E3 2011: Torchlight II Hands-On Preview

Torchlight 2 will offer bigger worlds, more monsters, and online multiplayer. We take it for a spin at E3.

The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo is the site of many things--giant monitors blaring expensive-to-produce video game trailers, giant raging herds of nerds, and highly anticipated games tucked quietly into meeting rooms. One such game is Runic's Torchlight II, a sequel to the studio's previous cartoonlike hack-and-slash game, with lots more to offer.

While the original Torchlight was generally held in high regard for being accessible, fun, and very affordable (launching at a price of $19.99 with no subscription fees or microtransactions), players were disappointed it didn't have any kind of multiplayer. As it turns out, Torchlight II will attempt to be fun, affordable (with a price point of somewhere between $20 to $30), and offer online cooperative multiplayer. Better still, Runic Games has revealed at E3 that Torchlight II will also offer cooperative play over a local area network, though the studio hasn't yet determined the maximum number of players for either.

Another focus for Runic was unveiling new content in the form of the berserker class, an aggressive melee profession with the ability to call upon wolf spirits for aid. Runic also unveiled a new undead dungeon zone and a new snowy, mountainous zone inhabited by yeti and other abominable critters. The game will apparently have three major hub zones among which your character will travel, and Runic frontman Max Schaefer suggests the world, overall, will be "much bigger" than that of the previous game. It'll also have new weapons like the portable cannon (the kind you normally see on pirate ships) and an entirely new bestiary of monsters.

However, in the interest of keeping the game accessible to those of us who haven't upgraded our computers lately, the sequel will use the same engine and technology that powered the first game. Thus, the old laptop you used to play the first game will run this one just fine.

We played as a berserker in most of our hands-on time with the game and found it to be a class that seems to really need to get up close and personal when fighting monsters. Our character was equipped with what appeared to be a cestus (a short hand axe dating back to the days of Roman gladiator battles), so we found ourselves charging right into the action and doing OK for the most part. We bashed the skeletons and ghouls of the crypt into piles of bones and picked up piles of gold, potions, and other items as loot. (Conveniently enough, Torchlight II will only display items onscreen that only your character can loot. You won't see the evenly distributed loot that fell onto the ground for your buddy, which means you'll never waste time arguing about out who needs that shiny new item more.) It was only when we encountered the dungeon's boss--an enormous, pudgy zombie that clambered out of a pit to greet us--that we even bothered to chug a healing potion. Then again, we were adventuring alongside Schaefer himself, who patiently babysat us through the demo, despite the fact that all of Torchlight II's dungeons are randomly generated, so there was no neatly premade press demo.

Torchlight II already looks like a very worthy successor, and because the game is planned for release this fall, you won't have to wait long for it. After the PC version is done, the team plans to create a Mac version of the game, after which it may then turn its attention toward an Xbox 360 version of the game, but that remains to be seen. "We're a very small company of only 30 people, and we're not gettin' any bigger," Schaefer explained. "So we can only do one thing at a time."

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