In my original Torchlight review, I called Torchlight a ‘near-perfect Diablo 2 clone - Diablo 2.5’. Of course, I did not play its successor yet. Maybe I should start by saying that this is an even better version of the original game, although the release time-frame and some additions make it more akin to a modern Diablo 3 than a classic Diablo 2. Both hack & slash games were released in 2012, so it is safe to assume that Runic did its homework and took out the magnifying glass to see how Diablo 3 works - or doesn’t. As always, let’s first dive into the world design.
1. World Design
In Torchlight, you basically ascend a huge mine, divided into levels, which are grouped together by a common theme: crypts, caves, inferno stuff, and so on. There’s one single town that acts as a central hub. It very much feels like a single act from Diablo II. In Torchlight II, this has been radically altered: dungeons are connected through multiple zones that also represent the outside surface. There are (snowy) grasslands (Act I), sandy dunes (Act II), and dark forests (Act III). There’s still no cool worldmap like in Sacred, but it definitely feels more coherent than its predecessor.
I also love the variation: there are four times as many different monsters, items, scenery, … than in Torchlight I from 2009. Each act feels very refreshing. Is it a coincidence that, as in Diablo II, the first act is grass, the second sand, and the third a forest? I think it’s more of a homage than anything else, because there are many unique aspects that set this world apart from Sanctuary. The most interesting one being a big injection of steampunk. A portion of the last dungeon feels like the Goblin Fortress from Dungeon Siege, one of the more original places. Being torchlight, you can again equip guns, throw dynamite in fishing ponds if you don’t fancy waiting for the fish to bite, and so forth. In Torchlight I, the world felt very mechanical, while in Torchlight II, it feels more coherent.
On my Nintendo witch, the game oozes color, to the point of almost hurting my eyes. The cartoon style of the original is even more present here, a hit-or-miss which, as I played, did not really bother me. However, the menus and interaction with things (items and people) look a bit odd to me. As said before, I prefer a more gritty scenery for hack and slash games, but it was amusing enough, especially the optional pirate king quest. Each area is unique and there is always something interesting to see.
As for performance, it was simply flawless on the Nintendo Switch - except the long loading times in-between zones. My retro PCs could not handle this, so it is a bit hard to compare to the original. 3D models are nice, animations are vivid, and spells are colorful. Yet, compared to Diablo 3, the ‘darkness level’ could have been upped, as even in dungeons I wasn’t really feeling the ‘oh shit’ vibe. It looks and plays suspiciously similar to Diablo 3!
That said, in my Diablo 3 review, I proclaimed that game to be casual and therefore very fitting on a console like the Switch. I wish I could play Torchlight 2 on PC, because while my D3 Necromancer controls fluently on the Pro Controller, my T2 Engineer refused to cooperate. Panic Button, the guys behind the port, should have looked more carefully at the D3 console port. Targeting is a nightmare, and was only ‘fixed’ because I scaled back the difficulty and switched to another class that can fire off auto-targeting magic bolts. The joyful colors, my couch and the controller give me the false feeling that I’m also playing an arcade-like game, while the Veteran difficulty level and my alarmingly fast rate of consuming health potions tells a whole different story.
Do not play a melee-focused build on Switch. You’ve been warned.
Enemies and Mobs
As advertised: great. Many unique mini-bosses roam the dungeons and overworld, assisted by hordes of stuff to kill and blow up. While Torchlight II still does not have elite mobs (I thought they fixed this), it is more than enough to be very enjoyable. There’s more diversity here than in Sacred or Dungeon Siege, but not necessarily more than in Diablo 2. Furthermore, I’ve never been swarmed that much like in D2, so it’s still not perfect, but very nearly there.
Fame, a concept form the original 2009 game, prominently returns. It is satisfying to see the label being gradually upgraded from Unknown Ember Mage to Liked and Widely Known Ember Mage - although I am unsure what else it should do. If there is one thing that this game absolutely nails, it is the bosses. Instead of only one real boss at the end of every act like in the Diablo games, this game throws a big bad guy at you in every single dungeon, and they are all completely unique and nicely fitted within the current theme. Sadly, most of them go down in a few seconds on normal, but at least the drops are compelling. Big golden chests await you after the battle, and the dungeons are littered with normal chests, hidden chests, and of course mimic chests - annoying little buggers.
You can again feed fish to your pet to help combat the enemies, but it again feels tacked-on and I never once used it. Mind you, in New Game Plus or on higher difficulties (stupid Switch!), it might be needed to rely on them. Potions were still useful as I sometimes became a bit over-confident. You can select your own penalty for dying: lose some money and start at the beginning of the dungeon, lose a lot and be resurrected on the spot, or lose nothing and start back in town. Since gold was never a problem, I usually picked the first option.
Every act has about five bigger main quests with a few optional paths sprinkled in for good measure. Although I was intrigued by these optional quests, they lack the breath of a game like Sacred and the depth of a proper RPG. In the end, you do the same: enter a dungeon, kill everything, and usually retrieve something the end boss is guarding. Whether it’s a main or optional quest, there’s no difference there. Hidden portals open up when you kill phase beasts, and there are plenty of optional dungeons to scour through. However, if it is proper endgame content you are looking for like seasonal things and nephalem rift runs full with elites to farm, this is not that kind of game. Overall though, the quest system is a big improvement over the original.
