Ever since Mid May PC gamers, specifically “Dungeon Crawler” fans, have been looting and destroying the monsters of the masterpiece that is Diablo III. D3 is an amazing game, but it is not the only Dungeon Crawler in existence. There are other options and later this summer we will see the release of a possible D3 killer that takes the Dungeon Crawler template and strategically places innovative elements that might have some fans jumping ship.

What is this D3 alternative you ask? Torchlight 2 I reply. Although it will not be available to the general public till later this summer, our friends over at Runic Games allowed us the privilege of taking a run through a late stage Beta, and it looks fantastic. Runic has taken a simple concept: Hack, Slash, Loot, Repeat and added a few innovations, for example the addition of a pet that will run items back and forth to the town for you, instead of having to teleport every 45 mins to clear your inventory. Simple innovations that make an already addicting concept even more fun.Ever since Mid May PC gamers, specifically “Dungeon Crawler” fans, have been looting and destroying the monsters of the masterpiece that is Diablo III. D3 is an amazing game, but it is not the only Dungeon Crawler in existence. There are other options and later this summer we will see the release of a possible D3 killer that takes the Dungeon Crawler template and strategically places innovative elements that might have some fans jumping ship.

When it comes to Dungeon Crawlers, we here at Nerdwest have played our fair share. Everything from the console based Dungeon Siege series, to Torchlight, to the original Diablo games. We also have participated in numerous betas for all sorts of different games, so when I say that Torchlight 2 had the most impressive beta I have ever played, it comes from a place of experience. As mentioned above, Torchlight 2 will be competing with Diablo III for the top dungeon crawler on the PC, and although I feel like comparing the two games is all the developers hear, it’s something that is hard to ignore. But before I get into that, here is how the Torchlight 2 beta played out for us here at Nerdwest.

Assuming you have played a Dungeon Crawler or really any action RPG game for that matter you know that main goal of the game is to find loot and upgrade your character so that you can take on the massive waves of enemies who want nothing more than to eat your face in the next chapter of said game. The last installment of the Torchlight series was a massive hit, and earned it a top spot among the action RPG fan base. While it held my attention for countless hours and had me scouring dungeons for that next big upgrade, it wasn’t perfect, actually it had problems that, to me, held Torchlight back from becoming the game it could have been. Torchlight 2, had none of these problems. The community spoke and Runic took note. They overhauled Torchlight 2 to make sure the beta was stable and well done. Runic without a doubt has developed the best Dungeon Crawler I have seen to date.

Our experience with the Torchlight 2 beta broke down like this:

  • Dungeon Crawler, but no real outside levels:
    • Even in the beta one of the levels we had to clear was an Ice Field that was outside as well as few grassy areas, we basically spent the majority of our time outside. This is a great improvement since it gives some diversity to the world you are exploring, keeping you engaged for longer periods of time. Straight from Runic:  “We’re not only in the town of Torchlight anymore! Explore vast overland areas and multiple hub towns, fight through rain, snow, day and night. Our level randomization ensures new layouts, paths, loot, and monsters every time you play.”
  • One of the biggest frustrations was clipping in the levels:
    • They seemed to have smoothed out most of the clipping problems from the original Torchlight. Not once was a piece of loot stuck inside an object where I couldn’t reach, and my character never seemed to get hung up on any invisible scenery.
  • Graphics:
    • In torchlight the graphics were not bad by any means, it was more that when a fight with a large mob broke out it was hard to distinguish who was doing what, causing you to miss interactive objects. During the beta, even in big fights, I could tell where my companions were and what he was casting based on the animations. Runic did an amazing job with the spells allowing for the fluidity of a fight to be just that, more fluid. Not to mention Torchlight 2 is far more detailed oriented than the original game. The light hearted, cell-shaded art style is back, but now it’s much crisper and really gives the game a vibrant look .
  • Loot Drops:
    • Loot is what really makes or breaks a Dungeon Crawler, because the entire purpose of the game is really to get awesome loot. You want to show off that really bad-ass gun, or that top stated sword, to show your friends who is the real top dog in the party. While there was a lot of loot in Torchlight, the problem was that nothing really felt like it was a necessary asset to your character. This is no longer an issue. When you get that rare or unique item you can feel the power rushing through your Berserker as countless waves of enemies fall to your might. Boring loot is no longer the problem… awesome loot is now one of  Torchlight 2’s greatest assets.
  • Questing felt generic and suffered from WoW syndrome:
    • WoW syndrome is, simply put, the quest that you get over and over again to go do some repetitive task that really has no meaning to the story, or is used as a gap filler while you get to the next part of the story/level/act. This is hard to break away from in games of this nature because you, in all honesty, need them to help fill time. The trick is to space them out enough to make sure they aren’t over abundant and do have some variance. Since the quest rewards from Torchlight were random, it made quests seem….well pointless. You could skip the linear portions and it seemed like you didn’t miss a beat. Torchlight 2 didn’t give me that feeling of “Really? Another quest to go kill monster X in the cave of Y…”  Yes, you will be doing this from time to time, but the way they developed the quests objectives made it more diverse. Add in a buddy with co-op mode and the game really picks up. The quests that would have been considered dull and boring are made exciting and rewarding through multiplayer and better quest structuring.
  • No online mode:
    • I’m not going to say much here other than you got what you asked for. You can play online with friends in a party, over LAN, and even offline if you so choose to (I’ll touch more on this subject later).

