Back in 2009, developer Runic Games gave the dungeon crawler a spark of new life in the form of Torchlight -- A colourful action-RPG, both fun and satisfying to play. It was a finely tuned example of the genre, no doubt because of a creative team that consisted of ex-Diablo 2 devs. A sequel came in 2012, directly contending with the might of Diablo 3. It’s a testament to the series' appeal that it managed to hold its own against the ruler of the dungeon crawling roost.
Torchlight II now arrives on consoles in the wake of its studio’s untimely demise and at a time when the popularity of the loot piñata is on the wane. Developers Panic Button have given us a competent, no frills port. The visuals don’t exactly shine on a big display, but the garish environments are still a refreshing departure from the gloom of its peers.
The story starts with a literal bang. The town of Torchlight goes up in flames, destroyed by the Alchemist, one of the first game’s main characters. The former hero has been seemingly driven mad by his research of Ember, a powerful magical resource. Now a new set of champions must chase down the alchemist before he drains the life of the elementals that watch over the land. That’s it, really; the main story is engaging but slight, leaving you to poke around in randomly generated dungeons off the beaten track.
Torchlight’s world is far from original. It's a mix of eastern and western fantasy tropes; dragons, elemental spirits, warring factions, and the alluring corruption of a mysterious power source. The environments are also familiar -- spider filled caverns and poisonous wastes sit alongside tundra and desert. Yet, despite its lack of originality, the presentation is charming and the writing solid. The slight narrative bolsters a surprisingly deep set of classes and a deliciously plentiful horde of loot.
Before you can jump into an adventure, you must create a character from one of four classes. The Embermage is our resident magic thrower, a walking cannon with some devastating elemental attacks. The Berzerker is a speedy melee class, complementing the slower smashing of The Engineer. Finally, The Outlander is a projectile wielding gunsmith with some extra mystical bells and whistles.
The key thing to note here is that Torchlight II doesn’t really have a weak class; you can’t go far wrong with any of them. Each hero has three disciplines, containing a wealth of powers and buffs. Some of the more generic augments are shared across classes (health boosts, increased dodge), but most are unique abilities. The game is designed for multiple builds and each has a healthy variety. Embermage and Berzerker are the more traditional archetypes. The former has a lot of utility, with abilities like Ice Prison and Prismatic Shift offering some great crowd control. The latter spices things up with defensive shadow abilities and summons.
Outlander is the class with flair, highly defensive and specialising in thrown projectiles and acrobatics (and also has a cool set of glaive-based abilities). The Engineer has the most satisfying spread of powers, capable of absorbing a lot of damage and also throwing out an army of constructed minions. As a good all-rounder that highlights how satisfying the combat can be, Engineer is the best choice by far. The only downside is a limited re-spec, which means starting again to try out different builds is a common occurrence.
The other important factor of your build is the pet. Torchlight affords you a helpful companion that will not only fight by your side, but carry your items. You can send them to town to sell your unwanted junk, leaving you free to forge on with your current quest. Pet models are generous, ranging from a bulldog to a ferret and everything in between (headcrab from Half-Life? Sure, why not). It’s an effective AI buddy that can be set to defensive, aggressive, or passive. Additionally, feeding your companion special items will temporarily change its form to one of the more powerful enemy models. The solitude of questing alone is definitely alleviated by the pitter-patter of your faithful panda/ferret/lizard.
Overall, the core loop of the game is compulsive but a little too samey. Hacking and slashing your way to the alchemist is fun, but with each new boss vanquished and yet another shower of loot, things start to get stale. The loot system is great, with thousands of sets offering tantalising combinations of augments and styles. It’s not long before you are sending mountains of the stuff to the junk pile, an issue that plagues most dungeon crawlers.
Multiplayer helps, regardless of some initially slow connection times. Hosting your current adventure or jumping into someone else’s is what keeps titles like this alive, and it’s easy to ignore the repetition when other people are helping you cause chaos.
After the main story is completed, there is escalating challenge available with New Game Plus. There’s also a hardcore mode to try, but that’s not for the faint of heart and only worth exploring when you are accustomed to what the game can throw at you. The long-term appeal of Torchlight II will depend entirely on your proclivity for repeating the same dungeons over and over again in the hopes of a shiny new hat.
Torchlight II is an older title that feels its age at times. Nevertheless, it remains a solid example of its genre and will keep you occupied for hours on end. Multiplayer, an expansive upgrade system, and a sea of worthwhile loot make up for the repetitive gameplay.