Feb 21 2013
As I try to keep up with every new, popular movie, TV show and video game, there can be a lot that slips through the cracks as there are only so many hours in the day. Last year, one of those things was Torchlight 2, a sequel to a game I very much liked.
I recently bought the game on Stream for the ludicrously low price of $10. Subsequently 8 of the last 24 hours have been spent playing the game, and I already have a level 38 character. But it’s been enough time where I don’t particularly feel the need to play much more past what I’ve experienced already.
Not to say the game is bad, it isn’t. It’s just that with the direction gameplay is moving, I believe I’ve experienced just about everything I’m going to with the game, and I’ll discuss exactly why that is the case below.
The original Torchlight was a such a huge success because it was essentially the sequel to Diablo 2 that everyone wanted. It used many of the same team members, and created an environment that was indeed an improvement in many areas over D2. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as deep, but it served as a demonstration of the type of quality of life improvements we would hope to see when D3 finally did arrive.
Graphics aren’t the best, but they’re acceptable.
You had a pet that could sell items back at town for you so you didn’t waste a trip. You could respec your skills at any time to try out fun new builds. The game was simply D2, but a little easier to play due to a host of minor changes in the ARPG genre that almost everyone could agree were improvements.
But Torchlight 2 is perhaps the opposite. Diablo 3 is out, and therefore, Torchlight 2 has to be inevitably compared to it. Now, however, the shoe seems to be on the other foot. It’s Diablo 3 that seems like it’s made significant advances forward in the genre, while Torchlight 2 reminds us that despite our complaints, we have it rather good with D3.
Scrolls of Identity and Town Portals are back, something I can safely say no one missed when they went away in D3. We are reminded of what combat is like when strategy involves constant chugging of health and mana potions to stay alive.
The most disturbing aspect of all this however is a way Diablo moved forward, and Torchlight moved backward. The original Torchlight gave players the ability to refund their skill points to try out new an different builds. Many games in the genre are doing this, ie. Borderlands, and some, Diablo 3, have done away with it entirely in order to allow for more customization.
Unfortunately, Torchlight 2 has taken a firm step backward in this regard, and I can’t understand why. For a price, you can refund the last three skill points you place. It’s an annoying tease, and a useless one unless you simply invested in a new skill you ended up not liking.
This is most disappointing when you want to try out different builds with your character. I started with an engineer, and was a bit bummed when I saw he was essentially the equivalent of a 2-handed weapon smashing Barbarian. I was, however, heartened to learn that he could also wield a massive ranged cannon, and had a whole other skill set revolving around that type of weapon.
But alas, by that point in the game, I’d already sunk so many points into bashing-related skills, I couldn’t make the switch to ranged. Because I can’t respec, the only way I can experience that type of character is to start from scratch with a new engineer, and go down a different skill path.
Yes, I know that’s the way Diablo 2 did it, but it sucked then, and it sucks now. It only serves to artificially lengthen to game by forcing players to make new characters from scratch. Making four characters of four classes isn’t enough apparently, and the game wants you to make two or three copies of each to fully experience their range of skills. It also makes me extremely hesitant to put a point into ANY new skill. You have no idea whether or not it will be useful, and often the only way to tell is to level it up a few times to make it reasonably powerful. And then you’ll be past the three point refund limit.
In turn, this can make gameplay unbearably static. For the past eight hours I’ve sunk skill points into the same four abilities. All of my engagements involve smashing my hammer down creating a mini-fiery earthquake while being circled by a healing bot and a shooting bot. It’s a perfectly fun build, but I’m never going to be able to do anything else for as long as my character lives. With each ability having 15 levels, you will have to sink ALL your points into just a few to ensure you’re maximizing your character’s potential. As fun as the build may be, after eight hours it’s getting tiresome, and I really want to see what it would be like to use a cannon. But I can’t, and I won’t be able to unless I re-do my character from scratch.
I JUST WANT TO USE MY DAMN CANNON.
Torchlight 2 may not improve on Diablo 3, but it does improve on Torchlight 1. There is no singular dungeon that is essentially the entirety of the game. There are actual areas you roam through this time, and I actually like the fact that you can enter and exit the game without the map resetting. You can come back and what you’ve explored will still be explored, and what you’ve killed will still be killed. It would seem to make the game impossible to farm, but so far, I’m okay with it.
Strangely, the game doesn’t quite understand its own leveling system. For nearly the entire game, I’ve been forced into areas that warn me they are anywhere from 5 to 7 levels above my own level, and therefore are too dangerous to enter. But as enemies don’t respawn, I don’t really have a choice but to trudge forward. Fortunately, the promised insanely difficult enemies really aren’t all that hard at all, and I’ve yet to hit a difficulty wall. I’m not sure why they don’t just lower the suggested level indicators, because the alleged difficulty isn’t there. Maybe it’s a self-esteem boost to tell players they’re performing above their level?
You miss little things that you’ve gotten used to in Diablo 3, a game with more resources. That allows them to do things like customize every piece of armor for each class. When you don’t do that, you can get rather ridiculous outfits like my Engineer who wears fur lined armor with embedded animal teeth like a barbarian. Also, you really miss the easy stat comparison of items, which in D3 shows you exactly how much your armor or damage goes up or down before you need to bother equipping something.
But in the end, like always, Torchlight’s strength is in its value. For all this comparison to D3, Torchlight 2 is now 1/6th the price. And even with all I’ve criticized it for, it’s certainly not 1/6th as good a game. If you’re a fan of the genre, but on a budget, I’d highly recommend it. Just know that you’ll pay the price by having your characters locked in to unfamiliar builds, and you’ll lose some of the more modern advances in the genre that D3 has set forward. As for me? I think I’ve smashed about all the creatures I’m going to if the game won’t let me do anything else.
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