Stab, Smash, in Beautiful Isometry

Well, this is simple. I played the Torchlight 2 beta. Buy the game as soon as it releases. There. Done.

Of course not, of course not. But I do wanna be upfront about this, the game is great.

Here, gaze on my character. She is hilarious, and also awesome.

This is my badass. Her name is Maudlin.

I pretty much played the game, I didn’t do what maybe I should have done with an eye toward writing it up – play all the classes, try different builds, use the re-skill option. I just ran through the story, smashing everything in my way and fetching stuff from far and wide.

I played the first Torchlight and enjoyed it, but got a little too bored by the point at which I had to teleport to three tiny worlds and get three thingies to make a teleporter work. That’s sort of my fault, though the game really shouldn’t have this option in it. In the first game I played the trap-setter, and the traps break the damn game. I could toss a turret trap into a room and kill everything below a mini-boss without ever walking in myself. The game made me marvel, at first, when monsters would clamber out of holes and grates I dismissed as background dress-setting, but eventually I learned to throw a trap in front of each hole and let the monsters kill themselves by walking out into it. Not really fun, but very effective I suppose. Multiplayer might have made it difficult enough for that class to be necessary, not OP, but there isn’t multiplayer in the first game.

But the second is just so much fun. I played the engineer, which is oddly enough the barbarian type. Heavy two-handed weapons and stomping AoE attacks. Also mechanical drones. Yes, unwittingly I picked the class with the kill-enemies summons again. This time it’s little clockwork bots. I invested several points in the healer bot, who pulses healing light every 10-12 seconds, and put a point or two apiece in the gun bot (simple – it walks around and shoots anything that isn’t you) and the spider mines.

SPIDER MINES. Why aren’t you pre-ordering this thing already?

The balance is better, though. Tough multi-enemy rooms with a big miniboss were easier than maybe they should be, with the gun bot, but now the gun bot only lasts a minute and you can only summon one once every three minutes. So you have to ration them a little better. The healing bot, though, was my sidekick. Well, along with my ferret, Berkeley.

The big difference between this game and the old one, aside from multiplayer, is the setting. In fact, it’s the same difference between Diablo 1 and 2. The first game of each series was all indoors, specifically under a building and under a mine. Things get boring when you get to the tenth floor and you’re greeted by more cave. There are a few underground jungles and such in Torchlight to spice things up, but still. The new game has about as much outdoors as indoors. I ran around snowy fields and hills, stumbling on goblin encampments and weird mechanical people acting as emissaries from some kingdom I’ve never heard of who need crests (of course it’s crests) but were attacked by frost wolves and are too injured to look.

I feel it’s imperative you see the last boss I got to fight in the demo (the demo ends after this guy, actually):

This guy has a certain tenebrous, tentacular quality I can appreciate.

If you played the first game, there’s a lot to interest you here. Some of the characters from the first game don’t make it, and some others become NPCs in this one. The abilities are new and interesting (I already mentioned the SPIDER MINES). You can now re-stat yourself, until level 10 at which you can’t any longer. There’s a guy in the home base that does it for you, like the ember crackers and other useful folks from the first game. It does cost 3 skill points to re-jigger yourself. That makes a lot more sense to me than costing money. It’d be too easy to farm the skill “reroll” otherwise.

The style’s been amped up. The text that pops up is satisfyingly odd, especially the blue, violent-fonted “CRITICAL” I got fairly often because I put a lot of points into DEX just to get them with my enormous hammer/axe/wrench. Sadly, I didn’t find any other wrenches. I did find ancient flaming hammers, though, so that’s ok. The engineer also has a preferred ranged weapon, the cannon. And it’s seriously a cannon off a ship or something, it’s hilarious.

The characters have a little more character, the one cut scene I saw was cool, animated in a nice style, partly storybookish. Overall they did a great job.

I guess now’s the time to address that elephant shitting all over the hearth rug over there. Diablo 3. Yes, I know about it. Hell, I played to level 14 in the open beta few weeks ago. I hit a connection problem during my single player game and said to hell with it. That, I think, is the open secret here in this story. A lot of people have been mystified over why Runic Games would release Torchlight 2 so close to the release date of Diablo 3 – and afterwards, not before.

I think I know why. It’s a better experience in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of care and thought that’s gone into the interface, counting the stuff from the first game – the pet that can sell vendor trash for you, for instance. But I’m also thinking of the great keyboard system, which includes the hot-swap for two different abilities, which lets you, say, to have a utility and an AoE without having to put one on the number keys. I had a big AoE fireball smash and a shield-breaking electric strike on right-click. You could have a melee and ranged ability there as well (that’s a minor beef I could bring up: seems like the abilities should map with your weapon, so if I use the sweet hot-swap button to switch weapon loadouts, my right-click abilities should change too).

Everyone knew Diablo 3 would have the always-on internet malarkey. We’ve already seen the chaos it can cause, up to people having to face multiple Diablos because they lagged and the server kept seeing they were in the spawn room but something hadn’t spawned yet – oh yes it had, it just wasn’t present yet. Runic thought they could best the behemoth through their panache, their old-school allowance of single-player and LAN connectivity (isn’t it sad that’s “old school” now?), and they might be right. Also, of course, it’s a third D3’s asking price, at $20.00 to pre-order.

I sound like a commercial now. That means it’s time to quit. Play this game!

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