Torchlight II, by Runic Games, fully embraces the anarchist inside us all. Each enemy encounter is replete with a kinetic energy. Monsters explode in a satisfying fount of blood, lightning tears through scores of foes, and celestial animals or hand-made bots can be summoned to your aid as you rip through scores of beats and baddies out for your demise. The story itself is rather sparse, but who needs more motivation than stretching your abilities to ever more godlike proportions. Of course, what feels like a smorgasbord of beautiful, destructive chaos, runs off a rather simple point distribution system that grows in complexity with each choice. It is the balance between the simple, the complex, and outright bedlam that makes Torchlight II so addictive.
You find yourself designated the hero of the day after the previous heroes fall victim to a villain named The Alchemist. Lucky you. And the game wastes no time with further elucidation. You choose from four hero types: Engineer, Outlander, Berserker, and Embermage before almost immediately being sent off on your journey.
The berserker, as you might guess, focusses heavily on fast and furious melee attacks, but can also summon spirit animals to help take down your enemies. The engineer builds bots to assist in melee and can energise her or his armor with ember power that can release energy during fights. This is basically the game’s tank class. The outlander serves as the ranged weapons fighter, but can also learn magic. The Embermage specializes in powerful elemental spell-casting and is probably the best character for anyone who wants to revel in large-scale destruction. I chose to play as the Embermage.
The way leveling works in Torchlight II, each new level awards points that can be allocated to four main attributes: Strength, Focus, Vitality, and Dexterity. As the embermage, I chose to concentrate most heavily on Focus in order to increase my elemental damage, distributing the rest among Dexterity, Vitality, and Strength in that order. With each new level, you also get one point to distribute among an array of skills exclusive to that character. For the embermage, I started with a basic fireboat spell, but later chose an electric blast that covered a wide range and homed in on nearby enemies.
Each skill, once activated, requires additional points to level its rank. So, while you have quite a few to choose from, due to the limited number of points the game gives you, you will need to determine rather quickly which skills to focus on and which to leave by the wayside. This means you may end up, as I did, with a few wasted points that went toward activating skills I never used. The game does allow you some leeway in this area, but it is limited. Once in town at the central hub, you can recover up to the last three skill points distributed. However, this means if you made choices you regret at higher levels, you are out of luck if you want to then change direction.
Skills come in two catagories: active and passive. Your active skills will be the skills you choose manually to use during combat. Passive skills are always activated during combat. For example, the berserker can add a passive skill that will cause auto-healing with each critical hit. As the embermage, I could choose an effect that would raise the chances of randomly warping an enemy away from me when attacked. Another would decrease the charge time between attacks. A third would increase the chance of a random effect such as a devastating hail storm raining down upon my enemies’ heads if I used a staff.
During combat, enemies will randomly drop armor as well as weapons such as guns, knuckles, staffs, swords, and hand cannons. Depending on your character, I often-times felt much of what I picked up was unneeded. I, therefore, spent much of my time sorting my inventory and trying to determine what I needed to keep for myself, what I needed to keep in order to sell, and what I needed to discard for room. Thankfully, the game does a fantastic job of detailing item abilities and I could usually tell at a glance whether or not it would be useful. Sine one of my passive skills rewarded me for using a staff, it was also fairly simple to determine which weapons to pick up in the first place.
Both weapons and armor may contain slots that can be filled with “socketable” ember specs or other items that can be augment their attack attributes. For example, a staff might be outfitted with a poison gem, adding a poison effect when used as a melee weapon. Other socketables might add to a weapons attack damage or to a piece of armor’s defense. Once socketed, these items can only be removed at the central hub by a pair of NPCs named Gorn and Furl. However, you cannot keep both the pocketable and the armor or weapon in which it is fixed. You must choose to destroy one or the other. On the bright side, however, since enemies drop randomized items at such a frequent pace, I never found myself overly concerned with armor or weapons I had chosen to discard.
You character also brings along a pet whose inventory can serve as overflow to yours. Your pet levels as you do, and can be outfitted with collars and tags that add certain abilities or raise certain attributes. You can also feed your pet fish you catch at certain spots which gives your pet temporary skills. For example, one type of fish turned my pet into a giant spider that spit webs at enemies for five minutes before the effect wore off. Your pet can bet set to act aggressive, defensive, or passive at any time depending on what you need. Perhaps most handy of all, you can also send your pet into town to buy and sell specified items.
Unless you are already well-versed in Torchlight II’s system, perfecting a character will likely take several runs through the game. Thankfully, play is such a blast, you will most likely be ready and willing for another go immediately after you complete your first. This is partly due to the game doing a great ob of making you feel constantly rewarded. Gold, weapons and armor are acquired at a pace that constantly feels like winning the jackpot at a casino. Enemy hordes come busting down cliffs and out of the shadows of rocks like a plague of pure and utter hatred bent on your destruction. My embermage brought countless baddies to their demise over and over again with displays of ice, fire, and sparks that lit up the screen with electric light; a dance of destruction as beautiful as it was deadly.
Enemies don’t let you off lightly either. They can also cast spells sending fire and whirlwinds your way. Hulking monstrosities will swipe at you with the force of a falling boulder. Sometimes, just the sheer number of enemies that come your way at once can seem overwhelming. But, little do they know of what you are capable. Just one more level up and you can send them all to an early grave. It is this draw that feeds the need to keep going.
Torchlight II also does a good job of making you feel like you have a vast landscape to explore, even if you are ultimately boxed in to a certain area. You will encounter lush fields, snow-covered landscapes, and aging ruins. As yet another way to extend the game’s replay value, you can also jump into a LAN party if you’d prefer not to run about the unknown alone. Doing so also increases the difficulty of enemy encounters based upon how many enter.
Torchlight II demonstrates Runic Game’s vast experience with the action RPG genre. Gameplay comes fast and furious, egging the player on toward achieving that next level. The customization along with the need for at least more than one gameplay session to learn which skill choices are to best for each character, adds to replayability. Joining a LAN party and tearing through the hordes with your friends adds to the game’s longevity. All in all, Torchlight II is an electric feast for the eyes and a satisfying reward for the soul.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.