Fantastic First Steps into Torchlight 2

Thanks to the generosity of Runic Games, I was able to get my hands on Torchlight 2 a couple days early so I could share my thoughts with you. Before we begin, I’ll give you the TL;DR up front: Buy it — buy it now and a couple copies for your dungeon crawling buddies, too. Yeah, it’s that good and easily worth the $20 they’re asking. And while you’re at it, uninstall those other crawlers taking up hard drive space. You won’t need them anymore.

*Note: This post is based on the first 90 minutes of gameplay. More posts to come!

When I got the go-ahead to download last night it was already pretty late, so I wasn’t expecting to play more than a half-hour or so. An hour and a half later I was looking at my clock wondering just where the time had gone. And if we’re being honest, justifying how I could squeeze in another 30 minutes playing. Like I said, it’s that good.

Torchlight 2 introduces itself with that magic “something” that buckles you in and won’t let go. But magic isn’t quite the right word. The allure of Torchlight 2 lies in its perfect blending of tight gameplay mechanics, a light-hearted art style, and player empowerment. The game gives its best right up front. Within brief minutes, you’re building your character the way you choose, both in terms of specific stats and powering up abilities to suit your play style. Want to be a crit heavy single-target gun blazer? Or how about a multi-target glaive thrower with lots of HP? By level 3, you’re making those choices.

Image courtesy of Pete @ Dragonchasers

Combat is standard crawler-fare — left-click attack, right-click special — but with enough spontaneity and flair to keep things satisfyingly visceral. Playing the engineer class often resulted in dual-blast pistols that would send enemies flying or outright explode into meaty, bloody bits. As a matter of fact, all classes can trigger these “executions” just by wielding two weapons of the same type. Characters also gain unique power-ups by chaining together kills and filling a charge bar. When the berserker class fills his, for example, every attack becomes a critical. The embermage  gets mana-free casting and 25% more damage. These mechanics provide incentive to keep the blood splattering and loot dropping.

This is what happens when you feed a cat fresh fish!

Which is another excellent thing: Loot. There’s lots of it. Taking a queue from its predecessor, it still comes in varying rarities that often need identifying. What’s makes it great, however, are the stats. Percentage boosts and attribute points, as well as nifty bonus effects (“chance to…”), have a noticeable impact on power. Before you’ve even entered your first dungeon, you will likely have made definitive choices between drops based on how you want to play. You will also probably have half an inventory of spare loot to sell. Thankfully pet companions make their return and are still able to sell your wares while you remain in the field.

A fun addition to the game is fishing. I didn’t spend much time with the system but the first town features a fishing hole I had to try. I caught five fish and a pair of grey boots. Each fish was a consumable for my pet that would turn him into another creature with a unique ability (poison, chill, immobilize, etc). This adds a layer of strategic thought to pet utilization.

Overland maps and dungeons both feature randomization

If gameplay mechanics and loot drops are part of that blend, the other element is art style. Everything, from character models to full zones, feels painterly and water-colored. It gives the game a whimsical feel not present in other, “more serious” ARPGs. Yet I found myself LOVING it. The art team at Runic Games has managed to create a world that is at once fun and foreboding, dangerous but begging to be explored.

The First Dungeon

As I explored the game’s first dungeon I couldn’t help but compare to Diablo 3’s early dungeon, Halls of Agony.  The settings were much alike in color and theme but Torchlight 2’s take was just a more fun place to be. Don’t get me wrong, Halls of Agony was enjoyable — as was all of D3, personally — but that serious “You are in HELL” atmosphere felt downright oppressive after a while.  Conversely, Torchlight 2 feels much lighter, like a good animated fantasy where lots of things are dangerous but nothing will really hurt you. If there is any doubt as to the developer’s intentions, one need look no further than the cutscenes, which are still-image cartoons. The game is friendly and even in depths of Torture Tomb #1, it’s a fun place to be.

Cutscene art

Overall, my first steps into the world of Torchlight 2 were nothing short of fantastic. The dopamine drip runs fast and loose and Runic wastes no time getting your first dose. I will be doing more write-ups as I get further in the game, but do yourself a favor: don’t wait to pick this one up. It’s is easily set to be one of the best dungeon crawlers since of the decade.

Thanks again to Runic Games for providing early access for this first write-up!

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