So I finished Torchlight 2 recently, another game from my Steam back log ticked off the unplayed list! Heard good things about the Torchlight games but I have to admit, I have never played them beyond the free demos available. Used to be a fan of Diablo before 3 happened, the “features” of Diablo 3 totally put me off, but is Torchlight 2 the cure to that poison? lets find out…

Torchlight 2 is basically Diablo 2, with more World of Warcraft style graphics. While there are some very nice little touches that distinguish it from the Diablo franchise, they are out of a very similar mold. Perhaps not with a similar budget though, which makes what Runic have done more impressive. Firstly, you can play it solo offline, imagine that, you don’t have to ask permission to play the game you paid for. What a privelidge!

Secondly, you have to actually play the game to acquire better loot, you can’t just buy items for cash from a convenient auction house where real money is used. This alone makes Torchlight 2 more of a game, because you have to play it in order to find what you want. Ok…now I’ve had my Diablo 3 dig, having said that, the loot drops in Torchlight 2 still suffer from the old trope of mostly being trash or for a class you aren’t even playing. Neither of which is particularly engaging when you’re alone.

The upside to this is you have a pet, who can at any time be told to carry your trash and head off to town and sell it albeit sacrificing your pet support for a couple of minutes. You also get town portal scrolls which allow you to open a magical doorway from anywhere in the world to the nearest town, they stay open until you make a new one, which is nice but almost redundant given the pet sell ability.

Back at town you have regular vendors as well as enchanters that can upgrade your gear and gem vendors that can remove gems from socketed items or items from socketed gems. There is a nice trade off here, because you have to destroy one or the other to do this. I like decisions which feel costly, they’re the best kind of decisions to make in video games I think.

Most of the time I stuck to enchanting my existing gear, there is an element of randomness to the stat bonuses but it seems a greater investment to boost stats rather than plug and pull gems from sockets. The problem with most of the loot in the game though, is that none of it feels particularly cool, most of it even at the end of the game felt as mundane and average as it actually was. I actually struggled in the final levels to find anything worth equipping, either it didn’t have sockets or it didn’t have the right stats. I beat the final boss with gear I earned several levels and dungeons back.

I think the fact that loot generation is totally random is perhaps detrimental to the single player experience. When 70-80% of what you loot is worthless to you for one reason or another, it becomes a chore to pick it up. You have to pick it up though, because at the very least you need to sell it for cash. Given how lite on rpg this game actually is, I think I would have settled for just more money dropping and less trash loot.

There are four classes available, an Engineer, a Berzerker, an Outlander and an Embermage, they each have their skills and loot drops as you may expect. It’s nice that you have a shared loot container so you can store loot for alternate classes should you choose to replay the game again with another class. I wonder how helpful that is in multiplayer games, where loot you could offer to an alternate class player may well be more attractive for your own alt.

I played the Embermage, a traditional spell caster with a pet Raven. You can choose from many different pet models, although I got the impression they all performed the same statistically. I opted for the Ice tree of spells which gave me some help with kiting enemies by slowing or freezing them in place. The ice spells started off annoyingly inaccurate but as I grew in power I was able to unlock some significantly better spells which allowed me to lay waste to entire areas of the map.

Speaking of the map, the isometric view is very narrow, even fully zoomed out I felt like I had to stumble on enemies before I could see far enough to engage them. Given the quality of the graphics I can only assume it is more a balance mechanic than a limitation of the engine. If this is true fair enough, but I did find it disappointing to be a ranged caster that had to move so close to fight.

The storyline is…well it’s pretty weak sauce really. Bad guy threatens world with bad unleashing of evil. Go forth and stop him hero! There are people out there that love this type of game, but personally I fail to see how they can be entertained by a simple drive to loot crap and level up. That was basically what you do in Diablo 1/2, but somehow it still managed to have a more interesting story and more interesting loot.

I did like the monsters stayed dead between zone transitions, once you clear an area it stays clear, meaning I felt like I was having an effect on the world and not just tread-milling the xp bar. I have to be honest and say I was happy when I was done with the single player campaign, I’m sure it is more fun with friends but alone, it felt rather tedious to me.

I wasn’t a fan of leveling up abilities either, by making abilities with levels they basically reduce the amount of abilities you can take that are effective. It may feel progressive to some but I just felt it was a rather thin attempt at limiting the number of abilities in the tree, by adding progressive levels to each one instead of making new abilities.

I think it’s fair to say perhaps I’m not as big a fan of the rpg lite gameplay as I used to be. Better story driven rpgs exist and better action games exist. This genre of rpg lite was supposed to straddle the line between the two, it does that, but it feels soulless and in many ways quite shallow as a result.

I didn’t care about any of the characters in the game beyond their appearance and I barely registered the story I played through entirely. I was on autopilot for most of it and quite frankly, looting and leveling may be nuggets of enjoyment in other games, but when you saturate your game with it, they lose all satisfaction.

Nothing about Torchlight 2 feels poorly made or careless, in fact it feels well polished and solid, it was just repetitive and uninteresting.  I feel they made Torchlight 2 expecting everyone to enjoy it with friends. Then you can overlook how dull and monotonous it can be, because your friends entertain you when the game doesn’t. Problem is though, your friends can do that in any online game.