Torchlight II Preview

Years after the events of Torchlight, the once booming mining town is once again shaken at its foundation as an evil entity has stolen Ordrak’s essence of power. You must stop this evil fiend before he uses Ordrak’s essence to destroy the balance between the six elements!

Torchlight II is a 2.5D dungeon crawler created by the same minds that gave us the original two Diablo games. If you’re a fan of the Blizzard series, then there’s no doubt that you’ll love what’s going on in Torchlight II. It brings a number of improvements to the game from the original, and now features online multiplayer. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a look.

In the previous Torchlight, you guided your hero down through the depths of the mines below the ill-fated town as you sought out the source of the evil brewing. While it was an entertaining game, it felt somewhat claustrophobic descending through dungeon level after dungeon level. Torchlight II is worldlier, featuring an ever-expanding (and randomly created) world of varied lands that you’ll travel across, with plenty of dungeons, tombs and other scary abodes to explore. It gives the artists more freedom to create a varied world of exploration for the gamer to enjoy, full of elements suppressed only by the limits of the imagination, whereas with a vertical dungeon, you eventually run out of ways to change the look of brick and mortar. My experience so far has been limited by the beta area, but what I have seen is impressive! As you trudge through swamps, cemeteries, and forests, you can’t help but feel a sense that the game is far larger in scope than before.

Matt Uelmen returns as the game’s composer; he was also responsible for the music of the previous two Diablo games, which was also why the previous installment’s music sounded so familiar. But this time around, Uelmen has departed from the sounds that made Torchlight’s music seem like a homage to the Diablo series, and makes Torchlight II’s soundtrack really stand on its own as it mood-swings between somber and dreary to pure excitement.  Uelman’s famous guitar pieces set nicely into the new arrangements giving the music the otherworldly familiarity that we’ve come to know, but not so much that it sounds like a continuation of his works from Diablo.

The user interface has received some functional improvements as well by moving the inventory, attribute and skill tree menu buttons to the side of the screen unobtrusively so as to free up real estate in the center console. This allows for a more streamlined look, while giving new users a quick way to navigate to these menus, while achieving a balance that won’t hamper those familiar with the game. If you’ve played the Xbox 360 version, the UI looks very similar, although more functionality is available than the console, which was limited by the lack of buttons.

While I wasn’t able to partake in the multiplayer experience (mainly due to NAT issues and/or lack of interested players), Torchlight II does promise online co-operative on release, allowing you to join your friends through the storyline. This was a desired feature amongst many of the player community on the first game, and it’s good to see if become available now. You can start your own online game and either leave it open for random players to join or make it so only your friends can jump in. Up to four players can get together for a fun evening of good old-fashioned combat reminiscent of a modern-day Gauntlet.

Another significant change is the use of cutscenes to move portions of the story along. While the beta currently doesn’t feature any voice acting, the scenes themselves manage to convey what’s going on. Voice acting is present during conversations with certain notable NPCs, however, and it’s on par with the previous game. The artwork in the cutscenes is exceptional as well;  Those who played Shank or Shank II may find the art-style familiar here, as Klei Entertainment was the studio that assisted Runic Games in the creation of these scenes.

You’ll notice that there are some changes with the playable character classes available too. Gone is the Alchemist, having been replaced by the Engineer, whose steam punk inspired powers are very similar to its predecessor’s. The Destroyer too has been supplanted by the Berserker, who uses animal-themed powers and melee combat. The warrior class called the Outlander has taken the place of the Vanquisher, and uses ranged weapons such as crossbows, pistols and even cannons as well as some magic skills. Finally the fourth class, the Embermage, is a magic-wielding class capable of casting elemental spells. Character creation is not class limited anymore either. Now you can pick the gender of your character and have limited customizability of their appearance including hair, face and skin tones. This makes your selection more personal than just selecting the three out-of-the box characters available in the original game.  Don’t fret if you miss your original Torchlight characters; you’ll run across them eventually as Non-Playable Characters (NPCs).

Overall, Torchlight II really feels like Runic has stretched their legs and have gotten into a dead run with the series. They’ve left the confines of the sleepy mining town and take you out into a larger world of magic and wonder. There are still some bugs and kinks to be worked out (thus the reason it’s in beta), but the game is highly polished and makes for an entertaining diversion thus far. We’re going to continue playing and tracking Runic’s progress on the game, and you can be sure that we’ll be doing a full review on or around the release, so stay tuned!

***EDITOR’S NOTE*** Special thanks to @Webbstre for pointing out some clarifications that needed to be made regarding character classes!

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May 12, 2012 - 8:00 am