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Game Review: Torchlight 2 221

CowboyNeal writes: "Last week was a big week for gamers, with the release of both Borderlands 2 as well as Torchlight 2. I already shared my thoughts on the former last week, so I got to playing the latter over the weekend. Torchlight 2 is the follow-up to Torchlight, the 2009 point-and-click ARPG created by Runic Games. What's new that the first game didn't have? And, the big question, how does it stack up against Diablo 3? Click the link below to learn my impressions of the game."

A Testimonial, and a Confession

First, I have to admit some bias here. When Diablo 2 came out over a decade ago, it was my favorite game for quite some time. Its expansion pack only cemented its position as the best game of all time, for me. It's key to note here, that Diablo 2 was only the best game ever in my opinion, and eventually it aged and got to the point where it was nigh unplayable on modern computers. I even tried going back several times in the past few years, and just found it too archaic to function properly on modern hardware. It desperately needed either some patches or a successor to bring it up to date.

When Blizzard Entertainment announced Diablo 3, I couldn't have been happier. At last, an updated version of the best game ever would be available. However, something felt odd about Diablo 3 even before I ever played it. Blizzard kept reviews at bay until after release via a restrictive NDA. That's fairly common, and not enough to raise suspicion alone, but still odd that there weren't more early peeks allotted to the usual media channels. Even after its release, the demo was only available by invite. I couldn't even download the demo for Diablo 3 unless someone who had already bought the game gave me a code. Now something smelled fishy. So I held onto my sixty dollars, which while would be a small price to pay for the best game ever, it seemed like Diablo 3 wouldn't be that game. Eventually I was able to wrangle a demo code from someone who had bought the game and wanted to lure me into playing it. I didn't get very far into the demo before I got a quest just to use a waypoint. Perhaps they didn't realize that I have killed Diablo and his brothers dozens if not hundreds of times already. I know how to work a waypoint. I need monsters to kill. Out of respect for the franchise, I kept on. I even finished the demo, but by the time I did so, it was clear to me, that Diablo 3 was going to be a giant let-down for me. Whatever fun I had with Diablo 2 was done and gone, and would stay in the past.

I had had the good fortune of playing Torchlight, and like just about everyone else, my biggest complaint was that the game had no multiplayer. Other than the lack of multiplayer, I thought it was just about perfect. Given my previous love for Diablo 2, this shouldn't be any sort of surprise. So now at long last, Runic has released the multiplayer-enabled Torchlight 2. Similar to the old "Open Battle.Net" games of Diablo 2, you can play the same character in single player, LAN, and internet games. This proved to be key, as on release day, Runic's servers melted from the onslaught of players. Internet games were finally enabled a couple days later, but in the meantime, plenty of single player and LAN games were had. Through the creative usage of some VPNs, I was even able to play LAN games over the internet.

Once More Into the Fray

The game starts off in the ruins of the town of Torchlight. Wait a second, didn't I save the town from Ordrak at the bottom of the mines and whatever else was down there? Well, it turns out that I did, so long as I wasn't playing an alchemist. The alchemist, on the other hand, was corrupted by the heart of Ordrak and immediately knew that he had to burn down the town, and leave a path of death and destruction across the land as he began his new plot to destroy the world. Okay, so the plot isn't Hugo Award caliber stuff here, but neither was "Diablo lived somehow, and you have to go kill him again," nor was "Hey, why don't you just run on into this dungeon and fetch me the Amulet of Yendor." Really the plot is just a means to goad me into venturing into areas that I haven't already taken it upon myself to go explore and kill everything in.

That brings us down to what the real fun in any point-and-click ARPG is. Taking on and killing hordes of enemies at once, securing an area, and then reaping the immediate rewards in the form of experience and loot. The Torchlight series has traded in the grimdark setting of Diablo for an art style that's a bit more cartoon-like, but the core gameplay survives. This is a feature that Torchlight 2 recreates flawlessly. Combat is fast, frenetic, and visceral. Enemies have a chance to explode into a pile of gibs, leaving bloodstains on the ground. Frozen enemies can be shattered into chunks of ice. Often the action happens so fast, that creatures can be slain before I'm even aware they exist. It's exactly the opposite of the first act of Diablo 3, which comparatively felt like drudgery.

