that enhances the experience. For those who think the game looks too kiddy, it might behoove you to know that enemies explode into bloody chunks when you kill them, and blood streaks the walls as you attack or get attacked. You also have the option to turn off the blood if that suits you better.
The overworld and dungeon layouts are randomized, so you’re not seeing the same layouts when playing as another character. Monster spawns are also randomized, so you need to stay on your guard at all times while roaming the land. Equipment affects your character’s appearance (you can make your helmet visible or not), and sets provide additional bonuses. The graphics scale well with zooming, so nothing looks pixellated in an up-close view; neither is anything hard to see when the camera’s zoomed out. One minor nitpick I have is that characters don’t move their mouths when they talk, which is readily apparent when the camera zooms in on them while they speak. However, this isn’t bad enough to detract from the experience. There’s also limited character customization options, though it’s still more than what was offered in the first game. You can choose from a few different hair styles, hair colors, and facial features. Thanks to the weather system and day/night cycles, effects such as rain appear, and the changing times of day make the world seem more dynamic.
Those who have played the first two Diablo games should recognize the musical style as the same composer, Matt Uelmen, also worked on this game. He also contributed to the soundtracks for StarCraft, World of Warcraft classic, and World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. The orchestrated blend of sitar, guitar, cello, and strings set the mood quite well and served as a good aural accompaniment to traveling through the overworld and deep into dungeons, hacking away at enemeis the entire time.
While the original three classes are not playable (though they do show up as NPCs), there are four new classes to choose from this time around: Engineer, Berserker, Embermage, and Outlander. I chose an Engineer mainly because the idea of bashing things with a giant wrench and summoning bots to heal and attack enemies appealed to me. I was not disappointed. The weapon sound effects ring solid and meaty and made every successfully landed blow satisfying. Meanwhile, the stalwart healbot followed me as I charged into hostile mob after hostile mob, perodically dispensing waves of healing upon me and my pet. While the gunbot self-destructed after a period of time, it mowed down enemies with hails of bullets. There’s a bit more room for experimentation with builds, as you can reset skill point allocation up to level 10 at the cost of three skill points.
Like in the original Torchlight and Fate, you have a pet accompanying you everywhere you go. Pets can now buy basic items like scrolls and potions in addition to selling everything it’s carrying. They can also serve as a packhorse, which is handy for the copious amounts of loot. You can set them to act offensively, defensively, or passively, though they never die; they just temporarily withdraw if their health gets too low. They can also learn spells. How many games give you the chance to say, “My ferret can summon poisonous, suicidal zombies”?
One thing I found handy was the ability to equip items either by meeting level or stat requirements. So if there was something I wanted to equip but I wasn’t at a high enough level, I could just pump up the relevant stats high enough to use it. You can switch between two weapon sets, and I elected to have one set with a greathammer (what the giant wrench was caterogrized under) and one with a hand cannon. The enchant system also returns, but this time there’s no chance of wiping enchantments. Items with sockets can also have gems slotted in for some stat boosts or enhancements, such as imbuing attacks with an element.
The game sports four difficulty levels: casual, normal, veteran, and elite. There’s also hardcore mode, wherein death means you lose your character permanently. You can adjust the difficulty and keep playing the same character, something I wish was an option in the first Torchlight. You can choose another difficulty level whenever you create a game as well. While I normally go for normal difficulty in games for a first playthrough, I jumped right into veteran difficulty because I found the normal difficulty in the first game a bit too easy. Rushing in recklessly rewarded me with death, which I found a refreshing challenge. Even then, an abundance of health potions meant I never had much need to buy any, though I can see that changing later in the game or on higher difficulties. When you die, you can choose to respawn in town for free or lose some gold to respawn at the entrance of the current area. Enemies come from all directions, jumping off of cliffs or, like the skeletons and tribesmen, sitting or lying in wait. Even after you think you’ve defeated them, skeleton torsos still crawl towards you, wanting a piece of you. Enemy level ranges are shown before you enter a dungeon, so you can decide whether it’s something you want to tackle right then or return to after you’ve leveled up a bit.
Upon reaching the end of the beta, I immediately started a new character. I was initially going to try an Embermage next, but I wanted to be able to put the three unique Outlander-only pieces of equipment I’d found to use, so I chose that class instead. After starting up the game, I saw the random map generation in action as the area layouts differed. Sadly, I didn’t get far enough to use said equipment, though I did at least get a small preview of what the Outlander class would play like. I played until the announcement that the servers were shutting down popped up.
The beta was entirely online, but the final game will also have offline single-player and LAN co-op as options. The connection had no hiccups, even during the stress test weekend, and the game always ran smoothly. Over all, Torchlight II is looking to be a very solid and fun Diablo-styled dungeon crawler (even as my inner hoarder weeps at the thought of figuring out how to juggle all that loot), and I look forward to playing the final game, trying out all the classes, and seeing what tweaks Runic Games will make between the beta and the final versions.