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News 09-20-12 04:00 PM

Dual-ing impressions: Chatting about Torchlight II
 
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-conten...l2-640x349.png Runic Games



The longer-than-expected wait for the follow-up to 2009's indie hit action RPG Torchlight is finally over today. Here at Ars, we got access to an early pre-release build of the game a few days ago. Needless to say, we haven't even come close to completing the game's epic-length quest in time for today's release. Rather than make you wait, associate writer Andrew Cunningham and I figured we'd give you our impressions of what we've seen so far. Here's our (somewhat meandering) discussion of what we liked and what we didn't.
  1. Kyle: All right, so we've put a few days of sporadic play on Torchlight II at this point. What did you think of the new online multiplayer implementation, Andrew?
  2. Andrew: It's good if you play with someone who's about as far in the game as you are. Each player is allowed to collect his or her own loot, so there isn't much fighting over who gets the best stuff, thankfully. That said, if you're playing with someone who's even one or two levels ahead of you, you'll often feel outmatched.
  3. Kyle: Yeah, I got a few levels ahead of you at one point and you were running into some problems with the enemies that were more tuned to my level.
  4. Andrew: "Some problems" meaning that I died. Many times.
  5. Kyle: It was nice having that level 46 dude drop into our game randomly at one point though. He was pretty good at clearing the way for us.
  6. Andrew: Ha! Divine intervention.
  7. Kyle: Part of the "dying all the time" issue was probably just the difficulty level we chose. "Veteran" seemed like a good balance for the most part, but there were a few enemies able to one-hit kill me even though I was just one level behind them.
  8. Still, I really appreciate that the game allowed us to pick Veteran difficulty right from the start. Playing through the insultingly easy "Normal" mode in Diablo III just to unlock the more difficult game is a ridiculously unnecessary slog.
  9. Andrew: Absolutely. Playing in Veteran or Elite right from the start may result in frustration, but you're at least allowed to set your own pace. But that's the biggest problem with multiplayer, I think'pacing. If you're playing by yourself, you've got time to find every nook and cranny in which to gain those sweet, sweet experience points.
  10. In multiplayer, you'll often find yourself waiting for someone to level up or rearrange his or her inventory. This isn't terrible in and of itself, but having to effectively pause your progress every time someone needs to equip new shoulder pads takes away from the fun of running-and-gunning. The more players in the game, the worse this problem becomes.
  11. Kyle: That's true. Sorting through your inventory for the good items periodically is still a chore that really should be at least semi-automated at this point.
  12. Andrew: Any game that requires you to make a choice between an armor piece that provides 11 defense and an armor piece that provides 12 defense obviously needs to get its house in order.
  13. Kyle: Well, sometimes the 11 defense armor has some cool secondary abilities. But I'd think the game could at least put the realjunk into a special "sell ASAP" area in your inventory automatically.
  14. I also found it a bit annoying that, if one player dies, the others have to move on without them or wait for them to trek back from at least the area entrance. Seems like kind of a pointless delay.
  15. Andrew:Yeah, if you're playing by yourself, the extra 30 seconds or so spent trekking from town to your previous gravestone won't be too onerous. In multiplayer, though, you'll just be boring your companions with the amount of time you're wasting.
  16. The worst thing about Torchlight II, especially given its extended development time, might be its familiarity.
  17. Kyle: Yeah, this is still a game of click-on-the-enemies-then-look-for-better-loot.
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  1. Andrew: Even worse, the game's graphics engine and core mechanics are very, very similar to the first game. This means that virtually any computer from the last two years or so will be able to run it with all of the settings cranked, but that people with high-end graphics cards won't get much of a return from their investment.
  2. Kyle: Yeah, this isn't a game to show off your graphics card. It's more about style than pure polygon pushing. Still, I though the graphics look a tad more polished, myself. Just slightly more details on the characters and environments. And there's a good deal of variety in those environments this time around. Pretty stuff to look at as you click-click-click.
  3. Andrew: There is more variety in environments. The first game presented you with a series of ever-deeper mineshafts; this game opens things up a bit more. Caves, plains, mountainous regions, and snowy peaks are all present in the game's first few main quests, presenting the illusion of variety even if all of the environments play essentially the same way.
  4. Kyle: I was impressed with the enemy variety, too. I feel like I was seeing some new kind of beast every few minutes for a while there, which helps hold your interest well. The enemies aren't just redrawn versions of the same basic shambling monster, either. We had to deal with flying enemies, acid-spitters, charging attacks, ranged attacks, massive screen-filling magic spells... there was a lot of clicking to desperately run away from the telegraphed hints, as I recall.
  5. Andrew: Running in guns blazing is almost never a viable strategy, at least in Veteran mode. Judicious use of healing and mana restoration spells and potions will get you through, but if the enemies are even one or two levels ahead of you, battles become more about strategy than brute force.
  1. Kyle: Did you pay attention to the story at all? My eyes tended to glaze over at those walls of text where some random dude tells me he's looking for three weirdly named baubles, or wants me to help faction X clear faction Y out of some cave. Pretty ignorable stuff.
  2. Andrew: The story is there if you want to pay attention to it, I guess. But most of the game's emphasis is given to rapid clicking. All I wanted to know is what breeches he would give me, and how well those breeches would deflect fire.
  3. Kyle: There were a few small interface upgrades I liked over the first game. Being able to tap the Z or X keys to automatically use your best health and mana potions is a nice way to reduce the amount of mindless inventory management.
  4. Andrew: Would you agree that Torchlight II's main innovation is multiplayer support?
  5. Kyle: That seems fair. Everything else is kind of cleaning up things around the edges and adding more variety to the content. The multiplayer addition is kind of crucial, though. Always more fun clicking around with someone to chat with.
  6. Andrew: It's true, with some exceptions, like the pacing issues we talked about earlier.
  7. Kyle: We were both playing primarily as the Embermage class. I don't know about you, but I was impressed with the breadth and depth of the spell options available, and the quick pace of the character progression. By level 15 or so, I already had three or four different fireballs, a homing lightning bolt, an area effect ice rain spell, a teleporting freeze attack, and a cool fire hammer for melee attacks.
  8. Andrew: I LOVE THE FIRE HAMMER! Yeah, even in the early levels, you're able to distribute your skill and character points in a way that makes your character unique. Yes, most Embermages will end up playing largely the same, but individual players can choose to focus on individual abilities as needed (or desired).
  9. Kyle: Overall, I think Runic Games has done a good job of refining the click-and-collect-loot RPG genre. It's now a fine nub of addictiveness that makes it easy to just keep playing to see what's in the next dungeon.
  10. Andrew: Yes'there's definitely not anything here that will change a Diablo-hater's mind, but fans of that particular genre will find all of the clicks they can stomach in Runic's latest.
  11. Kyle: There's a box quote in there somewhere.
  12. Andrew: "Torchlight II is a visceral, immersive gaming experience. It can be a bit of a mixed bag, but time will tell whether it can unseat Diablo as the king of point-and-click games."
  13. Kyle: I think you hit all the cliches that time.
  14. Andrew: Exactly what I was going for.
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