While ostensibly a review of Torchlight 2, I can’t write about this game without addressing the elephant Diablo 3, so I might as well start with that. But I can’t start with that without starting with Diablo 1.
I have no idea why I bought Diablo 1 as a kid. I remember I played a ton of Warcraft 2 on my own, and maybe somehow that convinced me to buy Diablo 1, and it’s expansion pack (a weird backstory of its own), but I bought them. I didn’t play them multiplayer, this being the days when playing multiplayer required using a modem and tying up the lone phone line of my parents’ house, so that didn’t happen. I don’t think I beat them ever, but I did enjoy the crap out of them, so there was that. I was young enough at the time that I wasn’t thinking about mechanics and what not, so I can’t tell you anything about that.
I did not play Diablo 2. I was in college, and the Dreamcast was occupying most of my gaming time when it came out, and that was that.
I did play a lot of Diablo 3 when it happened. About 150 hours, last I checked, which I know is a drop in the bucket compared to what a lot of people have sunk into it or (especially) into D2. Since this isn’t a review of D3, let me just list off the pros and cons of the game for me:
- Slottable Skills, which allowed for instant respeccing of any character without needing to cheat. This let players experiment a bit more than the older style allowed for, or at least a bit more without needing to rebuild a whole character.
- The Gold Auction House, which mitigated a bit of the random chance implicit in this genre, while still incentivizing the hunt for items, even those you wouldn’t use personally.
- Lack of Randomization, which becomes a big problem when a game wants you to play through the same things 4 times per character.
- Playing the Same Damn Thing Again, which is kind ofa hallmark of this kind of game, but holy crap (see previous bulletpoint).
- Skill Balancing, which clearly favored other skills, and would regularly result in Blizzard rebalancing skills/stats in ways that basically invalidated entire play-styles overnight
- The Real Money Auction House, which incentivized (for Blizzard) regularly fucking with balance issues to get people to spend more money in the RMAH, basically.
Obviously I liked the game enough to sink a ton of time into it (multiplayer always helps with this), but overall, I ended up leaving the game with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, my enjoyment soured by the transparency of Blizzard’s money-grubbing, and the way I knew everything I did was left up to their whim. I didn’t even mind the online-always nature of the game, not that it didn’t have drawbacks, but I generally understood it; I just didn’t like how it was being abused.
So I got hype for Torchlight 2.
Videogames are an endless cycle of froth and hype for the consumer, if you want them to be. Sometimes I do (most often when I have any sort of disposable income and nothing to put it towards), other times I don’t (such as my time in Americorps when the only new game I bought myself was Dragon Warrior 7 because I knew it would take forever (and I never finished it)). I am sure someone far more versed in the language of consumer culture criticism could properly describe the exact (and horrible) mechanisms at work here, but that is neither here nor there. Mostly I just note this because sometimes, it’s nice to find out when I end up feeling disappointed in a game, that there is something else waiting on the horizon.
I probably shouldn’t find comfort in that, but sometimes I do.
I played just enough of Torchlight to think “Jeez, if this had multiplayer, I would play the crap out of it.” Apparently, so did a lot of the rest of the internet, so of course Torchlight 2 was going to be built around multiplayer. Also, Torchlight had originally been meant as a prototype for an MMO, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The problem was, well, Torchlight had been a pretty small project, with not a huge team, and Torchlight 2 would require a lot more resources to complete. So although it was announced shortly after the original game, it didn’t actually manage to come out until September of this year.
When it did finally come out, it offered a few distinct advantages over Diablo 3 before even firing it up. It didn’t require an Internet connection at all times, it only cost $20, and most importantly, it would be moddable (at some future as-yet-undisclosed date). So a lot of people jumped at it. So many that Runic’s site died for a day or two while they tried to get everything going.
For once, when a website died, I felt like I could say, “Good for them.”
The game is good. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. Clicking and fighting feels good. Things have a nice kinetic feeling to them, something D3 went for, but never quite pulled off. You are still clicking a mouse to make things explode into stuff, so it never is going to feel as visceral as DMC3 or Gears of War or whatever, but it feels nice.
And fast. The game moves at a really solid clip, one that a player can augment with the proper gear if they need to, or with the proper skills for a few of the characters. I actually really appreciate how snappy the whole thing feels. I just get things done in this game fast, and that is nice as hell.
The playable classes feel pretty unique. Most of them fall roughly into vague stereotypes (the mage, the tank, the ranged fighter), though one, the Berseker, is a little strange, being a dodge-y melee character who isn’t meant to tank at all. Even within this, though, they feel well done and each have some interesting skill combinations to test out and customize towards how you want to play.
For example, the Engineer is largely seen as the “tank” of the game. This can be taken in a few different ways, though. A player could build a solo-ing Engineer, with lots of self buffs, but thanks to some decent skill variance, there are also skills dedicated towards protecting a team. The Engineer can rely on ranged guns, large two handed melee weapons, or sword and shield, and customize skills based on that. There are even summoning based skills for the character, allowing large robots or healing sentries to be summoned. Lots of opportunity to try things out.
Unfortunatley, the game falls back to the older D2 style of set skill trees, but makes respeccing largely not too difficult, and I’m sure it will be even easier once mods are available, as one of the first mods for the original game was a potion to do just that.
The art style might be one of my favorite things in the game, if only for how much people complained when they thought Diablo 3 might be at all colorful. Torchlight 2 has lots of colors. Lots of them. All over the place. And it works well for the game. You are still obviously in dungeons and such, but the game does a decent job of showing that dungeons do not equal reduced color pallets The general style is much less “realistic” and much more “cartoon” for lack of a better term. Part of this is practical (it’s less resource intensive both in development and on the user end), but mostly it just gives the game its own distinct identity, separate from other games in the genre.
Due to the modding and such, there is no such thing as an Auction House in this game, and I think it is probably better off for it. When it was just the gold AH in D3, I didn’t have a problem with it (aside from how Blizzard failed to understand even basic economic theory and so watched their own commodities market bottom out to the point where they closed it to force people to use the in-game commodities upgrading), but when it started to become apparent that the RMAH was going to be Blizz’s revenue source for awhile, and they were planning on cynically balancing the game for such, well shit son, I’m out.
So what we have here in Torchlight 2 is a game that hews occasionally too close to the traditions of the genre, but is rewarding for doing that. While some of the structural shake-ups provided by Diablo 3 were good and needed, too many were not, and eventually for everyone I knew who played it, the whole thing caved in on itself. By not straying too far, TL2 provides a degree of comfort food, and unlike D3, leaves room for the experimentation later. I may change this whole thing once that experimentation starts happening.