Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finally Torchligh Again

It took almost a year longer than planned for Torchlight II to be released. On hindsight, however, it definitely was worth it.

A lot of sites and magazines are comparing Diablo III to Torchlight II or the other way around. Not a question for me, as Battlenet-bound, always-online RPG Diablo III is not an option for me at all. I only wonder whether Torchlight II was worth the wait and will be worth my money. And the answer to both questions is definitely ‘yes.’

I got the first Torchlight a bit late, after it had been through press already, but found it worth every cent I paid for it. The simple formula of fighting-looting-levelling worked out nicely, the game had a nice look, and I liked the character classes and the way the random level design made the game easily re-playable. It was like an updated and improved Diablo, one of my favourite action-oriented RPGs. Well, in many ways it was, I guess, as quite some Diablo developers are part of Runic Games, the Torchlight makers. I loved the idea with the pet which not only fights at the player’s side, but also takes back the loot to the town to sell it alone. I loved the Steampunk-infused look of the game and the characters. I loved the colourful and bright comic graphics and the interesting-to-strange enemies.

When I heard there was going to be a second one (bigger, better, longer, as usual with computer games), I was very happy. Originally it was supposed to be out before Diablo III (which would have made it less of a ‘which is better’ discussion), but the team postponed release several times. They did it for good reason, though, as they wanted to make the game as good as possible before release. They did a lot of balancing between the last official release date (beginning of August) and the final one (20th September). And made the game even better, I’m sure.

I pre-purchased the game at Steam (before the next-to-final release date, actually) and downloaded it right after release to play. I knew about the changes already, of course. The three character classes of the first game (Destroyer, Vanquisher, Alchemist) had been replaced by four new ones (Embermage, Berserker, Engineer, Outlander). Two pets (dog, cat) have been turned into eight (panther, bulldog, cat, chakawary [a lizard-like creature], papillon, ferret, hawk, wolf). The pets and characters are customizable to a certain degree (face/hair/hair colour for character, fur colour for pets). Each character class has a male and a female model (in the first Torchlight only the long-range Vanquisher was female). Changes don’t stop there, of course. The game has three long acts, taking the player from the partially snow-covered tundra to the hot desert to the rain-dripping forests. The final levels are set below the world, in an old dwarf-fortress/factory that leads to the world’s core. Instead of spending all the time underground, only coming up for air when you return to the town for shopping or selling (or finishing a task), you spend a lot of time above ground now, the biggest levels of each area are above ground, with entrances that lead to tombs, caves, towers or other structures for additional fighting and looting. There are quite some sub-quests that are presented to you either in one of the towns (not all necessary are towns as a such, but they are the place where you can go to trade) or on the above-ground maps. Usually they are connected to some of the entrances, even though some also require running around on the above-ground areas to find places.

The core of Torchlight II still is the same that is driving all action-oriented RPGs of the kind: looting, fighting, levelling. There is a lot of loot and, due to the fact that almost all characters can use almost all weapon types, a lot of different equipment. It pays to check the inventory in regular intervals, choose stronger weapons and better armour and hand the remainder to your pet, so it can carry everything into town to sell it. In addition to just selling stuff, the pet can also buy the four basic necessities: healing potions, mana potions, identify scrolls, and waypoint scrolls (they replace the ‘scroll of the town portal’ and create a lasting waypoint that only gets moved when you use the next scroll).

Each of the four character classes has three distinct ability trees to choose from at level-up time. Like this, it is easy enough to customize your character further, optimizing the abilities for your playing style. Besides spending 5 points on the four basic characteristics, you get to spend one point on abilities with every level-up. Increases in fame (which you get by slaying bosses and champions) also give you an additional ability point to spend.

Bosses are everywhere in the game, not only do you have to defeat one at the end of each act (two in the last), every main- and sub-quest in the game has its own boss. They live in the caverns, crypts, and other places everywhere. Bosses are huge, but so are quite some of the normal enemies as well. As a matter of fact, I think over 75% of the enemies in the game are bigger than the player character, which makes you feel rather heroic after slaying them.

As weapon types range from swords and pole arms over bows and guns to staffs of various kinds, there is something for everyone. While the Engineer prefers great weapons (they are slow, but do a terrible lot of damage), the Outlander is partial to all ranged weapons (bows, crossbows, pistols, guns, cannons), the Berserker can do terrible damage with swords, pole arms, maces, and suchlike, and the Embermage not only unleashes deathly spells, but also fights with staffs that do more than just physical damage. For most of the stuff you find in your inventory there is no class restriction (only very few objects I encountered were limited to one class). Restrictions usually are along the lines of minimum level or minimum character stats. In other words: nobody stops your mage from carrying a cannon for all those times when mana is low and enemies are swarming. It’s always nice to have a weapon to fall back to, especially as you can have two weapon sets equipped at all times, so change between close-quarter and ranged fighting is only a pressed key away.

What do I think about Torchlight II, then? I love it, I already spent a whole weekend with it, and I will play it for quite a while, to test out all classes and have fun. Especially considering it’s a lot cheaper than Diablo III (if you want a comparison from me), it’s a must-buy game for every lover of action RPGs for me.

No comments: