The first Torchlight arrived almost a decade after the release of Diablo II, falling in something of a dry spell for the dungeon-crawler. Its single-town, single-dungeon structure mirrored Diablo, proving that an indie studio, albeit one made up of ex-Blizzard developers, was capable of executing and improving upon the ideas that outlined a genre.
Torchlight II arrives in a different climate, but the values behind it haven’t changed, for better or worse. These days, the action-RPG has found a home among the darlings of crowdfunding platforms, while Diablo III’s radical recalibrations and controversial auction house metagame have formed the basis of an ongoing exchange between Blizzard and its community.
Torchlight II feels remarkably separate from what has happened to its genre in the last year, though. It comes across primarily like a tribute to Diablo II by way of its own predecessor, influences that ground it in the values of PC gaming circa 2001. One headline change over the original is that you needn’t face this adventure alone, with support for six-player online co-op. It’s a natural inclusion, and the four classes – the spellcasting Embermage, nimble Outlander, gadget-loving Engineer, and feral Berserker – prove complementary when thrown together on the field of battle.
Whichever character you pick, and whether you use them with friends or solo, your task is to pursue the game’s villain across three acts that reflect the plot and environmental progression of Diablo II. The journey isn’t always the same, though, with both the indoor and outdoor environments randomised for every new campaign, although the number of dungeons stays fixed. Additional maps are accessible from a dungeon selection hub after you complete the campaign, and there’s a New Game Plus mode, all in the service of propelling your chosen hero up the item-gathering, monster-farming ascent to level 100.
As in the original, you’re also accompanied by a pet, which you choose and name during character creation. Torchlight II expands the range of animals to pick from significantly, offering up wolves, cats, hawks, panthers, bulldogs, a papillon, and even a ferret wearing aviator goggles. The ability to send your pets to town to sell your gear returns as well, and this has been augmented with a Shopping List feature that enables you to request a fresh stack of health potions or item identification scrolls while they’re at it.
This kind of delightful absurdity is one of the ways that Torchlight II stands out, but it also highlights an approach to problem solving that typifies the game as a whole. Limited inventory space and unidentified items have always been a double-edged means of enforcing the pace of an action-RPG, slowing us down with inconvenience and a reliance on trivial items – particularly town portal scrolls – that add nothing in terms of choice, but act as a check and balance to your gold and progress levels.
Diablo III took a scalpel to this system, placing identification and town portals on a cooldown, and excising the player resource angle entirely. Torchlight II does the opposite, stacking additional mechanics – pets, enchanter NPCs in dungeons to augment your weapons, items that are identified when you level up – on top of an already wobbly pile. The result is charming but sometimes inelegant, and it’s not the only area of the game where that sentiment crops up.
Characters are customised by boosting certain attributes, namely Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality, and your stats determine whether the majority of your damage will come from your equipped weapons or magic abilities. This in turn influences the decisions to be made within each of the classes’ skill trees. The original Torchlight’s skill system has been opened up in this sequel, removing the need to invest in low-level abilities before later ones can be chosen. They’re now simply tied to your character level, allowing for a greater degree of choice and variety.
An NPC in each hub town can undo up to three recent skill decisions for a fee, but it’s difficult to reconfigure a character when a direction has been chosen, particularly because your stat choices can’t be altered. As with Diablo II, then, sampling a different playstyle for the same class means either investing time into building a new character, or using console commands or mods to grant a respec. That Torchlight II supports the latter is welcome in an industry that’s increasingly unwilling to give players meaningful control over their games, but ideally it would be possible to have that freedom without needing it.
Still, Torchlight II excels in the areas that matter most: itemisation and combat. The latter starts slowly, but there’s a real satisfaction to building an efficient, self-sustaining monster-hunting machine after the skill system begins to click. There’s also a Charge bar that, when filled, grants you a class-specific power boost, periodically injecting dungeon clearance with energy and spectacle. Likewise, Torchlight II’s loot tables deliver a constant stream of upgrades and surprises, from unique equipment to weapons that level up, fire custom projectiles or change the way other systems, such as spells or the Charge bar, function.
You’ll get the most out of Torchlight II if you’re looking to ride the curve of loot and incremental power, and to share in a community that is emerging as the game’s mechanics are mastered and its rarest items are uncovered. It makes no spectacular breaks from the past, but it does reclaim the mood – if not the tone – of Diablo II. It’s living proof that the values of 2001 still have worth over a decade later.