 

–>Torchlight 2 vs. Diablo III 

Ultimately Diablo III is what Torchlight 2 has to compete with, lets just be honest. Right now its the top dog, and rightly so. Diablo III is developed by a great company who has a knack for releasing blockbuster titles.This is really the story of David vs. Goliath incarnated…and we all know how that turned out.
If we were comparing betas, this would be a landslide of epic proportions in favor of Torchlight 2. Since we are comparing a full release title to a beta, which could look completely different after launch, remember to take everything with a grain of salt.
Multiplayer/Online Mode:
Diablo III : Diablo actually requires you have an internet connection active at all times in order for you to play both the single player or co-op campaign.There is no option. You either have active internet or you don’t play. While the reason behind this decision is clear from Blizzards perspective, it really limits the game. Yes, hacking is a problem. Yes, you want to use a real money auction house. Yes, you made a terrible decision and your game suffers because it. With that being said, the Auction House is a fun add on to the game which allows players to buy/sell/and trade loot they don’t necessarily want to others so that they, in turn, can acquire gear that is an upgrade to their specific play style. On that note, the Auction House does take away a lot of the grind for alternate characters since you can basically just buy your way through the game. So…in the end its both a positive and negative depending on your views.
Torchlight 2 : Runic listened and answered our request for co-op/online play. That’s right, you can now play online via a free matchmaking service with your friends or by yourself, whatever you feel like. What really gives Torchlight the upper hand in this category (when compared to its adversary) is that not only can you play online with friends but you can still play over LAN, and offline. Torchlight 2 does not require an active internet connection for you to play, which is a huge advantage when comparing the two games.
Winner: No doubt here its Torchlight 2 all the way.
Gameplay/Leveling System:

Diablo III : The gameplay of Diablo III is top-notch. I am honestly having a difficult time thinking of anything negative to say about this aspect of the game. Diablo III did a great job on perfecting the combat interactions and how each battle plays out. The only real problems that have come about are the scaling difficulties and mob bosses with unkillable attribute combinations.But still, these are not really gameplay issues as it was intended to be a difficult game on harder difficulties and while frustrating, they will not keep you from plugging along. The leveling system is a different story. Instead of giving you a more RPG style of leveling Blizzard decided to give you a set number of abilities that you alter with specific runes. To some degree this works well, you still get an element of customization, but what really ends up happening is somebody finds one build that he can solo through the entire game with and everybody ends up using that build and that build only until it gets “balanced”. So, yeah there is customization, but its not as effective as the generic spam build.
Torchlight 2 : The gameplay has certainly improved since Torchlight, and it can be said that a lot of the gameplay rivals that of Diablo III. But without a full game to compare, all I can pull from is what I got in the beta. With that being said the battles are much cleaner now, the animations have been definitely improved upon, and navigation/camera movement is much more fluid. Yet, the game focuses more on loot (not a bad thing) more than the fights. This may have been only during the beta and may have been tweaked, but many of the battles I encountered were easily won and required little or no thought. Go in auto attack till everything dies and loot. This may be simply due to not enough mobs at a time or the difficulty needs to be bumped up a bit. The leveling system in Torchlight 2 however far exceeds that of Diablo III. You get to choose among three skill tabs and each one of those has three skill trees. Plus you get to distribute attributes, which gives you freedom to try all kinds of crazy builds giving the game a sense of strategy and customization. This leveling system take everything that’s good from RPGs and implements it flawlessly into the game. Leveling up becomes a reward that benefits your character and allows for the player to really customize their load out.
Winner : There is no definite winner in this category. At best it would be a 50/50 split. Really its more of a draw. Both games implement good gameplay and leveling systems, and each has its minor setbacks. This category will be determined later on via patches and the full version of Torchlight 2 being released.

Loot:Diablo III: This is where Diablo III fails to compare to other Dungeon Crawlers. There is a lot of loot in Diablo III and its fun to get rare items, but the legendary/set pieces are such a huge disappointment. The stats prioritization is so bad that most of the time a blue item of equal level is about the same usefulness of the legendary you grinded to find. If you really want an upgrade, the best bet is to go to the Auction House and buy a rare item with more bonuses, and better overall stats. This is not how a loot system should work. Legendaries should be a reward, an upgrade, an item worthy of its title. As of now Diablo III fails in the loot category, which for a Dungeon Crawler is a huge piece of what makes the title unique.

Torchlight 2: Torchlight had the same problem that Diablo III is dealing with now. Runic however made sure that this time around the loot would reflect its rarity, and they came through with flying colors. Not only is there a lot of unique items available, but the stats and bonuses all seem to be unique to that gear. Yes, there are some bonuses that amplify damage by a set amount, but you also get unique items with  really awesome stats/bonuses. For example a pistol I picked up had a bonus that gave you a level up after you killed a X number of monsters…WHAT?! That’s awesome! Items that are unique show it in the stats and bonuses. whatever Runic did to the loot system it really works, keeping you in game for just an extra five minutes just to see if there are more mobs around the next corner.

Winner: It wasn’t even a contest, Runic showed that they listen to the community and delivered a loot system on steroids. Needless to say Diablo didn’t stand a chance.

What makes Torchlight 2 stand above the rest is its ability to take a very generic formula that is the Dungeon Crawler and augment it so that not only is it addictive and amazing, but its also unique. It never has and never will be that cookie cutter-esque game. If you are a fan of dungeon crawlers, action RPGs, hack and slash, and really video games in general then you need to give this game a try. At a $20 price tag on Steam (and you get a free copy of Torchlight included) you are not only getting a fantastic game at 1/3 the retail price of similar games, you are purchasing a game that is backed by a studio who strives for excellence and delivers to their fans. So check out Torchlight 2 available later this summer.

-Dr.T

One thought on “Torchlight 2 First Impressions

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