T he action RPG has seen a bit of a resurgence in the last few months, with sales giant "Diablo III" being released in May, and more independent ventures "Path of Exile" and "Grim Dawn" gaining steam through a warmly received closed beta for the former and a successful Kickstarter campaign for the latter. "Torchlight II" plops down right at the center of all this buzz, beckoning players in with swathes of glorious loot, satisfying character customization, online multiplayer and LAN support, and a spiffy $20 price tag.
Most of what you'll find in "Torchlight II" is pretty standard ARPG fare: four different character classes, the Embermage, Outlander, Berserker and Engineer, each with three unique skill pages for you to pump points into as you level up. There are four primary attributes or stats -- strength, dexterity, focus and vitality -- that affect your damage and health and all those other important numbers that make up your character. Nothing "Torchlight II" does really advances the genre; most of its core mechanics can already be found in games released 10 years ago.
What "Torchlight II" does do right is the character progression through loot. New items are constantly dropping from enemies and chests, giving you the opportunity to upgrade your character at every turn. Each piece of gear makes your character do just a little bit more damage, and look just a little bit cooler, and it turns into this cycle of chasing after the next little upgrade that had me playing the game for eight hours straight from the first sit down. It can easily become an obsession, and it's intentional.
Combat is also pretty familiar. You click on enemies until they die, click on potions until you're healed, and click on chests until they open. One innovation is that each character class has a "charge" bar that fills up as you deal out more destruction, and when it's complete you get some sort of bonus depending on the class.
Berserks get a short period in which every attack is a critical; Embermages enter a state where all his attacks cost no mana; Outlanders get a passive stat bonus to attack speed and critical chance; and Engineers have certain skills that have amplified effects, depending on how full the bar is when they're used. It's a nice edition, but I feel like the Engineer's charge mechanic is superior to the other classes as it changes how your skills go off, as opposed to just giving you a temporary stat boost.
While most ARPGs tend to go for a more gritty or realistic look, "Torchlight II" embraces a more cartoony art style. The character models are vibrant and the outdoor and indoor areas all look pretty good, but those expecting AAA title-quality graphics will probably be left wanting. I never had any framerate drops or screen tearing during my playthrough, and everything ran at a consistent and smooth pace throughout.
The game doesn't extend beyond the core mechanics of combat enemies, loot the spoils. The background music is lame guitar riffs that I chose to nix in favor of playing my own music after about an hour. Players seeking an engaging story will be sorely disappointed, as most the narrative is easily overlooked in favor of the constant dungeon crawling.
But these shortcomings don't take away from how incredibly addictive the base game is, and four different difficulty levels and an active modding community also help ensure you'll have something to do long after you beat the game for the first time. For $20, it's really hard not to encourage anyone to give "Torchlight II" a try.
"Torchlight II" was released on Sept. 20 for the PC, and a Mac port is in the works. The original "Torchlight" was eventually ported onto the Xbox Live Arcade, but at this point there are no plans to bring the sequel to consoles.
-- Sam Nixon is a self-proclaimed video-game nerd who writes reviews for the Daily whenever a rad new game is released.