Perhaps it shouldn't seem strange that Torchlight II feels more like classic Diablo than Diablo III. Developer Runic Games is run, after all, by Blizzard North veterans, the now defunct studio that produced Diablo I, II and Lord of Destruction. After forming in the aftermath of Flagship Studios’ collapse following the launch of Hellgate: London, Runic went into development overdrive and within roughly one year produced the original Torchlight.
A fast-paced action-RPG like Diablo, Torchlight let PC and eventually Xbox 360 players slaughter hordes of monsters for ever-precious loot with one of three creatively designed classes. A colorful graphical style, low price and smart design choices made it a hit, and so Runic started up on a sequel.
Health and mana potions are in, for instance, but they can’t be spammed. Consuming health potions is still important to survival, especially while playing a close-up fighter like the new Engineer class, but you have to wait for the regenerative effects of one potion to wear off before guzzling another. When leveling, you unlock stat points to dump into skill categories to manually boost things like attack power and health reserves. You also get skill points, which can be dumped into categories to learn and power up individual skills, so you have to balance investing in and unlocking a number of skills against the value of heavily investing in only a few skills.
Unlocked skills can be fitted into a hotbar at the screen’s bottom, letting you activate whatever you want at any time. Skills can also be assigned to your mouse buttons, and by pressing Tab you can cycle through two tied to the right mouse click. In the hotbar spaces not occupied by skills, you can drop in scrolls of identity to reveal stats on magic items, scrolls of town portal to head back to safe zones, as well as mana and health potions. In case you don’t want to waste hotbar space with potions, you can simply hit Z or X, which will automatically activate your most powerful health or mana potion.
Before entering a fight it’s probably also a good idea to spawn a few helpers. The Engineer can construct a healing bot that tags along and periodically blasts out waves of healing. If you’re looking for more firepower, Gun Bots can be deployed to fire machine guns at monsters, and Spider Mines tossed onto the field of play will follow the Engineer for a limited time before detonating or until they run into an enemy.
When actually engaged in close-range combat, the Engineer’s charge bar comes into play. As you fight with normal attacks the bar builds, and consuming its charge enhances a variety of skills. The Flame Hammer skill normally slams into the ground and sends out fingers of fire to seek additional targets not singed by the initial blast. With built-up charge, more fire fingers are emitted by the blast zone, greatly boosting its effectiveness in big groups. The Ember Hammer ability normally slashes an electric arc in front of the Engineer and shatters enemy shields. If you’ve got charges stored up, damage is boosted, and unlike with the Flame Hammer skill, using Ember Hammer doesn’t actually consume charge, so you’re free to swat at enemies with the damage buff so long as you have enough mana to support it.
Pets also play into gameplay in a significant way, following you around and helping out in fights. They also have a huge inventory and can hold unwanted items for you whenever your own is overfilled. In case you don’t want to portal back to town to sell off items, you can load up your pet and send them instead. After a few minutes the pets will return, along with any scrolls of identity, town portal or mana and health potions you ticked off on your shopping list. If you decide to drop a line into the various fishing holes around Torchlight II’s world, you can then pass any fish you manage to reel in over to your pet to trigger a transformation. The Muckfish, for instance, turns your cat into a Jackalbeast for three minutes, which gives the pet a venom attack, and the Web Fish turns your pet into a Spider, which can temporarily root foes with web attacks.
Naturally nearly every fight results in an avalanche of loot, color coded for rarity tagged with a dizzying amount of statistical bonuses. The combat is super fast and large groups of enemies are common, meaning you’re never too far away from the next frantic fight. You’ll want to explore every dungeons space you discover because there’s a good chance rarer, more powerful monsters are somewhere below, and chances are they’ll drop better gear when killed.
From playing the early parts this seems like a more sophisticated game than the first, and the addition of co-operative play online or over LAN should ensure Torchlight II has a lot more longevity. There’s no release date yet, but regardless of what happens with Diablo III, don’t forget about Torchlight II.