Monday, September 24, 2012

Torchlight II Review

Torchlight II released this past Thursday to much rejoicing from fans of the previous game as well as loot treadmill junkies like me. Two friends and I decided to take the weekend and marathon through the game on Veteran to see how it measured up. We walked away with a bagful of loot and good memories.

Boss battles while fun really came down to pattern recognition and not standing in the fire.
Veteran difficulty on our first play-through seem to have a few of the problems that Diablo III had upon launch where you would get one-shot without any warning; both from bosses and from regular monsters. At the time the game did not seem to provide any kind of mechanic or solution that would stop this from happening. It was not a matter of reaction time as perhaps a lack of a large enough health pool or specific resistance. Though perhaps Torchlight II should stop scaling up monster damage with the number of people or tweak it down a bit.

Actual combat, while feeling adequate, does not feel as good as Diablo III. There is just not the sense of  snappy control and video/audio feedback of the same caliber of Blizzard. This is where I could easily add a line about the game being only 15 or 20 dollars but really combat mechanics should be the prime focus of games where doing the same actions over and over again for hours is part of the gameplay. Perhaps this is unfair as I played Diablo III so recently but Torchlight II invites comparisons.

In Torchlight II your talent trees are where you get your class skills. It does level gate all but your first tier skill but a variety of found spells you can equip at any time on any character really fills out the gameplay. Equipping spells from each tree is possible but really doesn’t seem very optimal or very useful. I had originally specced into fire on my EmberMage but then decided the lightning damage tree would better suit me. To my surprise I could not pay to respec my character completely, only to refund my last three talent points. This is perhaps the middle ground between Diablo II and Diablo III’s systems of player customization and permanence. Pet’s return here as well being your gofer for items in town as well as your mobile sellers so you can continue killing things. Pet loot is available to give your pets some added stats and those same found skills you can equip can also be added to your pet. While cool, none of the pet customization seemed very impactful on the actual gameplay.

The user interface is rather large by default even at 1080p. A bit more consistency with the variety of tabs on each screen might have been nice as well. Vertical tabs on your player and pet screens get you to some major sections but some non-descript tabs at the bottom of each pane get you to some rather crucial areas as well. Some of those buttons weren’t immediately apparent. Some added tutorial tool-tips beyond the loading screen, which sometimes I couldn't read fast enough due to my solid state drive, would have been helpful.

The pace is incredibly fast, especially with three players. Monsters seem to have just the right amount of health where they do not seem like damage sponges yet do not get destroyed instantly. Time in each zone seemed just about right; I never got tired of a particular area. Buying, selling, gemming and enchanting matches the gameplay pace with it's quickness and ease of use.

What Torchlight II does so much better than its competitors is be true and honest with itself as well as its players. This is a loot lust game and it knows it's a loot lust game. Torchlight II proudly wears that moniker every moment you are playing it. Absurd amounts of gold and items cover your screen to the point where you cannot even see the ground anymore as the text blocks your vision. This is a positive not negative! Chests reveal individual piles of Gold and items make that wonderful clinking sound it rocks that Pavlovian response like Diablo III never did. What is even better is that you actually get upgrades as you play the game and even (gasp!)  find items that are beyond your current level! Loot has never been this good as it is in Torchlight II.

Meanwhile, the story is really quite forgettable. Once again we are saving the world from a great evil and so forth and so on. I found myself just clicking through quests to get a move on to the next zone but perhaps that speaks to the type of player I am rather than the quality of the writing. Generally, I feel as though these types of games are played for the character building and gameplay rather than the story but if story is important to you, I believe you will be disappointed.

While I realize that Runic is composed of some ex-Blizzard developers, there are a few too many elements found in Torchlight II that seem directly taken from Diablo III. Some of the Acts mirror one another rather explicitly. A few spells on my EmberMage seemed nearly if not totally identical to the Wizards moves in Diablo III. Gargoyles fall from the sky even in the same manner in both games. Matt Uelmen is an amazing composer but the guitar strumming just serves to remind me of Blizzard games, not the one I'm currently playing.

Stylistically, the game takes on a cartoonish graphic affect with low polygons but its serves the game well. With one exception where my friends and I had spawned seemingly infinite amount of blobs, the frame-rate never hitched below 60 on my 560Ti and Sandy Bridge i5 setup. Spell effects are fun to watch from your own characters as well as from large monsters and bosses. I hoped for a bit more in terms of available graphical tweaks but I am sure considering the modibility of the game these things will be added in at some point by the community. While the awesome looking armor wasn't seen until later in the game, I was getting impressive looking weapons nearly right out of the gate. Armor and weapons shimmer and shine with a variety of impressive looking models. The loot genuinely gave the visual impression my character was getting stronger.

The audio is generally spot on. Spell effects sound neat but do not get on your nerves; something I am sure is a secret science that people do not generally appreciate. Monsters explode in satisfying sounding ways and bosses sound rather terrifying when coupled with their actual damage output. Music is well done here as well, though the town music really throws me as I mentioned previously. Coming up with your own unique music would have been the better option here. Making me nostalgic about a different game doesn’t really help your game.

LAN worked flawlessly for us the throughout the entire experience. We frequently left the game on unattended for long periods without any disconnection problems. While the game presented me with a Runic login option upon opening the game - nothing was forced on me. I could play with my friends without being reliant on Internet based servers. I did see one weird display bug when I attempted to remap my hotkeys from 1234 and Shift to ASDF and spacebar where loot stopped showing up on the ground but other than that it was a totally smooth experience.

Torchlight II is an impressive amount of content for the price. It’s polished, deep and engrossing enough to encourage multiple play-throughs. The systems seem to rewards well thought out character customization. This is flat out a better game than Diablo III regardless of price. If you are into loot-driven action RPGs I would highly recommend Torchlight II.


No comments:

Post a Comment