Dungeon crawlers are a strange genre, in that you can pretty much guarantee that most people will say the same thing when asked about them; Diablo. Since inception, Blizzard’s darling was the template for the whole looter-smasher “thing”; or at least it was until 2012 and the release of Diablo 3
Those aware at the time will remember controversy after controversy over a range of series changes which angered fans, with the worst of which being the real money auction house. Whilst D3 has seen many changes in the 7 years since release, this initial mishap left a void for those wishing for a classic dungeon crawler; a void which Torchlight II -with it’s more traditional drop system- was more than willing to fill 4 months later.
Having finally made the jump to console, can Torchlight II still hold up alongside it’s better-known sibling?
The idea of any dungeon crawler is to run around procedurally generated areas killing enemies using various weapons and class abilities, picking up loot and searching for the exit. Story usually comes after mechanics, and Torchlight II follows this trend to a tee. Set a few years after the original, the player’s character sets off on a quest to stop a corrupted alchemist (a possible protagonist from the previous title) the world’s delicate balance and absorbing the essence of the six elemental guardians, The four-act campaign takes you through a few beautifully realized environments and lasts between 25-30 hours, though there are lots of side quests to extend the adventure if you desire and a meaty new game plus to tackle if desired. I can’t say the story will set your world on fire, but let’s be honest; it was never going to be the main draw and it’s perfectly serviceable as something to tie it together.
Of course, you’ll be playing TL2 for the mechanics; so here’s the long and short of it. You play as one of four classes (detailed later) and unlock a huge variety of passive and active abilities as you level up on your journey to use against the forces of evil. Each level rewards you with skill and ability points to pump into your build; increasing your strength, dexterity, focus and vitality and the potency of your skills. Skill upgrades are relatively slight, but with enough points become formidable forces. Ability scores, on the other hand, are deceptively important, requiring lots of thought regarding your build. The game does a good job of explaining these systems, although I would have liked an option to auto-build your stats, as it did feel a little formidable having full build freedom at the start. Hold my hand a little goddammit!
Active abilities, items and attacks can be mapped to 8 different buttons, displayed around your health and mana bars. On switch, these are quite well placed, though it took some time to adjust having previously played on PC. Movement is a standard affair on the left stick with the camera mapped to the right stick – though you can only zoom in and out. The only real control gripe I have stems from the fact that you stop in place when using attacks and abilities; it feels limiting and somewhat jarring honestly.
The four classes are relatively varied, and whilst I didn’t really gel with any as well as I did with Diablo 3’s Monk they all have their own unique charm. All 4 have access to three skill trees that can be mixed and matched.
Berserker: The standard fighter class, it has access to a variety of combat skills focused on damage. Hunter abilities provide classically savage fist/claw attacks, Tundra abilities provide wild elemental attacks and Shadow abilities channel the ancient power of the wolf tribe. All three are heavily linked to the idea of the clan’s animal spirit, which gives an almost mystical fury to the character.
Engineer: The tank/heavy fighter, Engineers combine devastating Blitz skills, defensive Aegis abilities and supportive Construction abilities to create slow but balanced warriors. I enjoyed playing Engineer the most and building my own little robot army and found him incredible flexible in his build.
Embermage: The Mage class grants access to Fire, Ice and Electric skill trees. Not the most original, but Torchlight’s wizard combines glass cannon damage with a variety of status effects; it’s shockingly effective!
Outlander: Roguish, acrobatic fighters who dabble in dark magic, they’re proficient in ranged Warfare skills, elementally athletic Lore skills and an ancient Sigil skills. Strangely similar to D3’s demon hunter, I wasn’t really a fan of this one but can see that certain types of players may enjoy the rangeresque style.
Most weapons and equipment can be used by any class, with only stats and levels gating the majority, and there is a LOT to collect. There is a huge range of loot to collect and I spent a lot of time comparing individual items; the systems are surprisingly deep and I loved the collection aspect. If that’s a big draw for you, you’ll love picking up the varied bits and pieces and popping them on and off. Luckily, you have a friend to help carry the weight.
One of the biggest differences you’ll find compared to similar titles is the inclusion of pets; companions who can both fight and make runs to town for you. There is a huge number of options to choose from during character customization, with notable ones being the Llama, Badger, Owl, Headcrab and Switch-exclusive Unicorn. This is what drew me to the first Torchlight and provides a useful quality of life change for the better, allowing for more extended jaunts. Multiplayer is an option which works relatively well, allowing up to four players to fight together online, though I did have some matchmaking issues; perhaps indicating a relatively low online player base.
Graphically T2 holds up surprisingly well in both handheld and docked modes, with the oil-painting-like aesthetic having an ageless style. It’s simple but good, and that’s all you really need. The overall feel is lighter than D3, feeling more jovial and charming despite the often disturbing subject matter. These great choices extend to the sound design which helps combat feel weighty and brutal. Every attack feels satisfying and the sweeping, contemplative soundtrack mixes environmental effects and haunting melodies really effectively; it honestly never got old.
Port-wise, I have absolutely no complaints! Panic Button has once again done a formidable job porting to switch; proving once more why they’re increasingly referred to as the gold standard when it comes to the task. It runs just as smoothly as you would hope with no noticeable slowdowns at all, and is actually a natural fit for the console. I love having short sessions on the go and tackling the odd quest when I have 15 to spare.
All in all, Torchlight II is still an excellent dungeon crawler with a ton of depth and content. Whilst some of the class abilities are a little lifeless and it doesn’t always fare well when compared to the frequently-updated and much-improved Diablo 3, Torchlight’s classic leanings and timeless style is a joy to dive into, especially if you’ve grown tired of the grim bleakness of it’s cousins. If you love loot and dungeon crawls, you’ll love searching through the world by torchlight.
Genre: Hack and slash
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Macintosh operating systems, Linux
Developers: Runic Games, Panic Button Games
Publishers: Runic Games, Perfect World Entertainment