[ARPG] Torchlight 2 review
Torchlight 2 got many things right, starting by the composer, Matt Uelmen, who came up with the masterpiece from Diablo I and II, that later got ravaged by the Diablo III soundtrack team. The same thing happened with the fey Morrowind theme from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind (one of my favourite game tracks) when it was adapted for Skyrim.
The phantasmagoric theme of Diablo would of course not translate well into the more light-hearted Torchlight universe, but it still retains a touch that makes it reminiscent of the Diablo franchise. I would say that even more reminiscent than Diablo III itself. In that calculation enter the mechanics and the philosophy of the game as well. That boastful claim that TL2 is the spiritual successor of Diablo II is actually true, despite the atmosphere being completely different.
But that does not matter because the team behind TL2 got right the most important thing: a loot-based dungeon-crawler must lean heavily on the looting. It is more easily said than done, since for the loot to feel rewarding a fragile balance must be maintained. On this topic dad and I held countless discussions. He was expecting Blizzard to wave his wand and fix the game so that the loot would feel epic again. That cannot be achieved for as long as an auction house is present and the game balanced around it. 'Epic' meant for him, and I agree, that there would be unique affixes to the items, allowing you to be not-game-breakingly-but-almost overpowered; that a looted item would goad you to create a new character with a specific build to test out a different way of playing (such as a dot-based assassin in Diablo 2); epic loot meant being awesome beyond adding +50 to your primary stat. In Torchlight 2, very early in the game, I already completed a blue set that gives me +20% health steal, a stat that I have yet to encounter elsewhere, as its more common peer gives a set amount of life on hit. And I expect legendary items (the category beyond 'unique') to be much more interesting.
But you know what? If they are not, there is an easy solution to it, that Blizzard threw off the window: mods. Modifications to the game made by the players, to suit what the players want and to reduce the forum-crying. Mods will be the core element of Torchlight's success in the long run, as it was for Neverwinter Nights, and to some extent for Diablo II. I can say that about a third of my played time for Diablo II has been in fact spent in mods, and it would have been much more if I had picked them up earlier, and if I had not been so absorbed in vanilla Diablo II in my school and teenage years. Some Diablo II mods improved the game to such an extent that the original felt like a foundation for the amateur developers to work on. I am sure that many of you have felt the same way after you have tried a couple of mods for Morrowind or Oblivion, even for Skyrim, although there has not been yet enough development for the polished story mods to come out. Just to get a glimpse of what passion for a game means for the players, take a look at this Oblivion mod, The Lost Spires, which adds a beautifully crafted storyline with new areas, lore, npcs, objects - the whole array, put together so masterfully that it appears to be (better than) official.
I am loving Torchlight II so far, but always with an eye on what will come next. I suspect that the game, even on elite difficulty, will be more accessible than Diablo III Inferno pre-patches, as Diablo II was. But at the time of Diablo II, players had not yet been drilled into endgame submission, and they were (I was) capable of enjoying a goalless path. Azuriel voiced the same concern about GW2 not long ago, and I agreed with him that, for me, there is no more bliss in pointless pursuits. In Diablo II I could happily hoard for the sake of hoarding. Now, I look forward to making as effective a character as possible for the added challenge of the mods that will come out soon.
There is room for all kinds of playstyles in Torchlight 2, unlike in Diablo III, where the only favoured playstyle was that of the savvy economist. For collectors there are plenty of unique items with special affixes; for theorycrafters there are many viable talents that result in abysmally different builds for the same class (wand-wielding bersekers, that is definitely an option); for achievers such as myself there are means to bring yourself to the limit, and if they are surpassed, an unrestrained modder will come up with something tortuous enough.
Finally, a word on the lack of respeccing: it is brilliant. When I started up the game and found out that I had allocated my skill points in an ineffective way, I was enraged. Apparently I skipped the first stage of grief, denial. A couple of stages later, I accepted it and allowed its philosophy to seep into my brain, and understood: I had been playing that same way many years ago, and had found it delightful. I made three sorceresses in Diablo II, each one of them bringing me closer to my preferred playstyle. I remember the skill tree of each of them. They were individual and untransferable. With WoW and its track-on-the-sand talent choices and cookie-cutter builds, my character was no longer defined by the choices I made for her, but mostly by her gear, as it recounted what she had gone through. Since classical MMOs are so focused on the endgame, it would make no sense to prevent respeccing, as it would force players through another month of grind to get an endgame optimal character. But why does this mindset have to apply to ARPGs too? There is fun in creating a new character to try out a new build with that special set you had looted. There is less fun in making the same wizard with the same stats and build of every wizard out there (and your failure to comply can be easily corrected in five seconds).
In any case, if you do not like how it is now, be it the respec, the music, the dungeons, the colour of your pet, it will all be solved by our passionate modders. Blizzard, the players knew what they wanted from your game. You should have given them the tools to customize it to their liking, instead of trying to direct how your game should be played.