Want an alternative to Diablo III? Torchlight II is your game!
Dungeon crawler role playing games. The genre name can evoke many feelings: tedium from the endless grind, fear of the mandatory giant spiders, excitement while wondering what’s right around the bend. The name on most people’s lips right now is Diablo III; and in the frantic rush of its opening week many might have overlooked Torchlight II beta, which closed on May 24th. I had the opportunity to play through the open areas of the game and hit the cap before it closed, so I'll be breaking down my experience, piece by piece, to show you how Torchlight stands up against its stiff competition – read on for more!
Torchlight II: For when you want to splatter enemies and cackle maniacally!
The classic dungeon crawler genre usually has several key elements to it. First, there is a heavy focus on exploration. To make sure a dive into the subterranean is worthwhile, players never want to miss the hidden passages or chests stuck in back corners. Second, the story is usually to set the stage, not to define the game. Plot is useful and interesting but serves mostly as an excuse to dive into the dungeon. Third, the importance of the plot is lessened because the games focus very much on action. Spells, abilities, rapid attacks, counterattacks, and area awareness set the “feel” of the game more than the story ever will. In the same vein, graphics and sound set the ambience and aid the action. Get some creepy music, darkened corridors, and the sounds of zombies and skeletons and all of a sudden your fights take on a survivalist bent: your sword (or magic) is all that stands between you and becoming just another nameless would-be hero dead in the depths. Why is this thematic lesson important? Because Torchlight II embodies every one of these points.
Quests progress the story, and grant rewards that can be small or substantial
The game begins with a cinematic detailing the end of Torchlight. At the end of the first game, the evil beast Ordrak was defeated by the Destroyer, the Vanquisher, and the Alchemist (the three classes from the original game). Time passes, and the Alchemist one day emerges from the caves under Torchlight with a staff crowned with Ordrak’s heart, an arsenal full of spells, and one huge chip on his shoulder that his Ember Blight wasn’t cured. The town of Torchlight is destroyed and he takes off, which leaves the new heroes of the sequel to confer with the Vanquisher and the Destroyer on how to find the mad Alchemist and stop his evil plans. The game itself gives quests for each area or dungeon (sometimes multiple quests). Some provide clues to the main storyline, while others are the standard “I lost X in Y dungeon, please go find it!” Again, the quests provide the excuse for dungeon crawling, but serve mostly as background noise and ways to get some decent rewards. And players will notice that, unlike the original, there are overworld areas and tons of varied dungeons, as opposed to just the single incredibly deep cavern below Torchlight.
Torchlight II brings four classes: the Embermage, the Berserker, the Outlander, and the Engineer. The Embermage is your standard caster; the Berserker a strong melee damage dealer who can also summon animal spirits; the Outlander is a ranged attacker with some magic; and the Engineer is a sturdy melee attacker with high defense. Each class has three talent trees to which players can apply points however they choose: for example, the Engineer has Blitz (melee attacks), Construction (support and summoning), and Aegis (defensive skills). All of the classes have four statistics that are, again, fully customizable: Strength (weapon damage), Dexterity (critical hit and dodge), Focus (increases Magic Points and elemental damage), and Vitality (increases Hit Points, armor, and block if wearing a shield). Some stats obviously favor classes more than others; but there’s nothing stopping players from making an Embermage have a heavy focus on Vitality and able to withstand a pounding. Every character receives 5 Stat allocation points at a new level, and one skill allocation point.
With every level up, players can allocate points into whichever Stat they want
Character creation seems a bit limited to me; thankfully classes are no longer gender-locked as in the first game, but the only other changes are face, hair, and hair color. Granted you’re going to play most of the game with a static overhead view of your character… but some height, body type, or weight variations would have been nice. After choosing the class and look of a new character, players will also get to choose a companion pet. The pets are all functionally identical so the choice really comes down to appearance. Pets are not to be discounted during gameplay! Not only do they attack and distract enemies, but they can be equipped with their own specific gear, fed fish to gain short-term transformations, and used to hold items when the player’s bags become full. In fact our heroes can send their pet back to town to sell poor quality gear and fetch the proceeds back! It took me 12 levels to figure that out (Torchlight II really needs a better tutorial).
The fishing minigame isn't much to look at, but it rewards pet gear and items
What tutorial there is focuses on combat. The first pass players travel through is easy enough to allow them a chance to understand the basics of combat. Players will be right and left-clicking to attack; right-click is a special ability by default, and left-clicking is the auto-attack. Left-click is also the default movement so it’s best to make sure the cursor is not on a monster when players want to move instead of attack. Abilities unlocked later or usable items like potions and scrolls can be placed on the hotbar for easy access; when the number is selected, the abilities will launch in the direction of the cursor. While all of this is easily explained I could not find any reference to keybindings, how to select abilities, or even how to use basic attacks. It took trial and error to figure out how to open my inventory, skill tab, and pet screen; and I was halfway through the tutorial area before realizing that spamming right-click quickly drained my MP down to nothing. Oops. The layout may be more intuitive to those who have played over dungeon crawlers, but as an infrequent player at best it left me hoping for a more complete set of instructions come release.