Fight, Kill, Loot, Repeat; that is the formula of Torchlight 2.
The structure is repetitive, the gameplay seems shallow – so why the hell can’t I stop playing it? Why does my living room echo with the sounds of incessant clicking? The answer is simple: because it is relentlessly and joyously fun; it dangles a carrot of wonderfully paced progression in front of my face and I can’t help but move forward.
Torchlight 2 is a steampunk action-rpg set in a world of magic and malice. The lengthy campaign can be played all the way through either on your own or with up to 5 friends. The four classes in the game all offer a slightly different play style. The Mechanic, a mad monocled mastermind, uses heavy melee weapons and clockwork summons to destroy his enemies. The Outlander, a master of range, uses guns and magic equally to take down enemies from afar. The Embermage uses staffs and wands, casting magic missiles and bolts of lightning to wreak havoc on large groups of monsters. The Berserker is just what his name implies, he’s the fastest and toughest of the classes and spends his time right in the thick of it.
After you create your character, you choose a pet to take on your journey. There are 14 pets to choose from, including a cat, a wolf, and a reindeer. The pets add a lot to the game, serving both as a partner in battle and a courier. You can transfer unwanted items to their inventory, then send them back to town to sell those items and buy supplies while you wait in the dungeon.
Your pet has three armor slots of its own so that you can raise their offensive and defensive power. The pets have a surprising amount of fighting ability and often turn the tide of a difficult battle. If you need a little bit more power from your furry companion, you can feed them fish to transform them into bigger and more powerful monsters, often ones that you have fought in the game.
Throughout the game there are many different kinds of enemies. You’ll battle everything from the old RPG standbys like giant rats and walking skeletons, to hulking bear-men and slime zombies. The boss monsters are massive and require many different strategies to defeat.
The level design is similarly diverse, switching between open landscapes and underground dungeons frequently to keep it interesting. Murky swamps, icy peaks, sandy plains and deep dark catacombs are all fully explorable and full of secret rooms and treasures. At the center of each of the three main areas there is a town with shops full of potions, spells, weapons and armor, as well as non-player characters providing quests.
The game has many quests, though they’re all essentially the same. They have different story conceits of course, but they all have the same goal: spelunk into the depths of a cave or travel out into the unexplored wilds, kill the big monster and retrieve a lost item from it. When you get back to the quest giver, be careful. While in dialogue, your character is vulnerable to attacks from enemies. That can be pretty annoying, especially when you are trying to compare the three items to choose from as a prize for completing the quest. If you die during one of these moments, you’ll have to track all the way back to that point to complete the quest. That problem rarely presents itself though, as the dialogue in the game can be skipped through to get you back into the action that little bit faster.
The story of Torchlight 2 is instantly forgettable. Poorly animated cut scenes and shallow, simplistic dialogue leave little impression. The fact is that the story of the game is not the focus, the gameplay is; it doesn’t need to try and compete with Shakespeare and you’ll be too busy clicking on things until they explode to care about any sort of narrative context.
The mechanics of the game do not, at first glance, seem terribly deep. Click on an enemy, kill said enemy, pick up whatever loot it drops when it dies. Simple right? Think again. What makes the gameplay of Torchlight 2 great is the layers, the subtle nuances. The combat rarely slows down, as you frantically prioritize targets and try to crowd-control massive throngs of twenty or more enemies. Each class has several abilities, each with upwards of 15 levels of mastery. Choosing the abilities that suit your play style is what makes your character unique, and there are so many options it can be hard to choose. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with that choice once you’ve made it. Though there is a vendor in the towns that lets you reset skill point, it only lets you do so with the last 3 skills you upgraded. If you realize 20 hours in that your character isn’t playing quite how you want it to, you either have to live with it or start over. For a game with so much freedom to customize, it seems that some sort of character respect option should be available.
This is a game absolutely full of loot. Every one of your many equipped items has different stats that you need to keep track of: elemental damage, special abilities, character boosting perks and more. Every few seconds you’ll pick up a wayward boot or a discarded pistol, and most of the time you’ll just sell it. But sometimes an enemy might drop a stupidly powerful sword, or the last piece you need to complete an armor set [Editor’s note – where the hell do they store these things? It’s not like dogs have pockets]; the game makes you want to pick up every single item just to compare the stats and check if it’s what you are looking for.
Weapons and armor can be customized and enchanted to make them more powerful and unique. Many have slots for stones that add elemental powers to weapons and elemental defenses to armor. There are vendors in towns and some dungeons that can enchant items to make them powerful and give them new perks and stats.
As if the main campaign itself did not already have enough content, Torchlight 2 has a massive post-game campaign. After defeating the final boss, you’re not only given the chance play through the game again in New Game Plus mode, making the enemies much stronger and “shuffling” the maps to make them new, but you also unlock The Mapworks. The Mapworks is practically an entire second game, allowing players to purchase randomly generated maps of varying difficulty and rule sets. There is so much new loot to find and so many new monsters to fight in the Mapworks, you can easily spend more time there than in the main campaign.
Torchlight 2 never slows down. Though the story doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t need to; this game is all about the relentless, fast-paced fun. You never feel like your progression in the game is slowing down, as you never go long between finding a great new item or learn a new skill or power. Between the singleplayer campaign, the multiplayer online campaign and the extensive post-game content, I have fought, killed and looted for over 40 hours, and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.