Building the Perfect Warrior

There's four classes to choose from in Torchlight 2, and while they follow some archetypes, they're also rather configurable in how they're played via skills and weapon choices. The embermage is a classic spellcaster who uses staves and wands, and can learn many different spells to put down his enemies. The outlander is a ranged class that excels at nearly every sort of ranged weapon. The berserker is a melee damage class that can gain bonuses from using two weapons of the same type. And last but not least, is the engineer, a versatile class that can use shields, two-handed weapons, and even cannons, or some combination of those, depending on skill set. It's important to note here, that every class can wield every weapon, there's just not always a bonus for doing so. You're free to make a berserker who uses shotguns, for example, there's just not many skills for the class to support it.

Skills aren't tied to any sort of tree structure like they were before. You only need to be of a skill's required level to unlock it. Active skills such as spells, will also confer a bonus after investing five, ten, or fifteen points into them. Leveling up a character also isn't the only way to gain skill points. As you gain in fame from killing bosses and random named mobs, you acquire a skill point for every level of fame you've achieved as well.

Keep Going Back For More

It took me a little over 20 hours to save the world, on my first trip through on normal difficulty. Normal difficulty was still rather easy, and I think my next trip through the world will be at the veteran level. There are however, still a number of activities for my first character to do. Completing the game unlocks the Mapworks, a robot-run area where you can load custom maps to complete. It's also possible to create a new world that begins at your current level, so I could start a new game with that character where the first monsters would be around level 50. Because the dungeons and open areas outside towns are randomly generated, a second playthrough manages to still feel somewhat fresh. Combine that with a character class that you haven't played before, or a new set of skills for one that you have, and there's lots of reasons to keep replaying.

But is this the new best game ever?

In short, yes. I've spent time reading people's meager, whiny complaints about this gift of the gods that has been put on sale for a mere twenty dollars. Sure, you can only reallocate the last three skill points you've spent, and you can't redo all your stats and skills once you're leveled up. That's so that you learn from your mistakes and go back and play the game again. There's no one to hold your hand to find the area where the quest is at. There's a marker on your map for you to aim for, and that's more than any player deserves. The quests are still rather simplistic, and of the form to go kill someone or a group of someones, or to collect a thing, or a group of things. Again, the quests are merely a vehicle to get you into new areas. If you happen to kill the guy that advances the plot, that's a bonus. If you stop to talk to an NPC, the world does not stop for you. Enemies will continue to attack you as you choose your quest reward, because you were too stupid to clear out the area of any possible threats before sitting down to talk. I think I've now sufficiently debunked any negative points I've read in other reviews. If you don't like point-and-click ARPG games, you're not going to like this one. No one is going to change the entire genre to enable someone's crazy ideas. Well, unless it's Diablo 3, and look how that turned out. Sure it sold well, but I would now have to waterboard my friends into admitting that they fell for purchasing it.

My biggest complaint about this most perfect game, is that there's no Mac or Linux versions, yet. I say yet, because three years after the first game was released, we even have a Linux version now. You can pick it up, DRM-free, right now for a limited time, for the price of whatever-you-want, as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 6. You can donate some or all of the price to the EFF as well. Shameless plugs aside, it may take a few years but eventually Torchlight 2 should make the rounds as well. Runic Games has a lot in store for the game yet, such as console versions, as well as Steam Workshop integration, which will enable easy mod installation. Mod support will presumably let players redo their skills and stats, and cheat if they want to.


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Game Review: Torchlight 2

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  • Good deal for $20 (Score:3, Informative)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:48PM (#41480885)

    I haven't played D3, but I've played TL1 and D2, and I've now played through TL2.

