I’m going to say upfront that Torchlight II is a relic of a genre that has just about gone extinct. With the exception of Diablo III earlier this year, the top-down, isometric action RPG is not the force in gaming that it used to be. This means that if you are a fan of the genre, then you are not exactly spoiled for choice, and this makes comparisons difficult to avoid.
Essentially, if you’re considering playing an isometric RPG right now, it’s probably between Diablo III and Torchlight II. So I’m not even going to attempt to get through this review without comparing the two games. In any case, the comparison is kind of poetic: on one hand we have the fulfilment of one of gaming’s most profound legacies, not to mention profound budgets. On the other, we have an experience lovingly crafted by a plucky, independent upstart consisting of roughly 30 people.
So which is better? Well obviously they are both different, and I like them both, quite a bit. However, Torchlight II does a few things right that Diablo III does wrong, for me, and that makes it a preferable experience in my eyes.
Having played the original Torchlight, the first thing that jumped out at me about the sequel was its world design. In the first game we were mostly confined to dank and repetitive dungeons and caves. In Torchlight II, Runic takes us on a guided tour of Torchlight’s world, through valleys, forests, deserts, swamps and more. Every level is lovingly designed, and this becomes a significant motivator for exploration. Enemies are also something special to behold, but are not only brilliantly designed in terms of their aesthetic, but also their abilities and play style. From slow, heaving, club swinging behemoths to small, darting foes – there is no shortage of variety when it comes to finding something to lay your smack down on in Torchlight II. Boss fights in particular are quite special, with some genuinely innovative twists and angles taken by developer Runic.
In general, combat is crunchy and satisfying. Not a lot has changed from the first game, and although the classes have been renamed and revamped to an extent, the change is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The skill tree echoes standard action RPG standards, unlike Diablo III which went with something new. As a result, the level of character customisability is vast and superior to Blizzard’s latest, which limits players to a few preordained skill trees. One gripe some will have with Torchlight II’s skill tree system is you can only change your last three skill choices. This means that you have to choose carefully, because as you build your character you are opening some options and closing many others. It also means that you will come across a lot of gear that you will never be able to use, which might frustrate some players.
As a result, you will find and sell a lot of items as you quest through Torchlight II. Thankfully, the transmuting system has been updated and improved. A vendor in town can now combine up to four items for you, which gives some much needed variation to the “find stuff, sell stuff” repetition. You can also combine potions and gems, and while the system is not exactly deep, it is fairly satisfying.
In terms of content, the game feels a little on the short side. You will get through the campaign in about 12 hours. Thereafter, you can replay it using the New Game+ option, which unlocks “Mapworks” – essentially hours and hours of randomized maps. The game is also moddable, which is one up on Diablo III, which Blizzard has totally closed off to tinkerers.
Torchlight is a surprisingly robust game, and for the $19.99 price tag is very easy to recommend. It’s difficult to call a winner between it and Diablo III, and I know it’s not something we really need to do. However, one difference between the two makes Torchlight II a clear winner. In Torchlight II, you do not need to be connected to the Internet to play. This also means that you won’t experience any of the periodic, but nasty lag that you do when you play Diablo III in SINGLE-PLAYER MODE.