Hands up everyone who took a day off when Diablo III launched. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who somehow got online, chances are you spent that day staring at a ‘server not found’ message and weeping into your string vest. Personally, we said **** this **** and re-installed Torchlight, a Diablo ‘clone’ that mixes crisp cartoony graphics with the same obsessive loot collection. We loved it when it hit Steam last year but Torchlight came with one glaring omission – no multiplayer mode. Thankfully the developers listened to our woes and now Torchlight II is here, complete with a shiny new online co-op so you can blast your way through with your buddies.
But how does Torchlight II compare with its predecessor? Well, we don’t want to spoil this review for you, but chances are you’ve already done that by peeking at the score, you cheeky monkey. This sequel is bigger and better in pretty much every way, proving as demandingly addictive as Diablo II – better stock up on those Iceland pizzas and tell your other half you’ve got the mumps/influenza/herpes, because you’ll be stuck to your PC for many, many nights...
Good (that’s you) v Evil (that’s everything else)
As with Diablo, Torchlight II’s story is almost incidental. Imagine a big, fat chocolate cake: the delicious moist sponge is the loot gathering, and the thick frosty icing is the character/skills levelling. Torchlight’s plot is a plump little cherry dropped half-heartedly on top. It’s there, but you probably won’t even notice it as you’re getting stuck into the rest of the calorific goodness.
The story continues straight on from the first game, with you taking on the role of a brand new hero as he or she pursues big baddie the Alchemist across Torchlight. That naughty tinker is spreading the Ember Blight wherever he goes, which at least explains the legions of gribblies trying to rip out your kidneys and use them as earmuffs. There’s little more to be said for the plot, which basically sees you trekking from dungeon to dungeon, beating the living crap out of everything along the way – and to be fair, that sits just fine with us.
Torchlight II still packs brighter, more colourful visuals than Diablo, which feels grimy and gritty in comparison. Tochlight’s developers have definitely taken some pointers from Diablo however, using a steeper camera angle and more pulled-out view of the world. Aside from the occasional frantic battle involving dozens of foes, we never struggled to see what was going on, thanks to little touches such as the way enemies glow red and friendlies glow blue when obscured by walls.
Don’t expect this game to be kiddy-friendly either, despite the cartoony look: baddies still explode in fountains of gib, which never fails to amuse.
Torchlight II’s universe also borrows extensively from Diablo, shouldering aside the single (enormous) dungeon of the original Torchlight in favour of a sprawling outdoor world, populated with tons of mini dungeons. You’ll progress through three main Acts, each taking place in a unique environment. Fans of these games won’t be shocked to learn that there’s snowy tundra, desert plains and other staple levels, each inhabited by their own unique creatures. You’ll be confronted by the usual generic beasties such as skeletons and goblins, but the developers have come up with some truly disgusting and imaginative monsters for you to do battle with also. Boss fans will hack their way through hundreds of uber-powerful champions too, each spewing out a good horde of loot upon death (more on that later).
Stats, maps and suchforth
RPGs are infamous for cluttering the screen with menus, numbers and other crap, but Torchlight II’s interface is refreshingly clean, presenting vital stats such as health and mana while hiding away the rest. The mini map is perfect too, making it clear which areas have already been explored, and marking quest destinations with golden stars. Seems like a boring little detail but it means a lot less time spent staggering around enormous levels, frustratedly searching for that last elusive fragment of whatever.
The controls are as you’d expect: left click to move and attack, right click to use your select special power (you can toggle through a couple using the Tab key), and hit a numeric key to use the assigned spell or potion. We played Torchlight II on a laptop using a touchpad with no trouble at all.
Quite a character
Torchlight II abandons the original three heroes and introduces four new ones, each with their own strengths. The Berserker is basically a slender barbarian with supernatural wolf powers, while the Engineer also relies on melee attacks and an ability to imbue equipment with special bonuses. The two ranged classes, Outlander and Embermage, use guns and magic respectively. All four classes offer vastly different skills, giving them a unique feel once levelled up, but we stuck with the Berserker for this review, purely because she looked proper mental.
Skills-wise, you have three trees to upgrade, all containing active and passive skills. It’s enough to satisfy RPG enthusiasts who enjoy building a character to suit their own strengths or gameplay preferences, but hopefully without scaring the hell out of role-playing noobs. You can even undo your last three skill point choices (as well as enchantments and gem pairings) if you realise they’re not working, via a merchant in town. We love how Torchlight II doesn’t punish you for trying different things out, a big part of what makes this game fun to play.
The other thing that makes it so damn fun is the loot. Torchlight and Diablo fans know what to expect: you’ll be constantly collecting new armor, weapons and trinkets that add attack and defense bonuses, and make your character look progressively more badass. Enchantments and sockets add even more flexibility, allowing you to create some incredibly powerful gear. Common enemies will drop bog-standard loot, but more powerful gribblies and bosses chuck out tons of magical and rare items, quickly filling your inventory.
As in the first game, all four characters get their own personal pet - in our case a vicious snarling wildcat - who once again is an invaluable companion. Not only will your pet get stuck into a fight, it can carry tons of crap too, and even run it back to town to sell for you. To show your appreciation, you can deck your pet out with collars and charms to make it even more badass.
Play with friends!
The missing component of Torchlight has been fulfilled, and you can blast your way through Torchlight II with a group of friends. The mechanics are pretty much identical to Diablo’s multiplayer - the more friends you have, the tougher enemies become, and each player gets their own selection of loot to avoid quarrels. You can text chat in-game but you’ll need to use Steam’s voice call feature to actually speak to each other. Waypoints give you the option to teleport to the friend of your choosing, but these things are few and far between so you’d be wise not to wander off by yourself.
As we played a pre-release version, we were told to beware of any bugs, which would be patched before Torchlight II’s release. Despite this we only encountered a single bug: when we tried stuffing gear in our stash in a multiplayer match, it vanished into the ether never to be seen again. Aside from that, everything’s more stable than a concrete cow - how you like them apples, Diablo III?
Torchlight II is a more refined and sprawling game than the first outing, which was already a pretty damn epic adventure. Unique features such as the pet companion add a lot to the Diablo-style gameplay, and with the new multiplayer mode you can finally play socially. Addictive, beautiful, and no bloody server issues - this is the game that Diablo III should have been.