Torchlight II Review

Mike Kayatta | 27 Sep 2012 09:30
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It doesn't take very long for Torchlight II to get its hooks in you. Between a beautifully animated opening cinematic, and a just-complex-enough character creation system, it's not difficult to feel touched by the game's easy charm right from the start. There's just something about rolling a wrench-wielding, steampunk engineer with a gentleman's mustache as fancy as his tiny French dog that endears you to the world of Torchlight II before so much as stepping foot in it.

As you begin to hack your way through Torchlight's wilds, quest-givers and story-pushers will prod at you with narrative like a small, pointy stick. The story they tell is more or less a rehash of the first, something about a blight of corruption threatening the world, and an ancient artifact in need of a solid thrashing. It's not that the political happenings of the world aren't well written, or that you can't find yourself caring about what elemental guardian has just been tainted - you can - but the world around you is just so vibrant and alive that the call to explore it simply drowns out the pages of text trying to explain why you should.

The game's visual style is just a joy to absorb, with a canvas of diverse locales, and an array of creatures so unique that you'll never really know what to expect when delving into one of the game's many dimly-lit caverns and ancient temples. Each chapter of the game is a new set of maps to conquer, with enough interesting content in each to make you want to take the side-roads that won't lead toward your objectives just to see what's waiting at their end. Of course, along the way, you'll be faced with a veritable menagerie's worth of bugs, raiders, warriors, lizards, steam-powered robots, zombies, wizards, beetles, and birds in dire need of dispatching, each with a sizable amount of randomly-generated loot to help keep you in the fight as things get progressively more difficult.

If any two types of enemies come at you the same way, it certainly doesn't feel like it, and while few make you alter your strategy of click-click-click, their changes in color, animation, and attack types is generally enough to keep you from caring. Making the combat personal is a two-part job: Equipping the right gear adjusts the effectiveness of your attacks while the skills you choose to learn each level determine exactly how those attacks land on target. The relation between the two feels perfectly in balance, without either side of the equation ever making the other seem unnecessary or under-powered. In a sense, it's this relationship that helps push the loose, more traditional feel of Torchlight II's combat away from its modern competitors.

Torchlight II's stubborn adherence to the old ways of hack-n-slash outwardly rejects the majority of changes games like Diablo III tried to introduce to the genre, especially when it comes to stats, skills, and leveling. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Torchlight II offers virtually no concessions for the commitment phobic, making skill point and stat assignments a permanent decision, save only the three most recently earned. The decision to lock you into skill trees you began cultivating from the beginning of the game - a focus on two-handed weapons versus a ranged cannon, for instance - works terrifically well when you're happy with your current gear and strategy, but newer players more used to fine-tweaking builds during the late game may feel frustrated having firmed their character before gaining a grasp of the experience that only hours of playtime grants.

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