    Cons: In my opinion, the storytelling of TL2 is somewhat less compelling and expansive than was that of D2. Also, the D2 had good cinematics, and most (all?) of its narration was recorded voices, rather than just text that you have to read.

    Pros: Lots of fun, low hardware requirements, good randomization of maps. Fun approach to playing random maps after you beat the game (I'm not going to spoil it.) No DRM.

    And last but not least, it's a great entertainment value for $20. Money very well in my case. From the reviews, I don't think I would have considered $60 for D3 to be a worthwhile purchase.

  • by bedonnant ( 958404 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:58PM (#41480999)
    yes, you can.
  • by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @03:08PM (#41481121)

    Torchlight 1 does not allow you to change keybindings.

    Actually, it does []. For some reason, there's no UI for doing so though.

  • Re:Pedigree (Score:4, Informative)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:06PM (#41482485)

    You can get the entire TL2 soundtrack for free here []. I though that was a nice gift from the guys at Runic (makes me feel a bit better about the lifetime Hellgate subscription).

  • by CodeHxr ( 2471822 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:37PM (#41482815)

    But seriously, if company's can start pushing $20 games this good, I hope it sends a message to game developers everywhere.

    This, one thousand times.

    I bought a 4-pack of this for $60 from steam and gifted 3 of them to friends of mine. I haven't gotten this amount of enjoyment (including my friends' enjoyment) from $60 in a very long time, if ever.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Informative)

    by CodeHxr ( 2471822 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:46PM (#41482905)

    If you or anybody else wants to buy Torchlight because of their issues with D3, send a message to Activision/Blizzard by emailing or sending them your receipt for your purchase of Torchlight (or whatever else you spent your money on).

    Not buying their product is one thing (they might just attribute it as a loss to piracy). Showing them that you had the money *and* inclination to buy something but instead bought a competitors product is a whole other thing.

    Too bad you posted that anonymously... I will do this when I get home tonight because it will also indicate that not only did I have the money for their game, I got *four* copies of their competitor's game for the same price as their own. Bonus points for "their competitor" being developers that were originally a part of Blizzard [].

  • by bfandreas ( 603438 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:17PM (#41483629)
    D3 is not D2 and won't be saved from ruin until the dev team learns a couple of fundamental things they could have learned from D2 which at release was also a completely different game from what it became the following 5 years.

    1) An ARPG lives and dies by its pace and responsiveness. Having to skip cut-scenes, the sheer amount of crowd control the player character is subjected to and the slow movement speed is a complete antithesis of what an ARPG is supposed to be.

    2) Even tho the original D2 devs also hated it the most popular feature of patch 1.10 of D2 was the inclusion of cross-class skills. The player loved it, the devs hated it. The D3 team permanently shut that door by including a non-mana based resource system. They can not pull this off without doing a major revamp of the game.

    3) The sheer amount of handholding that's going on in D3 boggles the mind. D2 and torchlight limit you by level and stat points in what loot you can wear. D3 limits you by class. Want to play a DH with a fat 2hander for whatever inane reason you can come up with? Sorry, you can't. Want to play a completely dex based barbarian with a crossbow? Nope. 'Do as thou wilt' was replaced with 'because we say so'. You want to be a melee WD? Well, only the classic melee characters get a flat 30% melee incoming damage reduction.

    4) Their reliance on a completely gold based economy is stupid. Nobody ever managed to pull off an interesting gold based economy. Either it works somewhat(as D3's does) and is completely boring or it doesn't and becomes a nuisance. This may sound like a weak point but what the gold based, AH centric economy does is it doesn't encourage bartering and trading. This was a major community builder. There were a LOT of successful websites/forums that started out as barter towns, grew into real communities and kept D2 going way beyond its due-date. D3 is an anonymous hodge-podge.

