I have previously gone on the record as being pretty damn positive about Runic Games' smashing indie hit Torchlight, but I didn't like it as much as I could have. It wasn't that there was necessarily anything wrong with what was actually there in the game as much as there were several glaring omissions of seemingly crucial features. The character customization was nonexistent, the only remotely "outdoor" environment was the town of Torchlight in which you started, and - most egregious of all - there was no support in the game for any type of multiplayer. For a game that executed the Diablo formula so well, the lack of multiplayer was an unforgivable sin.
Consider them forgiven.
Torchlight II retains everything you liked from the original Torchlight. The frantic carpal-tunnel-inducing rapid-fire-clicking gameplay remains just as polished and responsive as it was in the first game. It still has the highly stylized and cartoony steampunk aesthetic, and you will be taking your heroes through randomized dungeons and fantastic locales in search for better equipment to make your character into the biggest badass they can possibly become.
You will have to get used to a new set of faces. The three characters from the first game - the Destroyer, Vanquisher and Alchemist - will be prominent NPCs and questgivers (the game's plot has you following the trail of the Alchemist). In their place is a quartet of newcomers, though only two were playable on the show floor: the Bedouin-esque Outlander mage and the beefy, sledgehammer-wielding Railman, who Runic says was inspired by the legend of John Henry. While the characters, like their predecessors, have distinctive visual profiles, Torchlight II allows for some customization of their appearance (and gender) this time around. I gave my Railman some epic-looking sideburns, because really, steampunk badasses need huge mutton chops.
I created my character and jumped into the world, joining an existing game. Torchlight II's multiplayer is entirely drop-in-drop-out - if a character in your game is in your area, you'll be able to see their current status and location on the map to make it easier to join forces. Otherwise, you're just on your own as much as you've ever been. When you're adventuring in a party, however, all the loot you see is your own - there's no "fastest clicker wins" a la Diablo II, something that is very much appreciated in a game that is all about collecting the shiniest gear.
Torchlight II has more of a plot than the first game did, which admittedly isn't a very difficult feat to accomplish. Still, the philosophy of the Runic crew is twofold: They don't want the plot to ever get in the way in the game, and they want the plot to be easily understandable by people who don't like reading. I'm sure that there probably was some plot in the short demo, but when your time is limited on the PAX show floor there's no time to stop and sniff the flowers - it's about action, baby.
Torchlight took place entirely in the caverns beneath the mining town of Torchlight, but players wanted some outdoor levels - and now they've got them. I found myself gravitating back to my familiar Torchlight habits as I traipsed through rain-soaked plains with my adorable goggle-wearing pet ferret at my side: Find enemies, bash enemies on the head with my magical sledgehammer, and take their stuff. The Railman's abilities are tied to his special Ember-infused suit - as he lands special attacks, he'll gain charges that float around his body like little magical sparks. The more sparks, the more butt he kicks: Without any charges, he slams his sledgehammer down in a shockwave. With a few charges, the shockwave sends bolts of lightning out in all directions to zap enemies.
Torchlight II fills a neat little niche: It is more Torchlight, preserving everything that players liked and adding the things that players were most vocal about wanting to see. Will more flaws pop up? Almost certainly. But until then, it was everything I was looking for as a fan of Torchlight. I couldn't possibly ask for more.