Runic Games’ upcoming isometric action/RPG has a lot of expectations to live up to. My time playing the newly revealed Berserker class at E3 reassured me that Torchlight II is on its way to be just about everything its many fans want.
You’ve seen Runic talk about the new races and random level creation capabilities in the sequel, and both come through immediately when you pop into the game. Torchlight II threw three dramatically different environments at me within five minutes of sitting down at the computer: a snowy wasteland filled with corrupted priests and swarming goblins, a cavern infested with minotaurs, and an airy hub town that calls to mind the fanciful cities of Arabian mythology. Simply wandering the overworld brought me to dangerous dungeons, several minibosses, and secret loot rooms. Torchlight II’s world is rich with content.
Most weapons in Torchlight II have a small area-effect component to their basic attacks. The claws my berserker was equipped with have a narrow cone of effect, while two-handed hammers for example will have a wider impact zone. The difference from the genre’s traditional single-target attacks is subtle, but it’s one of the many little touches that make playing Torchlight II feel like an awesome carnival of destruction with occasional loot showers rather than a slogging grind through boring random levels.
The obvious love put into art and animation goes a long way toward Torchlight II taking big steps beyond the original. Uppercutting a goblin and having him fly off of a cliff rather than just fall over dead is a small difference, as is having a critical cold effect freeze an enemy solid so that he shatters into a hundred shards at the next blow. Taken in aggregate with the dozens of other special effects, at the pace that death is served out in Torchlight II, these little touches come together to put on a spectacular show that I’m all too happy to star in.
Of course, the big news with Torchlight II is the addition of co-op. I played live LAN co-op (yes, Runic added official LAN support. It does still exist!) at E3, and it was generally smooth. The difficulty scales on the fly unlike in most similar games, so the monsters don’t get tougher just by new people joining the game. Challenges crank up when more players are nearby – and not just in the same zone. In my time with the game, the scaling appeared to require more players to be close enough to aid the battle.
Online play looks likely to be relatively bare-bones, but the feature set will be more than robust enough to get games going with your buddies. Torchlight II will have basic matchmaking and server browsing, as well as social tools to make it easy to connect with friends, but don’t hold out hope for a powerful server-side solution to cheating or character storage. There may be something along those lines – Runic is still working out the details – but the sense I took away from my meeting is that Torchlight II won’t have anything along the lines of Diablo II’s Closed Battle.net or ladder system (not that those are without their flaws).
At the least, you’ll be able to filter servers by which (if any) mods they’re running, and you’ll probably have the option to only play with “pure” characters that haven’t been opened in the editing tools or played with any mods at all (like, say, a mod that cranks up the loot and XP while dropping the challenge). With Torchlight II being a peer-to-peer game that stores characters locally, though, dedicated hackers/cheaters will undoubtedly be able to have their way with the game. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to hack your private games with your buddies, of course, but I’m not terribly confident that public games are going to be a great experience.
Runic isn’t currently working on a console version, though the studio says that they’d love to. The company is still quite small, though, with a single team working on one thing at a time. A Mac version will be coming out sometime after the PC version ships, and a Runic representative told me that the studio will probably consider console ports after the Mac release.
My worry over the health of public servers aside, Torchlight II looks and plays like the game that I was hoping for as a huge fan of Torchlight/Diablo/Titan’s Quest/Dark Alliance/every other title in the subgenre. I was very pleased to be justified in dropping a Best of E3 Nominee badge at the Runic booth. Now I just wish that there was a firmer release date than “sometime in 2011.”