    5) Character progression is non-existant in D3 or beyond frustrating. It is not unreasonable to expect to be able to finish the game on inferno difficulty with only what you picked up yourself within 100 in-game hours. That should be the yard-stick. The goal of the grind-fest should be mindles mass murder of unsuspecting demons to blow off steam or to gather loot to be even more efficient in said mass murder or to gear up twinks with a silly character concept. But at no point should you feel slow and gimped. Inferno mode is completely inaccessible.

    6) At release and at the moment the game screams 'we haven't thought this through'. The 30% flat incoming damage reduction of monks and barbs say 'we haven't tuned the game properly'. The auction house ui with only 3 filters for 6 possible properties on rares made the AH next to unusable. Increased incoming damage in multi player games in an already overtuned game made grouping unattractive. The crafting system made you broke if you weren't very, very clever using it. The very rare legendaries were completely unviable on inferno mode(especially the weapons). The damage scaling in inferno is completely off. They advertised the game for PvP(god knows why) and they still haven't delivered.

    7) Tying real money to gear limits what they can do to improve the game. Once real money has changed hands for loot you can't reasonably nerf or buff stuff that has been sold without getting yourself in real hot water. And I sincerely doubt their RMAH cut is enough to cover the financial, legal and PR headache that follows.

    I'm sorry, but the team that made D3 didn't take a look at what made D2 the game of the decade and only added supreficial improvements. If they don't learn that their approach to D3 was completely off then they will not be able to salvage it whatsoever. The whole game feels like the core mechanics were designed by the Blizzard B-Team. Art and music is wonderful, tho. But at the moment it is a polished turd.
  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:57PM (#41483913) Homepage Journal

    The first game I've tried was the original Torch Light. I like it so much so far it's the only game I've played out of the bundle, despite some of the others looking quite appealing.

    I've been playing it on my quite powerful desktop - but I noticed it had a "netbook mode" which for some reason was checked by default. I decided to put it on my netbook. For some reason it was NOT checked by default, but after clunking around with the graphics it is actually playable on my dual core Atom using Intel graphics on Kubuntu. I wouldn't exactly call it optimal and smooth, but it's still quite playable.

    I loved the original Diablo back in the day, I even bought the expansion pack for it. Then Diablo II came out and I enjoyed it for a while. Not too long, shortly afterwards Blizzard pissed me off by dragging a personal friend into a lawsuit over BNetD, they started suing a bunch of Unreal modders they had previously helped, and I quite dual-booting Windows as I found it to be a waste of hard drive space.

    In short Torchlight has offered me everything I liked about Diablo, it works on Linux, and I don't have the guilty sick to my stomach feeling that dealing with Blizzard products gives me.

    I can't tell you enough - buy the thing. Go get the bundle, and as soon as a Linux version of Torchlight 2 is released I'll go get it. My only complaint about the original Torchlight - it sometimes crashes when a new area gets loaded up. No big deal, I start the program and I'm standing exactly where I should have been without the crash so - yeah, it's great. Also gem hunting isn't quite as frustrating as it was in Diablo 2.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday September 28, 2012 @02:24AM (#41485475) Journal

    I have a better question...why? You ALREADY have 10, count 'em, 10 slots you can use for pretty much ANYTHING, potions, fish to feed your pet, whatever, and those are controlled by..get this...the 1-0 keys on the top of the keyboard. How easy is that? Attack is left click, magic right, and you can swap magic in seconds by right clicking on the magic icon, easy peasy.

    So while its fine and dandy you can remap keys, and I'm sure since TL2 allows modding you'll see some nice little community tools like allowing several bindings to switch from, i just don't want anyone to think the default keys are shit. I have played a LOT of games where the default keys are shit and this? Not one of them. Try something like Turning Point: Fall of Liberty for a hair pulling wanna pull an Elvis on the monitor bad control scheme. this? this is a simple layout which for the fun but simple gameplay of "there is bad guy, go and thumpeth him" it works VERY well.

    For something that is a whole $20, allows modding, lets you play for free with your friends, lets you find the good loot instead of buying it from a market, and has countless hours of goodness? People sure do find some little nits to pick.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming