Review: Torchlight II action RPG is what Diablo III should be
At a Glance
Despite the hype and mountains of cash made by Diablo 3, the finished product left a lot of people tasting brimstone and ashes. Between the Auction House, online DRM requirements, hacked accounts and host of other disappointments, Blizzard's bruiser broke as many hearts as it won. But there are other fish in the sea. Runic Entertainment's first crack at the action RPG designer-drug formula resulted in the enormously successful Torchlight, a game that had it all, assuming you like to play underground and alone. That little caveat cost Torchlight dearly among ARPG enthusiasts; the hardcore crowd views multiplayer as essential. Runic has been eager to address this shortcoming, but those good intentions didn't stop the sequel from shipping late. Fortunately, Torchlight II ($20, free feature-limited demo) delivers. It's so good, it should be required playing for Blizzard employees.
This time around you're given access to four starting classes and your choice of gender, along with your pick of pet out of a choice of six. The double-fisted Berserker replaces the tanklike Destroyer and the ranged elemental attack specialist Embermage steps in for the Alchemist, but two new classes are featured as well. The Engineer brings a bit of the dwarven tinker to Torchlight, and Outlanders round out the package with mix of guns and speed. Both of these classes have minions available in later levels, spicing up character builds considerably.
To sample a new class, I picked a red-haired, shotgun-wielding Outlander named Gracie for my playthrough and I paired her off with a ferret named Rommel. The shells started flying, and I found myself falling in love with the both of them inside of 10 minutes. Credit Runic's character design, which trades high resolution-textures and polygon counts for distinctive strong lines and bolder colors matched with an exaggerated cartoon animation style, a technique used in the original game with equally successful results The world is also expanded, with several towns to visit and overland areas to explore. It adds more of an open-world flavor to the proceedings, although you won't mistake it for Skyrim.
That design pays off handsomely with system requirements as well, which are low enough for virtually any modern computer to handle. Even with options cranked to the max and v-sync enabled, framerates were largely monitor-limited on desktop computers using discrete graphics cards. Integrated graphics didn't fare much worse, making Torchlight II an ideal laptop game (although if you're going to be on the road a lot, you'll probably want to skip the Steam version and buy directly from Runic to avoid Steam's offline-mode shenanigans.
Long-awaited co-op LAN and internet gameplay options are well-implemented here, with online servers handling matchmaking and lobby chores while the game itself is hosted on one or more user's systems instead of the centralized MMO-style approach. Lag and latency issues are largely nonexistent beyond actual connection problems, making for a smooth experience overall.
Price is another factor in Torchlight II's success. There's a lot here for $20, but it's what's missing that really seals the deal. There are no scheduled down times every week, no legions of money-grubbing hackers sniffing for cracks in the wall, no casino-house mentality from the publisher. You're the one playing the game, rather than the game playing you. It depresses me how retro this feels.
The other side of the coin is a nagging feeling that this is less Torchlight II than Torchlight Deluxe. The new features – added classes and pets, diverse locales and multiplayer additions, are usually included from the start in modern ARPGs. Engine enhancements are sparse to nonexistent, and with such generous headroom, much potential goes untapped.
At this price, and with a generous demo available, it's a little unfair to judge Torchlight II by the standards of AAA gaming. The fact that it stands so well in that company is a testament to the people behind it at Runic, who achieved what they did using budgetary numbers a fraction the size of their competitors. The verdict is simple. Torchlight II is one better than Diablo 3. Spend your money on this game first. Not only will you sleep better at night, you have more fun while you're awake, too.
Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.