Review: Torchlight 2

I found myself far far beyond help. My ferret had ran into town to sell the meagre loot I’d found so far, my skeletal minions were little more than glorified skittles to the forces arrayed against me and it was only a small matter of time until the lumbering golem before me reached its stalactite hands out to beat the last ounce of life from me. Summoning the wolf spirit of my ancestors, I darted back and forth in a violent violet display, draining my foes of their vigor and absorbing it, saving me from what seemed moments before like an inevitable doom. This is your welcome to Torchlight 2.

When compared to the simplistic classes of the first game, the class system here is interestingly fluid, yet static. At the beginning, you choose one of the four new classes: Berserker, Embermage, Engineer and Outlander. I’m tempted to walk you through a description of each, but to do so would be doing the game a deep disservice. While there are specific roles for each of the classes and while each of the classes is slightly biased towards certain weapons and play-style (the Embermage being primarily wand/stave focused, for example), what makes Torchlight 2 so satisfying is in the flexibility afforded to the player. While the game may provide more opportunities for an Embermage wielding a wand, if you decide to have your wizard beat enemies into a fine scarlet jam with a person-sized warhammer, you absolutely can. It might be worth pointing out that the game, while allowing you to personalise your character in this way, doesn’t necessarily reward you for it; a lot of passive skills for each class (along with many of the active abilities) only kick in when equipped with certain weapons.

Yet that’s exactly why I find Torchlight 2 so compelling. It allows you to make decisions that might be idiotic, that might limit your playstyle and effectiveness, that might be so deeply regretted that in four hours time you’ll wish the game let you take more than the last three skill points applied back, but it lets you make those decisions. I promised myself I wouldn’t mention the other big ARPG, but I’m going to have to disappoint myself and do so now. Diablo 3 failed, for me, precisely because of the impermanence of the decisions you could make there. Constantly dropping and swapping skills took away my attachment to my character and any feeling of control I had over the game. Torchlight 2, very much like Diablo 2, lets me make mistakes and in doing so, let’s me make the game feel like it’s mine. My characters, my mistakes.

So, Diablo 2 then. It’s definitely an influence here, to put it charitably. Torchlight 2 mirrors not only the plot and gameplay of Diablo 2 but also the level structure. You begin with a command to track down the corrupted hero of the first game, the first overworld section is an expansive plain, followed by an arid desert and then, finally, you reach the point where it’s hard to imagine it was anything other than a full plot homage. I’ve no wish to delve into further plot details that might spoil your enjoyment of the story, but players of Diablo 2 will find themselves suffering from an almost constant state of deja vu.

Not that the world isn’t worth exploring. Where the original Torchlight was a simple dungeon delve, the sequel provides an absolutely huge and randomly generated overworld for each act; spicing up these vast vistas are sidequests, dungeons and caves and, in one particularly memorable diversion, a pirate ship roaming with bony buccaneers. There’s a lot to be seen within the overworlds and a lot of travelling to be done during each quest (thankfully repetitive travel is dealt with quickly with the checkpointed fast travel system) and the game takes pride in distracting you from the main quest. Even discounting the typical sidequests, you’ll find yourself diving through portals left by dying phasebeasts (which lead either to simple dungeons or to more complex events, such as defending altars from waves of enemies or boss creatures that must be brought down before escaping) or you’ll saunter into active events which are more frenetic than the usual quests, usually a massacre of monsters descending on your position. It’s much-needed variety when compared to the simple dungeon-delve of its precessor.

If you enjoyed the original Torchlight or if you’ve ever lost days of your life to the incessant chain of clicking and looting of any other the other big ARPGs, then you owe it to yourself to give Torchlight 2 a chance. Despite having a few targeting issues and occasionally odd hit-boxes, it’s technicoloured, it’s addictive and it’s what we all wanted Diablo 3 to be. Go buy yourself a whole new world to explore.

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