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Anytime a new game comes along whose driving force is click-kill-click-loot-click-click-click, it’s hard not to make comparisons to the Diablo franchise. That’s especially true in the case of Torchlight II, a dungeon-crawler whose creators contributed to the former’s fruition. So let’s get that necessary comparison out of the way, then: If Torchlight was Runic Games’ Diablo, than Torchlight II is its Diablo II; and no, we don’t mean in the sense that a roman numeral was slapped on to the end of the title. Torchlight II completely overshadows its predecessor, adding co-op play and a host of welcome new features while refining those that brought the original to our attention in the first place.
Undoubtedly, the game’s greatest addition is cooperative multiplayer that supports up to six players. You’ll want to play online if you can (though a connection is not required for solo play), as the game becomes immensely more enjoyable, especially when taking on higher difficulties or the perma-death inducing Hardcore mode--or even when joining friends of drastically different levels if only to chat while you play and explore the Torchlight II’s new setting.
This sequel ditches the singular multi-floored dungeon of the first in favor of a beautifully detailed and atmospheric world. From the arachnid-filled deserts of the Mana Wastes to the werewolf-infested swamplands of the Blightbogs, you’ll encounter all sorts of outdoor areas rife with personality. Not only are these places fun to look at, but you’ll find yourself eager to uncover every inch of terrain thanks to a smattering of loot-tastic side quests, challenge-based dungeons, and randomized events, all of which often yield delightful rewards worth seeking. Because your companion pet can now buy potions and scrolls for you in addition to selling your junk, you can stay in the action indefinitely, only ever being forced to travel to an outpost when a quest requires it.
Side quests usually lead to creepy dungeons that contain some of the best boss fights in the game. These absolutely mammoth and challenging encounters will keep you on your toes, rivaling--and often surpassing--the greatest showdowns the genre has to offer. One fight will have you battling a gargantuan four-legged beast adorned in steampunk armor while dodging its attacks in addition to cannon fire from far. Another will require you to avoid fire-spewing geysers, circular magic traps that stun, and frighteningly thick laser beams all while taking on a boss that fills a quarter of your screen. Even when you’re not facing off against huge creatures, Torchlight II is a far more challenging game than the first, even on normal difficulty. Expect to frequently mash the potion-chugging button and die. A lot.
Granted, you won’t really care too much about why you’re adventuring around, killing all those really cool-looking monsters. The game’s narrative is nothing special, and you’ll shrug while its key characters insist that you’re the only one who can save the world from...whatever. Thankfully, the story is never intrusive, and you’ll quickly stop thinking about it once the slaying and looting begins.
Torchlight II is a faster-paced game than the original in every regard. You’ll move far more quickly through the world. Upgrades are found with just enough frequency to keep you destroying everything in sight. Doing so means your character will level up fast, providing more points to dump into more skills and stats, which in turn makes you a more efficient monster murderer.
The pure variety of playstyles in Torchlight II impresses as well. Its four classes--the bulky smash-happy Engineer, the fast-fighting rogue-esque Berserker, a ranged weapons expert called the Outlander, and, of course, a magic-blasting Embermage--each have a unique twist.
You’ll be eager to experiment with all the cool, inventive skills at your disposal, and that desire is further incubated by the way the game places level caps on how often you can upgrade each ability. Because you can’t just power level one or two skills right from the start, you’ll spend a lot of time examining your options, discovering some truly interesting class builds in the process.
A tiered bonus system also means pumping points into an ability is more worthwhile than ever before: For every five points you invest in a skill, you unlock a specific buff for that ability, usually in the form of increased range, radius, or duration. Just plan your build strategies early on, as you can only reset up to the last three points you’ve spent at any given time. This strange decision creates mixed messages. How can we experiment with new builds when we don’t have the tools necessary to try new things or extract precious skill points from abilities that might not see much use later on?
Still, what remains is a fantastically designed hack-n-slash RPG. And, because Runic released the full modding toolset it used to create the game, perhaps the best is yet to come once the modding community goes to town. Even without the potentially infinite number of player-made maps, skills, and items, Torchlight II is a worthwhile loot-fueled adventure that will soak up hours of your day without you even noticing--and because you can now embark on that journey with a few friends in tow, there’s never been a better time to jump into the series.
This game was reviewed on PC.