Playlist 2012: Torchlight 2

Torchlight II PC | Runic Games | October

The amount of time you invest in Torchlight II is directly proportional to what you get out of it. Spend part of it exploring the landscape and you will find something worth your curiosity. A band of soldiers surviving together in the wilderness. A ghost ship docks by the riverside. A lonely robot who’s just happy that you didn’t rob him.

The hook of Torchlight II is partly within your curiosity.

Role playing games can find their most popular hooks in every other genre nowadays – “leveling up” has become a buzzword among the social gaming scene, while upgrades and customization can be found in what use to be unexpected places, such as the Resident Evil franchise. But what makes any RPG stick is how it invites the player’s creativity and then rewards it – what is the pay off for investing in something I didn’t necessarily have to? This is a question Torchlight II feels ready to answer. It starts by providing you with a fresh mix of character classes, and openings to connect the dots between each of their abilities. Want to survive as a mage who uses close-quarter spells and swords? Go for it. Would you rather become a master of long-ranged poisons or conjure your own pack of wolves to your aid? The game doesn’t formally present these options to you, but neither will it stop you from trying.

torchlight-2-outlanderThe environments are no different–the nature of the world not only augments your approach to battle and encourages strategic maneuvering, but it demonstrates how far randomly generated content has come. Where a quilted pattern of the elements would have repeated itself flow naturally formed valleys instead. Video games will either lean on systems designed to help automate gameplay or direct an experience that pulls you through. Runic Games has blended technology with art and design in a way that makes it hard to tell which of the above it prefers doing in Torchlight‘s sequel. Even after restarting the game with alternate classes, the first act alone felt fresh every time even if it was essentially the same experience. Whether it’s a den of thieves, a clearing, a burial ground or a mine shaft, each locale stitches itself together with a welcomed sense of purpose. It’s easy to let your imagination wander and wonder, “What’s over there?”.

torchlight-2-embermageSmall surprises bleed into the classes as well. Classic spells have been given nuanced twists that vary in both their utility and aesthetic, enough to make them worth checking out. However, each of these decisions matter since they’re eventually bound to your character, permanently. This has left some of Torchlight II‘s community on the fence about whether or not prohibiting a clean slate is a voice of stubbornness, or if Runic Games is holding on to something meaningful. As far as I can tell, videogames have been going in two radical directions lately: 1.) Give the player an extremely limited palette of choices in a standalone experience. 2.) Let them do whatever the hell they want, but monitor it. Torchlight II attempts to do a bit of both–the former in its gameplay, and the latter in how you access it (such as not requiring a constant internet connection). In an age where games are finding every way to monetize your experience and track your behavior, it is refreshing when a game can just be itself – even if that means bringing some old school quirks along with it.

With a grip on traditions for its better half, there come a few missed opportunities that could have pushed Torchlight II over the edge for me. Although not-getting-in-the-way is a common theme here, it also makes for a narrative that isn’t much to write home about. Honestly, I found myself invested in side quests more often than the main campaign, simply because they seemed to fit the format better. The user experience improves on the standards set by its predecessor, but significant new features such as multiplayer also manifest aging lobbies, while some odd hot-key defaults and menu layouts have lead to more than one accidental death. Torchlight II is a great example of a sequel, and one where addition isn’t gained by subtraction. But with all its new room to occupy, you might also see a few more cobwebs than you use to.

torchlight-2-questSome undesirable traits of the old might stand in the wake of the new, but the thrills they afford help preserve some of the best parts of the genre, and make Torchlight II feel as any adventure should: a risk worth taking.

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