Torchlight 2 Preview: Detailed Dungeons, Delicious Fun

If the devil is in the details, Torchlight II is Lucifer incarnate. The follow-up to the million-selling indie hit is due out in roughly two months, and the demo available at PAX East was a master-class in meticulous game design.

Developers Runic games know better than to change a successful formula — no surprise from a team of former Diablo developers who created a title that is effectively a Diablo clone — and Torchlight II sticks closely to the precedent set by the original. The game does introduce four brand-new classes — the Berzerker, the Engineer, the Embermage, and the Outlander. I selected the latter — a ranged/magic hybrid — for my demo playthrough, which allowed me to start a new game from scratch.

The playstyle was a mix of magically imbued gunslinging and abilities designed to give the Outlander a little breathing space when enemies closed in. Though it’s not my preferred dungeon-crawling technique, I was soon shooting and evading lumbering adversaries with ease, putting the demo mouse’s internal springs through their paces.

Between bouts of classic action-RPG combat, I spent my time admiring the game’s incredible environments. Torchlight’s art style pulls off a difficult trick by looking extremely stylized, but not too cartoonish. This success depends on the aforementioned attention to detail: rich, subtle textures; tiny, lootable bone piles that collapse into dust; solemn, monk-like figures attending to wounded soldiers in a majestic quest-hub area. It’s easy to see the love and care that goes into every inch of Runic’s world, and it makes you want to spend as much time in it as possible. Torchlight II also features new outdoor areas, in contrast to the original (and in odd parallel to Diablo II), and the art team and level designers showed that they can do weather-beaten grasslands as well as dusty dungeons.

Pets are back (I favored the adorable bulldog), and they’re even more useful this time around. Not only will they carry your vendor trash back to town, but they’ll also go shopping for you, returning laden with potions while you go on your dungeon-crawling way! This is just one of the of many augmented and streamlined systems — the UI, in particular, felt more intuitive than ever. Everything comes in threes: the pet tab, character sheet, and ability trees are grouped on the right; the inventory is divided into spells, consumables, and items.

Torchlight has only one obvious flaw, which some would argue is a feature, not a bug: the story. The opening cut-scene, a battle between two heroes and a hulking, evil warrior, did cross into cartoonish territory. And the quests seem to generally consist of “go to this dungeon and kill the unspeakable monster at the bottom of it.” This may change later in the game, but again — this is not a genre about narrative. I asked Runic CEO Max Schaefer what he could tell me about the story. “There’s a story,” he replied with a chuckle.

Better to focus on all the other things that the game gets right. It’s a steal at $19.99, and a worthy follow-up to a beloved original. Despite the obvious allure of Diablo III, make sure to keep the Torchlight torch lit.

Game Front is on-site at PAX East all weekend (April 6-8), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!

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