With Torchlight II, history is repeating itself. Like the original Diablo, Torchlight took place in a single town and in the dungeons below it. Like Diablo II, Torchlight II improves on its predecessor in every way. The scope of the adventure is larger. Its settings are much more varied and memorable. The four character classes have a more exciting array of skills. And whereas Torchlight was a single-player affair, Torchlight II adds multiplayer support for up to an impressive six players. Yes, clicking and looting your way through hordes of enemies in Torchlight II is a familiar experience, but it's a great one nonetheless.
Much like the playable warrior of the first Diablo becoming corrupted by the Lord of Terror in Diablo II, Torchlight II begins with the influence of the evil Ordrak's heart twisting the once-heroic alchemist. Setting out on a misguided quest, the alchemist has left the town of Torchlight in ruins and cut a swath of destruction across the land. As one of a new set of adventurers seeking fortune and glory, you set off to stop him. The story is a perfectly adequate excuse to send you slicing, blasting, and casting your way across the land, but it doesn't have much impact on the overall experience.
What does have an impact are the classes and their varied abilities. As an outlander, you can use a wide assortment of ranged weapons--bows, pistols, shotguns, and more--to damage enemies from a distance, and you can hurl a spinning glaive that ricochets off of foes. Engineers excel at dealing slow, devastating attacks with massive weaponry, and can whip up healing robots, turrets, and other support machinery. Embermages wield the power of the elements, conjuring weapons of pure flame and making shards of ice rain down from the sky. Berserkers are the speediest and craziest of the bunch. Inhabited by a spirit wolf and capable of entering a frenzied state, berserkers can leap right into the fray, wildly punching their way through crowds of monsters.
Each class has a charge meter that fills up as you deal damage and makes you more powerful, giving you an incentive to get into the thick of the action and keep dishing out the pain. And of course, as you level up, you earn skill points that let you select and improve an assortment of active and passive skills that complement your character's core fighting style. Acquiring new skills and finding effective combinations of skills that you enjoy using are big parts of what makes progressing through Torchlight II addictive, and great new skills continue to become available to you quite late in the game. You may have long combined the outlander's repulsion hex, which keeps enemies at bay, with his (or her--classes aren't gender-specific in Torchlight II) rapid-fire ability, only to hit level 42 and find that your newly available ability to summon a massive brute opens up effective new skill combination possibilities.
Whereas the first Torchlight was a bit of a cakewalk on the normal difficulty setting, Torchlight II offers a manageable but satisfying challenge that requires you to make better use of your skills. The result is that you always feel enormously capable and powerful, but not so powerful that victory is effortless. (If you crave a greater challenge, you can jump right into the veteran or elite difficulties, and you can activate Hardcore mode, in which death is permanent, on any difficulty setting.) You can have up to 13 skills at your fingertips, and combat situations may motivate you to draw on many of them, as you face ethereal wolves and warriors, heavily armored dwarven automatons, and gargoyles that swoop into the air and come crashing back down.
Torchlight II's steady onslaught of enemies is usually enjoyable to manage. However, on occasion, things get out of hand, and the action can start to chug when the screen fills with enemies. Additionally, architecture can occasionally block the camera. You see outlines of yourself and enemies through walls, but it's not a good substitute for an unobstructed view. Still, Torchlight II's terrific enemy variety keeps you on your toes, and its frequent boss fights make for exciting climaxes to each leg of your journey. Not to mention rewarding ones.
Yes, the loot in Torchlight II is endless and enticing. With all kinds of stat bonuses, bonuses for wearing sets of armor or dual-wielding sets of weapons, and other benefits to consider, you frequently find yourself weighing the pros and cons of swapping one piece of equipment for another. That's all part of the fun, of course, and the option to have two sets of weapons that you can switch between on the fly helps you stay versatile in combat.
The option to customize some weapons and armor by slotting property-enhancing chips, shards, and other items into sockets lets you spend many happy minutes tinkering, and you sometimes encounter enchanters who can conjure up a boost or two on your gear, for a price. The loot stream is so constant that inventory management can become a bit of a burden at times. Thankfully, your faithful pet can be used as a pack mule and be sent back to town to sell unwanted gear. In a great addition, your pet can now also purchase potions and other basic items for you.
Your quest takes you through a diverse array of colorful locales. The Estherian Steppes of the first act are lush and vibrant, contrasting with the desert wastes that surround the second act's central town of Zeryphesh. In the desert's dungeons, you encounter elegant but dangerous machinery, mobile sentries, and small, electrified copters that look the way such advanced technology might look if built by ancient Egyptians. In the rainy, fungal forests around Grunnheim, you stumble upon werewolves feasting upon corpses, and in the dwarven mines, sparks fly and steam-powered contraptions sputter. The locales and the characters who inhabit them are bursting with visual personality. There's a subtle, good-natured goofiness to Torchlight II's presentation that makes you want to smile even when you're making monsters explode into little bits and painting the floors with their blood.
It takes many hours to reach Torchlight II's conclusion, and your quest doesn't have to end there. You can take your character into a new game plus that's scaled to his or her level. You can also carry on your pursuit of fame, fortune, and loot by purchasing maps that give you access to randomly generated dungeons. These dungeons can be rated as high as level 105, exceeding the level cap of 100, so players seeking a rewarding, long-lasting endgame should find it here.
The multiplayer functionality isn't as elegant and full featured as it is in Diablo III. You can't see which of your Runic Games friends are online before opting to play an online game, and you may need to do a bit of searching on the server list to find games friends have created. Conveniences like linking items in chat and dropping unwanted items so that other players can pick them up are absent; you need to open a trade window with other players to show them any items that may benefit them. These minor inconveniences can break up the flow of the game, but for the most part, tearing through Torchlight II with a friend or five is immensely enjoyable.
Torchlight II is a lovely, well-crafted game. Its colorful and inviting world is a pleasure to explore. The eclectic soundtrack provides an alternately haunting and energizing accompaniment to your exploits. The classes are distinctive, and each has a terrific assortment of skills. To top it all off, this sizable and thoroughly satisfying game is a great value at just 20 bucks. The loot-driven fantasy-themed action role-playing game clickfest hasn't seen much change since the days of Diablo II. Torchlight II doesn't innovate and it doesn't surprise, and the genre may need an infusion of new ideas if it's going to stay vital. But Torchlight II serves up the old, irresistible recipe about as well as it's ever been done.