Torchlight II is not a rhythm game, yet it is a game devoted to rhythm. There is a distinct routine, a simple cycle, which continues from its start to finish: explore an area, defeat enemies, pick up loot, become stronger, defeat area boss and move to the next area. This entire routine is played to the rhythm of a mouse click. Torchlight II is a dungeon-crawler and a role-playing game that makes no excuses for what it is. It doesn’t deviate from the established tropes of the genre, but it does incorporate all of them with great success. It’s a game that I shouldn’t like.
As I scour every corner of Runic Games’ Torchlight II I often lose track of time. For the past four hours, the routine has hardly changed: Click on an enemy, hammer the keypad until the enemy collapses into an exanimate mass of carrion and wait for it to spew forth valuable loot. The scenery has transformed, from cold, shadowy dungeons to vast expanses of sand and cracked earth, my avatar has significantly grown in strength and the boss battles have become more grandiose and absorbing. The routine won’t change for the next four hours, but somehow, Torchlight II remains incredibly engrossing for the entire length of its campaign.
The reason for this is simple: it’s a lot of fun. In Torchlight II you start off by picking one of four character classes: Berseker, Embermage, Outlander or Engineer. Each class has its own specific set of skills, for instance, the Berserker is a melee-friendly character that harnesses the power of beasts whereas the Embermage is predominantly a magic-caster that attacks enemies from range. The game provides some simple customization options from the get-go and then provides you with the opportunity to pick a Pet. This companion follows you around the whole game, often becoming a meat-shield, providing you with an increased inventory, levelling as you do and assisting you in battle.
And there’s a lot of battling. Torchlight II’s maps are so expansive that you run into a new pack of wandering enemies around almost every corner. This spacing of each band of enemies is a master stroke as it forces you to remain focused throughout each dungeon and in the overworld areas. Fortunately, the consistency of battles never becomes overwhelming and thus only contributes to the cycle of kill, become stronger, reap rewards and progress. Playing on the highest difficulty setting did often cause trouble at times whereas playing on normal, especially early, seemed unusually easy.
With such large maps, you could excuse Runic Games for reusing assets for each of the enemy character models but there is great variation built in that helps to keep the game feeling fresh. Moreover, the overall aesthetic of the game, much like its predecessor, is a whole palette of flashy, bright colours that to a degree, masks the sinister nature of merciless slaughter that you engage in. The polish in the visuals gives the game an endearing quality that is unseen in many other dungeon-crawlers, which rely on the shadows and darkness to give their world’s atmosphere. This aesthetic even permeates through the inventory and menu screens, all the way through to the mountains of loot that burst forth from an enemy’s gullet.
The amount of gold, weapons, accessories and garments that are dropped throughout the game could completely eradicate poverty and homelessness the world over. The volume of loot gets to insane proportions at times, with the screen literally filling up with gold coins and the item bubbles in areas of dense enemy occupation. The problem with this is that your character can only carry so much and thus, at times, it just becomes far too much.
To help you with this problem, and it’s a good problem to have, Torchlight II allows you to send your pet to town to sell loot you no longer want. Although this leaves you companion-less for about two minutes, it is an invaluable mechanic that saves a lot of travelling to and from cities. Of course, the loot is a driving factor in the games’ replayability – the randomness of a drop provides you with a strange sense of anticipation and that ‘one more time’ feeling, if only because you may potentially gain a powerful new weapon or accessory from any given kill.
The veritable treasure trove of weapons and accessories is a given in a game like this, but Torchlight II provides enormous variety. Complementing this is the ability to enchant any given accessory with skill bonuses or add elemental pieces to improve attack power or boost defences essentially creating a limitless supply of weapons unique to your own personal game. You may stash these for later use or, even better, share them online with your friends.
The multiplayer modes and UI sticks to the theme of Torchlight II: simplicity. To start an online game, it’s as simple as four clicks of the mouse (0.00001% of the total mouse clicks used throughout the course of the game). Once in a multiplayer game, you can either go off on your own like you would in single-player or stick with your team-mates as they progress through dungeons. Experience is shared, but loot drops are unique to each player as they rely heavily on the level that the player is at. Furthermore, the multiplayer provides a greater challenge, something that the game sorely lacks in the early going.
With so many positives, it’s with a heavy mouse-click that I come to the negatives. What Torchlight II doesn’t do well is create a memorable story or NPC characters. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t name one character I interacted with over my thirty-something hours with the game, although I do recall that many of them were large beasts that towered over my Berserker. Side-quests largely revolve around reaching destination X and beating enemy Y to obtain item Z, yet I continued to pursue them for that sweet, sweet loot. The main story is standard fantasy-world fare and takes place over three acts and an epilogue. The game is so big that you often lose track of the main quest and get tangled up in exploring and seeking out better loot. For this reason, the lack of story is hardly noticeable.
Torchlight II is a game I shouldn’t like but it’s a game that is so readily addictive. It won’t be everyone’s cup of team, its cyclic nature, even, steady rhythm and lack of storyline may be jarring to some but it is a game that is infinitely rewarding and incredibly fun. It’s a game that’s heartbeat pounds to the sound of a mouse clicking away at the lavish fiends emerging from darkness on screen. It’s a heart that beats steady and loud. It’s a heart that doesn’t want to do much more than beat, steady and strong, for a lifetime.
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