'Torchlight II': Runic Games' winning attitude produces a great sequel

Special to the ManifestoSeptember 27, 2012 

Torchlight II offers more monsters, terrains and character options than the first game.

PHOTO COURTESY RUNIC GAMES

  • VIDEO GAME REVIEW

    'Torchlight II'

    About: The action role-playing game's sequel is similar in many ways but vastly expands the world.

    Players: Single, multi-player

    Pros: The game is incredibly addicting and boasts a wide variety of character paths and beautiful art style.

    Cons: Some of the skills unlocked late in the game feel weak.

    Availability and price: $19.99 on PC. Mac version coming later.

    ESRB rating: Rating pending

    Manifesto's rating: 9.5/10

    Metacritic rating: 9/10

Once inside the world of Torchlight II, it doesn't take long to see how much time, effort and carefully crafted detail developer Runic Games put into almost every aspect of this sequel.

Not only is the campaign longer than its predecessor, there are more character options, far greater items, a wider variety of monsters and enemies, different terrains, and multiple "home" cities instead of the sole town of the first game.

Torchlight II, which focuses on defeating a new villain that has risen up because of the magic-imbued land, also adds a robust co-op multi-player mode.

After completing about half of Torchlight II's campaign, you start to get the rare feeling that this game was created by legitimate fans of the action role-playing game genre, which has been defined by titles like the Diablo series. It's obvious the minds behind Torchlight II truly care about listening to the gaming community and creating the best possible game, as it's hard to remember a more compelling, unique and complete experience in this genre in recent years.

Simply put, Torchlight II does almost everything right (I have just one criticism), and after interviewing the CEO of Runic Games, it's clear his team is unique in the industry in many ways.

Runic initially considered creating a massively multi-player online game to follow the first Torchlight, but "we decided to do a regular single-player game," said CEO Max Schaefer.

"We knew it was a one-two punch to make the studio more stable," he said.

So as they sought to improve upon an already impressive first offering, Runic examined tough aspects of games such as character development.

The company chose to cast aside the new trend that allows gamers to completely change a character's skills at any point during the game. Instead, they landed on a bit of a hybrid old-school system that makes the skill choices fairly firm but does allow you to occasionally undo your most recent three picks.

This decision complements the extremely varied skill trees for each of the four character classes, which include Engineers, Outlanders, Embermages and Berserkers. Because of Runic's decisions, it would be easily possible to play through the game several times with a completely different character build and experience, even in the same character class. It is possible, for instance, to create a powerful mage who wields pistols as weapons.

"They can all be played in a mixed sort of way" Schaefer said. "This choice adds to replayability and more character customizations, not less."

That's the kind of replay value that's missing from many of today's games.

Perhaps another reason Torchlight II succeeds in so many ways is because of Runic's willingness to listen to its fans. It isn't rare to hear of a player who reached out to the company with a question or simple request and had it answered directly by a team member.

Several members of the development team recently did an "AMA," or "ask me anything," on Reddit.com.

"We built a studio by listening to the community," Schaefer said. "We are not a big corporation with other economic worries. Instead, we focus on customers and the game.

"We have the luxury of independence and feel that interaction builds success."

If you are at all a fan of action role-playing games, Torchlight II is a must-buy. From its excellent multi-player mode to the developers' attention to the gaming community and all the way to the low price point of $20, you simply can't miss this game.

My only complaint is that at later levels, some of the skills that take so long to unlock feel weak once used in combat. But, in the end, it does very little to detract from the overall experience.

The game's lower system requirements also mean it's possible to enjoy this gem even if you have an older computer.

Think of it this way — for the price of one Xbox 360 game, you could buy three copies of Torchlight II, share two with friends and begin having an awesome co-op multi-player dungeon-looting game session within minutes.

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