My Take On Torchlight II, Stress Test Week

For a bit, I thought I didn’t make into the Torchlight II Stress Test weekend (and I’m using the word very freely ’cause, although called “Weekend”, it started on Friday and went all the way to Thursday). But then, Saturday early morning, I got the email with the key (and it was the first time I was kinda glad I had another insomnia attack). And there I went, even before the sun shine it first light, I was playing.

Also, beware that I may spoil some stuff, but this should be in the first 10% of the game — and, by my calculations, this game is huge. But be happy, lots of screenshots in this one.

The Beta

So, what’s in and out of this beta?

First, all classes are available. What classes? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in detail soon.

Also, all pets are available. What pets? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in detail soon.

You can level all the way to 21, but then you will stop getting XP. Fame also have a threshold. You can only see the first two tiers of skills — although you won’t get enough points to open all those in all three trees. All trees are available, by the way. And you can only complete the first 3 parts of Act 1 (where you’ll receive a nice message about the end of the beta).

By the way, to reach the end of the beta, it probably took me about 10 hours in normal mode (two afternoons and one night). So yeah, the final game, with all acts, should be, again, huge.

Same Old, But With a Twist

The Style

The style didn’t change much, compared to the first Torchlight.

It’s a bit zoomed out, yes. Some will like, some won’t. I had only one small problem with it: Due the low contrast between static and dynamic content, it’s kinda hard to see enemies going around. More than once I thought it was done, time to collect my loot and found that there was still enemies around ’cause, instead of picking said items, my character was swinging his weapon. The fact that enemies follow the map style — snow people in the snowy areas, brown/green monsters in the forest zones — make this a bit more complicated. Sure, a snow yeti in a forest zone would make it easier to spot, but that won’t make any sense.

If they are using the same engine, I must say that they improved the lightning and particles effect a lot. You can clearly see this inside the dungeons.

And the maps, man, they are huge now. Not only you have your town quests, you have random quests appearing everywhere, mostly leading you into a dungeon — including a lantern that will take you to One-Eyed Willy ship in a cave (yes, it is a reference to Goonies).

In a nutshell, what Runic is doing is walking the same path they did when they were Blizzard North: This is much closer to Diablo II than anything else — well, with the cartoony style on top and huge maps, but you get the idea.

Pets

Your faithful companions are back — and now you have 8 options of pets instead of only 2.

And, with pets, the “send pet to sell the trash” also returns.

The change now is that now not only they can sell stuff, you can also put orders for them. Running low on identify scrolls? No problem, send you pet to sell all that trash and bring some scrolls back. Some potions. Pets also wear gear. ok, it’s only 3 slots, but enough to make them more useful than simply extra casters — which still exists, by the way.

Potions

Yes, potions are back. And here is a tip if you get the final game: Remove both potions from your skill bar. You will still need them, but you don’t need them there and staying there will one deceive you. There are two shortcuts, Z and X, that will make you use the appropriate potion when necessary. Only a scratch? No problem, Z will take the smallest potion in your bag. Your huge mana pool is almost empty? Pressing X will get the biggest mana potion you’re carrying.

Fishing

Fishing is also back, although I haven’t extensively used (or the fishes, to be honest). There is a small change, though: Wild fish pools now have a number of possible casts. So no more sending your pet to sell your shit and have two minutes all by yourself fishing around — which I did a lot in the first game and that’s probably why I haven’t played extensively this time.

You can also buy explosives and send the pool to the sky, getting everything at once, with the downside of reducing the number of fishes you’d normally get if you did it properly.

Chests

Shared chests are back, but now they got a little brother: Your character personal chest. So you end up with two chests, increasing the amount of trash you can save even further — which is a good addition, nonetheless.

Unidentified Loot

Unidentified items are also back, but now you don’t need to search for a scroll in your inventory and then find the item to be identified: Only right click the item and, if you have enough identify scrolls available, it will automagically identify it.

Streamlined to awesomeness, if you ask me.

Waypoints

Waypoints are back, but they don’t appear every 5 levels deep into the dungeons. Actually, I don’t think I ever found a waypoint inside a dungeon this time, but never mind that. Once you enter a new zone, you will find the waypoint that can take you back to the town or any other waypoint.

What changed this time? If you’re playing with friends, you’ll get an option to teleport directly to where they are.

The Town

The first Torchlight was centered around the town of Torchlight and it’s infinite dungeon right under the graveyard. This time, though, you start in the middle of nowhere and then make your way to the first town. And there, magical things happen.

First thing you’ll notice is that the city is kinda empty. There are two vendors, one for potions and scrolls and another for gear. There is the guy who can refund your skills points and that’s basically it.

But thing is, as you progress through the level, you find other denizens which will move to the town and offer you special services, like the enchanter (up to level 1 enchantments) and the gem recover and gem removal twins. Being beta, that was the ones I could find, but one can expect that, in the full game, you’ll have a lot more people coming and bringing more life to it.

(There are also the special appearance of a known personality of Torchlight 1, but I won’t tell you who she is. Actually, the whole game seems to go around old known faces from the previous game.)

The Classes

Instead of the 3 classes you had in the original Torchlight, you now have 4 distinct classes.

  • The Engineer: Is the strong-man in the pack. It probably covers the barbarian class in the original.
  • The Embermage: Is the caster. It covers partially what the Alchemist did, but I got the feeling that it was more ranged than its older counterpart (the Alchemist had more melee-ranged skills but, then again, we only could see the first 2 tiers of skills).
  • The Outlander: It’s the physical ranged class, encompassing what the Vanquisher did in the first game. It still have the preferably-range feel, but can go into melee without a problem.
  • The Beserker: It’s another melee class, which I think covers the other half of the Alchemist. It’s much more closer to the Druid in Diablo II than anything in Torchlight, though.

