Three years ago, Runic Games released an action role playing game that felt like the spiritual successor to Diablo 2, with Torchlight.  Torchlight had many gamers and critics clamoring on about how Torchlight made them remember the countless hours that they spent on gear runs in Diablo 2, and seeing how Runic Games rose from the ashes of Blizzard North, these comparisons make perfect sense.  Last September, in the wake of the disappointment that many felt in the release of Diablo 3, Runic Games released their sequel, Torchlight 2.  While not perfect, Torchlight 2 feels right in so many ways and easily gives Diablo 3 cause for concern.


Torchlight was extremely light on story, and Torchlight 2 is only slightly better in this department.  The story of Torchlight 2 begins with the corruption of The Alchemist, a playable character in the original Torchlight, and the destruction of the game’s namesake town.  The Alchemist has been corrupted by the Heart of Ordrak, the original villain from the first game, and has now set upon a path to destroy the balance between the six elements.  As the hero, you are setting out on a quest to prevent The Alchemist from realizing his plans and to uphold the balance.

The story of Torchlight 2 is presented to the player as it was in Diablo 2, through cut scenes and in game quest dialogue.  While not as fully rendered or as technically impressive as the cut scenes from Diablo 3, I found that the art used to portray these story arcs fit well with the overall aesthetic of the game and gives Torchlight 2 it’s own presence.  All dialogue boxes are fully voiced by actors and helps the player to feel like the story is progressing, but each dialogue box is at most a paragraph and it’s hard to balance deep story telling by using this method, with just flat out boring the players.  All dialogue boxes can be skipped, so if you are only in it for the loot, just bypass the story.


Torchlight 2’s game play is entirely reminiscent of Diablo 2, and that is not a coincidence.  You begin the game by selecting one of four character classes; The Outlander, The Engineer, The Embermage or The Berserker.  You then set out into the world to stop The Alchemist, along the way collecting items from fallen enemies.  It is these items that fuels the addiction of Torchlight 2.  Items are set up just like they were in the original game, with varying statistics and qualities.  Items can be unique, or a part of a larger set, or just fit to be sold at the vendor.  Items are randomly created in Torchlight 2, so you can see different items through different play throughs.  Torchlight 2 does make it easy to send items to other characters by giving the player both a shared storage box and a unique storage box for each game.

Character progression in Torchlight 2 is done in a similar vein as it was in Diablo 2.  As you level up, you earn skill and ability points that you can allocate to whatever stat or ability you desire in your progression tree.  The stats are exactly as they were in Diablo 2, strength, dexterity, magic and vitality.  Each class has different sets of abilities that they can invest in, with three different trees to select from.  These abilities fall into two categories, active and passive.  At any time in game, a character can only have two active abilities to choose from, and you must switch between these two.  For me, this was both a breath of fresh air, and extremely binding at the same time.  I love the simplified game play of having only to choose between two abilities, but this does hamper your ability to adapt to any circumstance in game.  Deciding what two abilities to keep active during a fight becomes very important to  your life and limb.

Torchlight 2 comes from the old school video game mindset, meaning that any decision you make to your character will be permanent.  There are no respecializations in Torchlight 2, so plan accordingly.  Torchlight 2 adds different ways to play through the game, you can play offline, online, or through a LAN.  Yes, you can play Torchlight 2 offline, with no internet connection at all.  Those of you out there that were mad as hell about Diablo 3’s requiring an internet connection, I hereby give you an alternative with Torchlight 2.  You can also continue to play the game after the main story is finished with a game plus, or choose to retire your character all together.  Torchlight 2 has an option for everyone and easily will give you thirty hours of game play in your first game.


Ok, I am a sucker for slick art design and different looking games.  I still hold Team Fortress 2 as the greatest example of what good art design and aesthetics can do for a video game, and should take precedence over technical specifications any day of the week.  Torchlight 2 delivers an aesthetic that I love due to its simple nature and unique looks.  The overall feel of Torchlight 2 tends to be on the side of cartoonish rather then realism, which is ironic given the darker nature of the game’s story line.  The design of the game, the characters, the world and the cut scenes all fit well together and makes Torchlight 2 feel unique.  The characters themselves, which have almost no personality through dialogue or voice acting, must be given this personality through the design of the art.  Unfortunately, after hours of game play, your character will be covered in enough gear that any type of personality that was showing through the art direction will now be hidden underneath armor.

The music and sound of Torchlight 2 gives the game that much more of a feel that is akin to Diablo 2.  Each non player character is fully voiced for the dialogue, with accents that sound real and well placed.  The sound effects from the abilities make using those abilities that much more satisfying.  Hitting the ground with my hammer and hearing the fire erupt and huge waves of earth move outwards from my character, made the game that much more fun to play.  The music of Torchlight 2 is dead on and adds much more to the story then any character dialogue in the game.  The music fits with the theme of Torchlight 2 and also changes with the environment as you explore the world.

Final Thoughts:

I played countless hours of Diablo 2 when it was released, and for many years afterwards.  Diablo 2 had something special to it, that made players not want to stop playing.  The entire gaming community was ready for the same feeling when Diablo 3 was announced, but the release was far, far below expectations.  With complaints such as the itemization, the requirement to be online at all times, and just how much different it felt versus Diablo2, Diablo 3 did not garner as much love as it should have.  While Torchlight 2 does not try to innovate the genre, and is technically less impressive then Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 is so much closer of a spiritual successor to the legacy that is Diablo 2.  The game play feels exactly like it did in Diablo 2, the items feel right and you can play Torchlight 2 without an internet connection if you so choose.  While I will not go as far as saying Torchlight 2 is better then Diablo 3, I will say that I had more fun with Torchlight 2, and if you miss the days of Diablo 2, so will you.  Torchlight 2 is available now through Steam for $19.99.

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John "Judgeman" Dugan is a long time contributor and Gaming Shogun's resident fighting game expert. Judgeman has appeared on G4's Arena, including season 1's Tournament of Champions, and was a regular in the early days of Street Fighter 2 tournaments.