In October of 2009 Runic Games released it’s first game, a dungeon crawler called Torchlight. There was quite a bit of buzz surrounding the launch as Runic Games is comprised of quite a few former members of Blizzard North, who brought the world the hugely successful Diablo and Diablo II games. The game became quite successful, especially for an independent studio, selling over one million copies as of July 2011. Now Runic has announced the continuation of the story in the upcoming Torchlight II. That being said, I was excited to see an email granting me access to the latest Torchlight II Beta Weekend. This weekend was mainly designed to be a stress test for the servers, so single player offline and LAN mode were not available for play.
The first thing I noticed about the game was just how many options they’ve added. In Torchlight, there were only three classes available, Destroyer, Alchemist, or Vanquisher and those characters had no customization options. Torchlight II brings us the Outlander, Embermage, Berserker, and Engineer classes. All four are available as male or female with varying facial features, skin color, hair styles, and hair colors. There are also more options for your companion pet. Along with Torchlight’s cat and dog are the ferret, chakawray, hawk, panther and wolf. These companions help carry items, attack bosses, run to town to buy and sell while you are mid-dungeon and provide adorable, furry (or feathered!) moral support. In case you were wondering, my pet was a ferret named Sir Worthington III and yes, he kicked lots of butt.
Torchlight II keeps the same cartoonish art style as its predecessor but with more polished graphics. While specific hardware specs haven’t been released, Runic has said that the game is built on the same engine which will be a huge bonus for laptop owners or players who may not have the biggest and best graphics cards on the market. The game really shines in its ability to create rich, colorful, detailed backgrounds and settings while not taxing your system. Spell graphics and details have also been ramped up quite a few notches. The UI was redesigned to give it a cleaner, more intuitive feel as Torchlight had a slightly clunky interface that took up quite a bit of screen real estate. The new system is very unobtrusive and a nicer to look at. Modding will be available through Torchlight Editor shortly after after launch.
The story picks up where Torchlight left off and tells the tale of what happened to the game’s heroes after they saved the world from Ordrak. A mystery person has stolen the essence of Ordrak and is stealing power from the elemental Guardians and it is up to your character to thwart the villian and save the world, with the occasional help of your friends of course. I found the story to be more engaging than the original with more entertaining quest text and voice acting. Runic has also announced that cut scenes will be featured in this game to enhance the story, though I didn’t come across any before I hit the beta level cap. In addition to the single player campaign, Torchlight II features the multiplayer mode that was sorely lacking from Torchlight. While I didn’t get an opportunity to play with friends, as none of us ever seemed to be on at the same time, creating games was quick and easy. You are able to set the number of people allowed in your game, make it public or private and even set a password if you wanted.
Combat is very similar to the first game, but with more skill point options. I only got a chance to test out the Engineer, but I had the option of building the character using the Blitz tree, the Construction tree, or the Aegis tree. The blitz tree is the bruiser melee dps tree, giving you two handed weapon buffs, stuns, slows and your general in your face, giant swirling hammer attacks. Construction is more of what you would think an engineer would be and is your gadget tree. If you are a fan of James Bond’s toys, this is definitely the tree for you. Healing robots, spider shaped land mines and all kinds of things that can explode and do your dirty work for you can be found here. Lastly, the Aegis tree is your typical tank tree. It is full of damage reduction, spell shields, increased armor and health gains.
All in all, Torchlight II is already a fairly impressive, polished game. I only came across one small bug in all my playtime, where I entered a cave and accidentally left it as soon as I zoned in and was unable to get back into it until I entered and left a different cave. Other than that the experience was totally smooth, with minimal server lag, and no issues zoning in and out of towns or dungeons. Torchlight II feels like the developers really listened to fan input and took their likes and dislikes to heart when designing the game and its features. Graphically, the game is quite stunning, contains a huge world with multiple towns, zones and lots of places to explore. Torchlight II will be available on PC at launch, with a Mac port soon after. While the game doesn’t have a release date other than Summer 2012 as of yet, it is available for preorder on Steam and at a $19.99 price point, it promises to deliver a fantastic game that’s well worth your money.