The new classes are not tied to any gender like the first game. You can have a female engineer or a male Outlander (or vice-versa). It’s all up to you.

As the original Torchlight, all classes can wield any weapon: From claws to swords, from long swords to hammers, from pistols to Bazookas (and I’m not kidding here). All classes also have a Charge mechanic, whose effect change from class to class.

For the engineer, Charge make some spells more powerful: Your energy shield will absorb more damage, your special attack will do more damage; The Embermage gets a few seconds of mana free casting; At full, the Berserker gets some seconds of continual critical damages; and for the Outlander… well, that was the only class I didn’t play in the beta, for no particular reason.

The problem with this mechanic is the same we have with any “charge up” mechanic: In most times, it will reach it’s peak when the last guy dies, which completely wastes it. Sure, it’s not a design problem, it’s more of the random number Gods displeased with me or something, although this problem is greatly diminished with the Engineer ’cause it can use a partial charge bar: your energy shield won’t be as thought, but it will reduce some damage, nonetheless; the skill that does more damage uses only one charge and a full bar have at least 6. Maybe some sort of partial Charge usage skill for every class would be a good idea here.

Skills

All trees, for all classes, now have a column with only passive skills.

What is interesting here is that it doesn’t matter what the tree is for, the passives are useful no matter what. For example, if you pick an Engineer and specialize it in “Aegis”, a tanky and damage absorption tree, you’ll find a passive that increases your damage based on your shield. But, on “Construction”, the tree for minion-based Engineers, you’ll find a passive that increases your armor. And, on “Blitz”, the pure damage Engineer tree, you’ll find a passive to increase the rate you get Charge, which you can then use for your energy shield. This solves a small pet peeve of me, when on high level content in the first Torchlight I had absolutely nothing interesting to waste my skill points. Now, no matter what path I chose, I still can put points everywhere and have an effective build.

Combat

Combat needs its own section for one single reason: Everything is tied to way the weapons work and the clear and nice balance Runic put on it.

For example, every melee weapon, with the exception of claws, swing in arcs, damaging every enemy in front of it. The larger the weapon, the wider the arc and more damage split around — but it does have a slower swing, as you’d expect. So, to maximize your DPS — and survivability, as mobs that die faster are also the ones that do less damage — you have to use your knockback abilities to pile them up and then attack.

Claws, as a mentioned, doesn’t have an arc. They are specifically designed to hit single targets, but they also do a lot more damage (the ones I found could do about twice the damage of another “arc” weapon in the same level). So, when using claws, your tactic is actually to split enemies, then focus on each one individually — or make them come in a “conga” line and deal with each one in succession.

The embermage, as the caster class, relies on, obviously, ranged magic, but you can clearly see there is a nice balance on the spells. The initial spell, a fire blast, fires rapidly and can pierce through enemies, but have a initial build up, which makes it not simply stop firing at will to save mana. A blizzard like spell, which hits everything in the screen (and you saw how large the screen is) have a somewhat hefty cooldown. A strong spell with no build up, rapid fire and lots of different damages types have a huge mana cost.

Speaking of enemies, it seems Runic took a route similar to Path of Exile about enemy numbers. One enemy? Pffft. Two enemies? Easy peasy. Three enemies? I’m invincible! Seven enemies? OH GOD, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! And the game really pushes to always have seven or more enemies all over you. But, at the same time, when you have seven enemies all over you, it’s the point when you see more loot falling around, which makes surviving those encounters a lot more rewarding — even if it’s a bunch of white items, you feel like you did accomplish something great, you fought, you survived and you got lots of stuff. Instant rewarding.

Another cool addition is was I call “random Arenas”: You’ll find some strange place where enemies will simply pop up and come attack you. Once you beat those guys, another wave of enemies will pop up and attack you, till you fight a huge enemy with drops a nice pool of loot.

It’s really interesting when you find one of those and I wish there were more — in my way to the end of the available content in the beta — Up to part 3 of Act 1 — I only found two or three of those.

Still into combat, let me tell you about traps. Yup, trapped chests are back and your character will warn you about them. But the thing is, traps are now neutral instead of being part of the “enemy” gang. This means that if you open a trapped chest and it spills poison around, anyone going through it will get poisoned, including enemies! And vases with bombs inside, if you walk away and let an enemy go over it, BLAM!, explosion damage to them!

Music

I know this will be a though thing to say, but I don’t like Matt Uelmen music that much. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is good and what he did for Diablo 1 and specially Diablo 2 is awesome. But when you play Torchlight 1, you have this nagging feeling that he was trying too hard to redo the same atmospheric music he did in Diablo 2. It was almost like Torchlight had no personality in itself.

But I’m glad to say that, although the base tones are still there, the music really pumps you up in boss fights. It is impressive. Everything else, I still got that “trying too hard to be Diablo 2” vibe.

Conclusion

The game is fun and rewarding, but the setting is a bit off putting, to be honest. The way it’s hard to spot enemies sometimes makes it a bit annoying. But when you think how many deep mechanics are buried in Torchlight 2 and how those mix together, how large the game play seems to be, that you can mod it, that you can play when offline, that you can play either by lan with your friends or even online with Runic servers and that it will cost only U$ 20, it’s almost like signing your stupid certificate if you like hack’n’slash games and not buy this one.