Torchlight, released in late 2009, showed gamers something of a love letter to the loot-vaccum genre, something like a polished, shinier version of Diablo, where you were to descend deeper and deeper into a mine in order to reveal the darkness behind it. Made by ex-Diablo developers, it was easy to draw comparisons to (arguable) the grand-pappy of the genre, even though Torchlight did a lot of things differently, and added a lot of new elements of its own.
Its sequel proves to be just as much of a polished experience as the first, but with even more that fans will enjoy. Four classes (of either gender) to play with, hordes of enemies to decimate, piles of equipment to pick up, and a huge world to explore again and again make Torchlight II a definite game for those who like their gameplay solid and filled with action.
The story is there, but only in the periphery - the Alchemist from the first game has gone just a little power-crazy from the ember (magic power, essentially) that resided in the mines, and now it's up to your character to stop him as he threatens to basically destroy everything. The plot doesn't really play that much of a role in the game, which may annoy some, but chances are good there are other reasons that someone is playing the game. The classes - the melee Berzerker, the ranged Outlander, the heavy-hitting Engineer, and the magical Embermage - give you fairly standard gameplay archetypes to follow; but if you wanted to, say, play an Outlander that ran up and punched the hell out of enemies, you could. Just expect a bit of a harder time.
Gameplay is, as you might expect, about going around and stomping on bad guys until they drop precious goods. And this game delivers that in spades. Whether it's a veritable army of small enemies coming to swarm you or a massive creature ready to pound you into paste, Torchlight II is filled with a variety of enemies to take out with your skills. Combat has the same satisfying weight to it that the original game had - your strikes have a good sense of weight to them, leaving a pile of enemies in your wake as you utilize your skills to take everyone out. And there are a lot of enemies to take out in a much larger world - each Act presents a large overworld for you to run around on, with a variety of smaller dungeons to delve into scattered around. Some of these are for sidequests that you can find around the area, some of them are for plot, some of them are just to explore.
I found a small dungeon with alien creatures, a diary entry about a shapeshifting creature, and eventually a fairly powerful unique rifle called "MacReady's Shotgonne", which definitely got a laugh out of me for the reference. There's a lot there, if you're willing to explore for it. There is a problem with the world being a little too large and empty, and a condensed version might've been a little better to cut down on the times when you're just running through open areas. Still, with elements designed to get you quick into the action, such as your pet's ability to purchase items from the general store like potions and such, and the teleportation stones scattered around each act, this isn't a common problem.
Skills are a little different this time around: though they follow the same general system as the original (there aren't any 'skill trees' here - the only prerequisite for a skill is that you're the correct level before you can put a point into it) there are some small changes. For example, every class-specific skill has a maximum level of fifteen. Ever five points you put into a skill grants you a bonus - summoned units might get an extra unit, strong attacks now have wider arcs of damage, that sort of thing. It's a minor change, but it makes you think a little more about the skill distribution. Annoyingly, there is no way to respec your character - there is a man in town that allows you to reset your past three spent skillpoints, but that's all. Of course, chances are good that, much like the original game, when modding capabilities are released the first mod is going to be a way to do just this. Still, considering, how much everyone clamoured for the ability to do this, one would think that it would be built into the sequel.
There is also a new mechanic that allows every class to be just a little more powerful based on how many enemies you take out in a short time: a small charge meter that builds in the bottom of the screen. This meter builds up the more you take out enemies, and slowly drains as you don't. Different character have different ways of utlizing this: the Engineer class, for example, gets discrete 'charges' that get consumed with certain abilities to power them up. The Outlander, however, gets bonuses to stats the greater the meter is filled up, and the Berzerker instead goes into a rage that makes every one of his hits critical strikes. This means trying to quickly move from fight to fight gives quite the benefit now, making you tougher and a deadlier force as the bar fills.
Other aspects of the game have been tweaked a bit since their debut in Torchlight. The enchanter, for example, is no longer a source of endless power for you items. You now can only put up to three enchantments (depending on the strength of the enchanter, this may be less) on each item, and can remove these with a bit of money as well. You can also find those that can enchant gem slots into items, if you wish. And speaking of gems, no longer can you combine multiple gems into better versions of themselves, thus cutting down on the excessive hoarding that many players committed in the first game, trying to build up to the best gems before slotting them into equipment.
The game is quite similar to Diablo 2 in a lot of ways, ignoring the core loot-RPG genre, much like how the original Torchlight was very similar to the first Diablo. The story, each act setting, the level layouts, they all conjure up memories of the RPG that came out in 2000 (wow, it's really been that long, hasn't it?). What's important to note, however, is that Torchlight II is only similar - it improves on the older title in nearly every way, and these similarities are just that: similarities. And besides, what Torchlight II lacks in originality in some areas, it more than makes up with style and polish. Graphically speaking, the game is great to look at, and the music is also pleasing to the ears.
Torchlight II may look a little too familiar to some, but ignore that feeling. Even if it looks that way on the surface, this game has a lot going for it that will impress fans of the genre and even those who aren't. It's been polished to a fine sheen, and manages to keep the same excellent formula from the first game while improving many areas and tweaking others - enough to make it stand out on its own.