When Torchlight was released last year as a digital download at a bargain-basement price, fans of the dungeon crawling and hack-and-slash genres showered it with praise. While the game wasn’t built to the same scale as the Diablo series it emulates so lovingly, the experience was both accessible and entertaining, sending you back into the depths of the earth for one more quest, or another chance on the enchanter lucky-dip.
The fact that a sequel is on the way is of little surprise, but the speed with which developer Runic Games is bringing it to market is. Torchlight II feeds directly on the community feedback from the first game and overhauls combat and the user interface and adds a much requested feature in multiplayer. The team believes the latter is best with two to four players for an online game of this nature. While presently there are no plans for the inclusion of player-versus-player combat, they are actively looking at the option to include duels against friends. Bringing the Torchlight franchise to the massively multiplayer online stage also hasn’t been ruled out, and while they're currently focusing their energy on bringing this product to players, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the studio turn on persistency and up-sell players to a free-to-play business model in the future.
A total rework of the character system means that the classes from the first game will not be making a return appearance, meaning there will not be an option to import previous characters from the original game. In their place, four new archetypes are being introduced, two of which were playable at Gamescom 2010. The first, the Railman, is an explorer gentleman with a penchant for big, heavy weapons and melee combat. The second is the Outlander, a hybrid ranged-attack and dark-magic user with both a rifle and a magic glaive used like a boomerang and excellent against groups of enemies.
Fans who got tired of the spiral staircase feel of the level design in Torchlight will be pleased to hear that the game will now expand out of the catacombs, offering a central quest hub, a starting zone, and four new areas in a mixture of indoor and outdoor settings. Outdoors players can expect a day and night cycle as well as dynamic weather effects, which we experienced as rain while playing, Instances will be available in all the zones.
Itemisation has also received some work, and while you will still face the potential of receiving loot outside of your class type when killing a boss, the team hopes that some tightening of which loot drops and when--combined with the ability to trade items with friends--will help alleviate the issue of building up giant cash reserves when selling off all the epic and legendary gear that doesn’t fit your class. Loot should never be a scramble online, though, with all of the items appearing onscreen being solely for you. You will be able to view only your own lootable items, so there shouldn't be any issues with thievery or complex loot rules to cause squabbles.
While it wasn’t on show during our demonstration, we were also told that Torchlight II will ship with some extra community features in its virtual box. Modding tools similar to the ones used by the development team will allow players to design their own Torchlight levels for others to play. Details remain sketchy, but we're eager to see what kinds of levels can be made and how the publisher approaches rating and promoting content.
Runic identified pricing as one of the key factors to its success, saying it is aiming for the lowest price point possible for the sequel. Though the build we saw was only in a pre-alpha state, it was already looking sharp and running smoothly. Expect this game to hit the PC and Mac in the spring of 2011.