I’m something of a hoarder. My cupboards are filled with accumulated miscellanea that I can’t quite bring myself to bin, even if I don’t have a purpose for it right now. Whether this is something innate, or a learned response that could conceivably be conditioned out of me, I don’t know; what I do know is that right now, in the realm of Torchlight, steampunk adventurer extraordinaire Lord Monocles and his somewhat irascible pet ferret Gaston are having a hell of a time sorting out their inventory.
Back in 2008, Runic Games was formed by RPG luminaries Max & Erich Schaeffer (creators of Diablo) and Travis Baldree (creator of FATE), and a scant eleven months later an unsuspecting gaming public were hit with their first offering Torchlight, a fun cut-price spiritual successor to those games, and was eagerly embraced by fans of the genre. Until recent times, said fans have been busying themselves with Blizzard's own Diablo III, but now Torchlight is back and ready to compete on every level.
The Alchemist (one of the playable characters from the first game) has gone a bit mad from a touch too much of the ol’ Ember (think The One Ring here folks) and is now cutting a swathe of destruction across the lands. Now you must choose which new face of justice is going to take him down: the crazy Berserker, the burly-but-brainy Engineer, the spellcasting Embermage, or the gun-toting Outlander.
The plot, such as it is, doesn’t really matter – Torchlight 2 is about stuff. Equipping stuff, wielding stuff, crafting stuff, stealing stuff, trading stuff for better stuff. Prepare to be positively laden down with a seemingly endless variety of weapons and armour, both vanilla and enchanted, some common as muck, a few rare and special. As with its predecessor, two distinct combat setups can be specced and quickly flicked between with the W button; in my case, any enemies deft enough to avoid his flaming hand-cannon did surely taste the steel of Moncoles’ zweihander. Certain items are part of a special set and surely the mega-buffs can be yours if you find all the requisite pieces; this could prove taxing though as many of the game’s treasure drops are chosen at random, though just happening to come across the right piece of gear is always rewarding.
The customisation options available to your character, in terms of class, appearance, equipment and levelling are superbly extensive, to the degree that it’s very unlikely even among a large party of friends that any two of you will have rolled the same type. Melee or ranged combat? Spells or brute force? Armoured on the front line, or directing minions from the sidelines? The game offers a little wiggle room in that, for a price, you may reassign your last three spent experience points; beyond that, your character’s skills are locked. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you could later choose to roll a different character for the inevitable New Game Plus and have a markedly different playing experience.
As mentioned above, your animal travelling companion makes a welcome return, with a few enhanced abilities. As well as functioning as a backup inventory and fighting by your side, it can make trips back to town for you to sell unwanted items and buy up those essential health and mana potions, and now can be equipped with various collars and trinkets. In battle, they can be prepared to cast spells or summon backup minions automatically, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself at death’s door and they save your skin at the last second. The choice of pet is up to seven, so your furry little friend can be just as distinct and unique as your actual character, especially if you name him Bobo, or Mr Tiddlywhiskers.
Whereas the first game took place in an endless stacked dungeon housed beneath the titular town, the sequel is a great deal more open-world; expect to traverse vast dusty plains and cold icy wastes on your quest. The world is rich and varied, with a few hub areas scattered about, and provides a much more non-linear experience than always trooping back to the same crypt as in the first game.
Modern games have a habit for rendering their worlds in as gritty and realistic (read: brown) tones as possible, but in keeping with its slightly throwback nature, Torchlight 2 is awash with bright, vivid colours as befitting an exciting fantasy realm. The fixed viewpoint and cartoonish nature of the graphics mean that you won’t need a state of the art machine, and a considerable number of resolutions are supported; indeed it ran on full settings on my gracefully aging laptop rather comfortably. Menus slide out from the sides of the screen as and when you need them, and make good the use of the space available, considering the sheer number of options at your disposal. Veteran Diablo composer Matt Uelman returns to provide the score, and his haunting arrangements really lend a sense of atmosphere as you stride out into the unknown. The soundtrack is even free to download from their website, in case you want to daydream about your next thrilling raid while doing the dishes.
While some games are content to have a base handful of enemy classes with the occasional palette-swapped boss, Torchlight 2 spares no creative expense; the myriad of beasties of varying degrees of ickiness you encounter is both an impressive display and lends a real sense of change and progress to your adventure. The level of detail that has gone into creating each individual creature and boss is truly an indication of just how much time has been spent by the developers poring over their creation until it was just right.
One of the few laments about the original Torchlight was its lack of multiplayer, so it’s great to see it finally implemented. Up to six players can band together and go a-questing, over internet or for the really old school, local LAN. There are separate loot drops for each player, so there’s no squabbling over who gets that +Five Coat Of Elven Windwalking. In-game communication is limited to text, although there’s no reason why you couldn’t run Steam voice comms or Skype in the background.
Even after you save the day and finish the main campaign, which is no small potatoes by any means, there are still many side-quests to be attempted and nooks and crannies to be investigated, and as with the first game, completion also grants you access to literally endless randomly-generated dungeons, if you feel so inclined. Add to this the fact that modding is supported through Steam, and there could soon be stacks more user-generated content to keep you playing until your clicking finger finally gives out and your concerned friends rush you to hospital.
When the original Torchlight was released back in ’09, it was enthusiastically received by dungeoneers, but unabashedly as a stopgap until Diablo III dropped. Now that Torchlight 2 has arrived in its wake, it feels less like a pretender to the throne and a lot more like serious competition, at less than half the price too. Everything that was good about the original has been honed, refined and improved upon in every respect - RPG fans should need no further convincing.