By Bryce Wilson
A while ago I gave Diablo III a grilling and went against the public "norm" that it was an amazing game, because lets face it, it simply wasn't. I love dungeon crawlers, and I love hitting the loot pinata to get my digital self decked out in all the best gear. Diablo III didn't offer that; Torchlight II does.
Unless you scratch the surface, Torchlight II will appear an incredibly simple and linear game. You control a digital representation of yourself (spiky emo hair optional) as you move hastily through the infinite (yes, the dungeons are all randomly generated) dungeons in order to complete quests, and thus level up. It's not a new formula, we've seen it before, but Torchlight II does it right. While Torchlight felt like a Diablo clone, Torchlight II feels like Diablo II but refined... and improved.
The main story of the game is incredibly varied, with the bulk clocking in at around 25-30 hours to complete. You'll go through three deeply fleshed out acts on your quest to get the best loot and kill all the enemies you can. To give the story some point, you're chasing after the hero of the first game; spoiler alert, they've turned evil. The now evil "hero" has set across the lands killing all that he can, and it's up to you to stop him. The story is loosely threaded, and I honestly didn't pay much attention; I just wanted more loot.
Although it comes across as an obvious statement, the environments of the game are one hundred times more important than the game's loose story. You'll understand how enemies work just from the environments they come from. The lumbering cave trolls found in the dungeons are slow, but in confined spaces (i.e.; where they always are) they're devastating. Wolves leap down from terraces, their speed and "pack mentality" meaning they come at you from all angles. It's all dynamic and intuitive, never offering you tips per say, but always affording you knowledge based on experience.
On the topic of enemies, the enemy design and variation is marvelous. They're interesting to fight, and unlike another current dungeon crawler, their movement and attacks patterns are varied and allow for adaptation and strategic countering. Learning each enemy's behaviors and combat preferences allows you to counter and destroy them. Fun! While the combat interaction is a positive, there's also a negative to be found in the otherwise perfect item mechanics. Comparing statistical data of weapons you have equipped versus weapons you have in your bag is somewhat cumbersome and difficult. Attack speed, poison damage, damage resistance, magic find, gold find, speed, there's so many affixes to compare that it all feels overwhelming and often counter productive.
In accoutrement to the ambitious single-player experience, everything you can do alone you can do together. Featuring a fully fledged multiplayer aspect, both online and via LAN, Torchlight II knows that everything is better with company; especially hoarding sweet loot. There's no restrictions, level impositions or any type of framework; you're free to do what you want. The multiplayer works flawlessly, and it's not difficult to setup.
As sprawling, generous and occasionally unwieldy as Torchlight II is as a single-player game, it's doubly so as a multiplayer game. Everything in the game can be done in singleplayer or in multiplayer, and it all seems designed with a completely open-ended approach. Want to take your level 40 mage back to help out your level 7 friend? Go ahead! Want to trade some ridiculous unique high-level loot for a low-level shirt? Have fun! Want to solo the game on the same server with your friend, chatting as you fight your way through opposite ends of the map? Go ahead!
Once you finish the single-player experience, you've then got the option of doing infinite NewGame+ completions. Each one ups the enemy difficulty and subsequently the loot that enemies drop, so it always feels refreshing and "new". On top of this, when Torchlight II launches on Steam, it will do so with Steam Workshop support. Want to mod your own levels? Go for it. Create your own epic sets of armor, because all of that and more is possible. The inclusion of such a great tool does a lot to make this an infinitely expansive game with no end in sight.
As a core principal, Torchlight II is a fast and fun take on a genre that has lost its way. You never feel bored, you're always progressing in some way, and you'll always come back for more. Torchlight II gives you an easy goal, but does everything it can to make that as enjoyable as possible along the away. For me, I was shown why I loved dungeon crawling so much, and Torchlight II literally showed me again how games can be fun. If you enjoy videogames at all, you NEED Torchlight II in your collection.