Farming is a bit of a pain: the world is randomly generated, but monsters are ‘set’, unless you return to certain previous areas from another act. Most of the times, previously visited dunes will stay empty (or littered with junk you didn’t pick up). On normal, the indicated recommended levels for dungeons quickly ramped up, but it was still manageable. I fear for higher difficulties as there one will have to go back and forth to grind a bit. That said, quest rewards can be hand-picked, although I found them to be almost always worthless:
In my original Torchlight review, I wrote that this is one of the reasons to play this kind of game. After playing through Torchlight II, I think I have to reconsider as after every single loot picked up, my excitement almost immediately wore off, after inspecting or identifying the piece of equipment. Compared to Diablo 2, loot in the Torchlight universe seems to come with a lot less compelling abilities - or any at all - unless you find 4+ pieces of the same set (which you won’t in a single run).
Take a look at the screenshot below. That is a unique piece of shoulder armor, with
+20% poison damage and
+18 dex. That’s it. Yes it’s got an empty socket, big deal. To me, that is a bit of a letdown. On the other hand, the drop rates are just right: you will get to see many green items (magical), a few blues after opening regular chests or killing mini-bosses (rares), and if you’re lucky a single piece of orange (unique) after a dungeon boss. I still have to make the color-code translation
blue = yellow in my head though…
Items have level requirements, which can be bypassed if your stats are high enough. For some strange reason, set pieces are indiscernible from rare items: they are both blue, while in the original Torchlight, they were purple. Fiddling with items to buy/sell/equip is a real pain on the console version of this game. The ring menu interface is awkward and, compared to Diablo 3, sometimes does things I did not intend to do. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy equipping my guy as much, and that is a real shame.
3. Character Progression
The three skill tree system has remained stable in this new installment, except that for many but not all skills, extra ‘ranks’ unlock after a set amount of points pumped into the skill. For instance, reaching certain ranks could net bonus damage multipliers, like my Ember Mage’s Prismatic Bolt in the screenshot below. I went with AoE reach: start with a Hailstorm that can stun enemies, add massive mana/life leach with Death’s Bounty, and then finish off with bolts. Big bosses or slow mobs get additional lightning damage with a Thunder Locus. The rest of the skill points went into passive buffs.
The skill screen demos each skill on a dummy, and while that looks cool, it also shows another major weakness: the skills - or classes, for that matter - aren’t all that interesting. You’ve got the usual suspects: fine, fire - ice - lightning stuff. I expected the Engineer to be cooler, but besides building healing bots or traps, he’s just a toned down barbarian wielding a slow attack 2-hander. I find Diablo 2’s skills and classes to be much more compelling. Even Diablo 3’s stupidly simple skill-assignment system is more fun to effectively use, as Corpse Explosion or Holy Hammers are more inviting than the mundane Torchlight 2 skills.
There is a possibility to re-assign the last 4 spent skill points in town, in exchange for a ridiculous amount of money. A guide I read recommends to open op the console to “hack out” Prismatic Bolt skill points in favor of a more powerful skill becoming available at much later levels. Being stuck on a console, I was not able to do that, but it did not matter: I actually prefer it that these things are set in stone.
Besides skills, you can assign your basic 5 stat points to either strength, dexterity, focus (mana) or health. Contrary to Diablo 2, it is not a good idea to ignore dex as a mage. I felt a bit lost sometimes trying to decide what was best to do. Diablo’s more item-oriented stat boost system does not always pay off, as gathering gear in single player games can be hit-or-miss.
Sound and Music
Although it is clear that Matt Uelmen returned to take care of the soundtrack, I have the feeling that there were missed opportunities. Music is regularly recycled, even crossing over to different acts. This strips the initially cool atmosphere from its uniqueness and reduces the game to the grind the original 2009 game was - even though it is much more varied.
Since my pet does not have a visible healthbar anymore, and I guess that also means feeding it health potions is no longer a thing, it is impossible to see whether he’s hurt. In a big fight, having to hear ‘your pet has fled’ about ten times per minute gets annoying very quickly. Another but minor issue
Since, contrary to Torchlight I, this time, there seems to be a more coherent story, animated but simple are effectively part of the game. It is serviceable to inform the player, but obviously nowhere near anything that we can marvel at in Blizzard’s games.
Anno 2020, if you’re in for a Diablo fix (or should I say replica?), take a look at Torchlight 2. There is no doubt that Torchlight 2 is better than its predecessor - on all accounts. Since both Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 were released in 2012, it comes at no surprise that both games are compared very often. Since I played both games on Switch, and both games are more colorful and easier than Diablo 2, it was difficult not to compare both. To me, Diablo 3 is the best leisurely-paced hack & slash game, well-suited on consoles. If I could, I would play Torchlight II on PC: less clunky UI and clicking to accurately target stuff.
Maybe then I could give the engineer class a proper go… Until then, I’ll keep on trudging with my lvl
50+ Ember Mage in the New Game Plus, where monsters are scaled and item drop rates are increased. We’ll see about that!