It’s strange to think of Torchlight 2 as the Action RPG’s greatest hope, especially in a year that saw the release of Diablo 3, but here we are. I was an enormous fan of the original Torchlight, but there was one glaring omission: no co-op. Will Torchlight 2 bring all of the charm of the original, and provide a heaping helping of co-op goodness? Yes. A thousand times yes.
Rather than bring back the original cast of character classes, Runic’s gone back to the drawing board and created four new classes for Torchlight 2: the Embermage (spellcaster), Outlander (spells + ranged weapons), Berserker (crazy melee), and Engineer (melee with wonderful toys). In a nice twist, the three original classes are recast as characters in the storyline, and one of them just so happens to be a villain these days.
For my adventures, I chose the Embermage. He started out by chucking spears of fire, but expanded his skills to be able to launch hot columns of fiery and/or electric death. As I added status effects to enemies, each hit I landed caused pulses of elemental pain to hit their enemies. My dual-wand slinging brought delightfully unstable effects- nothing made me smile more than my attacks suddenly spawning a huge meteor to land on top of my foes. This holds true for all classes, but my abilities made me feel almost overpowered, despite the difficulty level keeping me in check.
The pet system returns from the original game with a few new additions. You can still offload all of your unwanted loot onto your furry friends and send them back to town to sell it while you’re galavanting around the countryside, but now you can even have them buy potions and other consumables for you while they’re gone. This had an unintended side effect, however, as I now resent my cat’s lack of enthusiasm when I ask him to go grocery shopping for me.
Torchlight 2 is probably the most fluid Action RPG I’ve ever played. Character movement is faster than most games in this genre, and slinging abilities around is a breeze. A new charge mechanic has been added to each character- successive attacks build up a meter that provides a huge but temporary buff to their abilities. The Embermage’s charge ability allows him to hurl spells with impunity, while the Berserker’s increases his movement and attack speed. The charge abilities can really turn the tide of a difficult battle, and I’d definitely recommend building your character in a way that maximizes their effectiveness.
Speaking of building your character, Torchlight 2 provides an awful lot of freedom in both the loot choice and skill selection. All characters can use all items (though some are class-restricted), so if you’d like to make an axe-wielding melee Embermage you’re more than welcome to try. You can’t respec your character or undo stat point assignment, but you can reclaim up to the last three skill points you’ve assigned for a small fee. This leaves you free to experiment with new abilities and gives you an “out” if you decide they don’t synergize well with your build.
There’s a lot more variety in the game than you usually see in this genre. Boss battles come quite often, and each one is unique. Some are surprisingly challenging, and most bosses bring friends. Sadface. Special enemies called Phase Beasts lurk around the maps and defeating them spawns a portal to a challenge room where you must do things like defeat waves of enemies while standing in a zone, or simply kill a miniboss and choose to open one of three doors with his key. One particularly challenging dungeon has players having to manage a difficulty fight while trying to stay within the beam of a spotlight.
The art style and music are both beautiful. Runic’s art team has really outdone themselves with the staggering amount of assets put into the environments, and the personality put into each enemy type shines. It’s a doubly impressive feat when you take into account the low-poly models used in the game.
As with the original, the difficulty level skews a little on the easier side when playing on the normal difficulty level, but thankfully you’re free to choose how hard you want the game to be when you create your character. For me, Veteran difficulty felt like the right balance of challenge and progression, but your mileage may vary. I’m just happy I don’t have to beat the game several times over to get to the difficulty that feels right. (That’s a zing to you, Diablo!)
Torchlight, though wonderful, sorely lacked co-op, and Runic was taken to task by just about everybody for it. Luckily for us, they happened to agree with the criticism and decided to right that wrong by including co-op for up to 6 players in Torchlight 2.
Playing co-op is a snap, and it’s a good thing, because you’re going to want to bring friends. For online play, a server browser lets you choose a session to join, see where your friends are playing, or create your own game. When creating a game, you can set limits to the number of players and restrict the level range of player who join so you don’t get a high level character dropping in to ruin everyone else’s fun.
When playing in co-op, the difficulty of monsters in the world increases based on the number of players. Loot drops are your own, though you’re certainly welcome to trade gear with your partners as you see fit. If you drop into a game that’s in progress, players can use the waypoint system to teleport to their friends and get going. The net code is stable, and handles players coming and going well.
Playing Torchlight 2 with friends is just a blast. The fast and fluid nature of the combat translates perfectly to a multiplayer setting, and it’s vastly entertaining for six players to unleash their arsenals all at once to take down hordes of baddies. The ensuing chaos is a spectacular light show, and the showers of loot are incredibly satisfying. Someone can always use what you can’t, and the large number of class-restricted unique items will do more than clog up your stash when you have other players around.
Torchlight 2 isn’t just a great game, it realizes the full potential of its predecessor. It’s got heart. Moxie. It’s the scrappy underdog that everyone wants to love, and it just so happens to be the best Action RPG I’ve played in years. There are a lot of great co-op titles releasing this fall, but do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on Torchlight 2.