Ever since the first Diablo caught on back in the late 1990s, there has been a consistent stream of . . . ahem, "tribute" games. Some have been well-meaning attempts at making a new masterpiece and some have been blatant cash runs. The Blizzard games have been so financially successful that there was no way they wouldn't inspire an entire genre, but what's sometimes overlooked by dismissive critics is that the games were also successful entirely separate of financial considerations. That is, Diablo resonated so much with fans that many of us were left fiending like junkies in between versions and patches. Sure some shovelware was released and some got bought, but to a junkie a dirty shovel can taste like candy-coated candy.
Here's the short version: Torchlight II is better in every way.
For various reasons, the crew that put together the original game scattered in various directions, so you occasionally see a new release that proudly trumpets its pedigree as a child of one or more of the Blizzard North developers. Hey, who doesn't want a colt sired by a Kentucky Derby winner, right?
Into this atmosphere of jaded-yet-needy gamers, Torchlight arrived in 2009, to many critical and popular accolades. With Max and Eric Schaefer in the credits, some refreshing enhancements to the classic gameplay, and an attractive price tag, it all fell into place for Runic Games.
Torchlight II shows that the success of its predecessor wasn't just a fluke. It exists halfway between what we were given and what we were promised when the first Torchlight came out. The biggest issue with the first was that it was only a single-player experience. That wasn't unheard of in the genre, but it was almost anathema in the modern world of Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, and all the other ways gamers hook up. But a Torchlight massively multiplayer online title was announced and that would be more than enough team-based pillaging for anyone. A single-player campaign would serve as a proving ground for the developers and help raise the money needed to proceed with the more ambitious venture.
Luckily for Runic, and for we aforementioned hack-and-slash junkies, the gamble paid off and Torchlight was able to attract a sizable and enthusiastic audience. The art style - more cartoony than Diablo's but sufficiently grim, the fishing interludes, and, of course, the beloved canine or feline companion that not only carried part of your inventory but would run a big pile of items back to to the town merchants while you pressed on deeper into the dungeon . . . it was all a hit.
And that, brave adventurer, leads us to the present day. Now, I suppose you'd like to hear something about Torchlight II? (Must resist the obvious Deckard Cain line that I must've subconsciously set myself up for.)
Here's the short version: Torchlight II is better in every way. Yes, judging by everything I've seen and played of it, I feel comfortable making the pronouncement that the sequel far surpasses the original. For one thing, it boasts a greater variety in . . . well, everything. Yeah, a follow-up game usually has more, more, more, but it's not always good, good, good.
The action this time is split into three main areas, each of which is roughly equal in size to the dungeon in Torchlight, Sr. And since there was pretty much nowhere to fight but the dungeon before, that means there's a whole lot more game now. It helps that there are now open above-ground scenes to point and click in, as opposed to the endless succession of down stairs in the original. The increased playing field represents roughly 20% of one of the two major continents that will be featured in the upcoming MMO, so this is not only a huge step up, it is also an exciting progression.
The outdoor areas will be subject to random weather patterns and a regular cycle of night and day. As the player moves from place to place, the terrain will change accordingly, from a subtropical environment to a snowy land and all points in between. To futher mix it up, random events are scattered in, giving you opportunities to earn some extra loot off the beaten path. This is in addition to the randomization in layouts, with far less linear levels and new paths to explore every time you start an adventure. You know the saying about never stepping twice into the same river? Well, the developers really ran with the concept.
But as impressive as all that is, the most exciting change, again, is the introduction of multiplayer. And Runic has done it right, with the ability to have a party of up to eight people over the Internet or a LAN. Players can drop in or drop out at any time and monsters will scale accordingly. Any loot you see on screen will be assigned only to you, so you won't have to worry about some miscreant snagging all the good items while you're busy laying low the hordes of evil. But you can always trade with someone who has the shiny trinket you want or drop an item on the ground and watch the scramble. Junkies rejoice!
It won't be much longer before you and a select group of companions can get back to the highest calling of a gamer: fighting Evil and snatching up the loot it drops.