The best video games make you completely forget about reality. This can be achieved through a compelling story, complex characters, or a well-crafted world. Video game designers can also hook players by tickling the part of the brain that processes rewards, giving us cool stuff to play with and promising even cooler stuff if we just stick it out a little longer. Runic Games’ role-playing game (RPG) Torchlight II excels at this. It’s incredibly easy to learn and play and offers RPG addicts countless ways to customize their characters.
Tried and true
In Torchlight II, an ancient evil is returning in the form of an enemy who has embraced their essence, and the character must defeat it before it’s too late. Any gamer will recognize the hack-and-slash mechanics of this game’s genre. Commonly referred to as a “dungeon crawler,” this kind of RPG is designed to give gamers the satisfaction of watching a character grow in strength while battling waves of enemies. The player explores thrilling locales packed with treasure but also traps and other hidden dangers without having to invest too heavily in an epic backstory steeped in lore or become familiar with a sprawling landscape.
Like most dungeon crawlers, Torchlight II is extremely linear: players progress from one area of the game world to another, completing quests and fighting bosses in a prescribed order. The game offers little navigational freedom, but it provides instead many optional quests and countless ways to shape your character.
Players choose from one of four classes of characters, each of which has a unique set of powers. The Outlander excels at using ranged weapons such as shotguns and bows, dealing damage from a distance but lacking in physical defense. The Embermage uses magical spells to manipulate the elements against enemies and the battlefield itself. Berserkers rush headlong into battle with heavy-hitting melee attacks and totems that affect nearby monsters. The Engineer uses heavy armor to soak up damage while employing technology to mete out brutal physical and energy-based attacks. When creating their character, players also choose pets that will aid them in combat.
Players can further develop their characters by choosing specific abilities and powers to focus on as they move through the levels. As with any RPG, characters gain experience points as they defeat monsters and complete quests. Once certain milestones are reached, the character gains a level. At that point, players can enhance their stats and strengthen their powers, sometimes gaining new ones. Manipulating the character’s power set and stats fine-tunes them to serve more specific functions on the battlefield.
Anyone can play the game alone and have plenty of fun doing so, but Torchlight II really shines when gamers play in groups of up to four. Fighting enemies becomes easier, especially when a team harmonizes and has characters that complement one another. Everyone can find a role to play in combat. An Engineer with expert armor-building skills can soak up damage while an Embermage rains down fire and ice. Outlanders can wound a group of enemies before a Berserker advances in full-on battle mode and an Embermage who has perfected powers of displacing people teleports the tougher enemies away. Working as a team is a thrilling experience that encourages positive social interaction and strategic thinking.
Wide, but not deep
Torchlight II does not, however, provide many opportunities for one of the great joys of an RPG: the actual role playing. The story line is thin at best, and the sparse dialog is just enough to give the player a loose background and context for each quest. With no options for character development in the narrative sense, gamers will not be motivated to think about characters’ personalities, histories, or aspirations. It’s pure gameplay, with the rewards of bigger and better loot and more fantastic powers the driving force. Gamers who prefer more in-depth fantasy worlds, such as those found in the best fantasy books or video games such as Dragon Age: Origins, may be bored here.
That’s not to say that Torchlight II is lazy in the aesthetics department. For a game that aims to tell a relatively dark story about an evil force that could destroy the world, everything is bright and colorful, with rich environments and varied animations. The creature designs are outstanding, with detailed figures and a satisfying mix of original creations and standard fantasy fixtures. All in all, however, this activity depends almost entirely upon finding the right friends with whom to play and getting into a groove.
If you’ve got a solid group of gamers at your library and computers to spare, this is a worthy investment. Purchase a few copies (digital only, through Steam or torchlight2game.com), install them on some in-house gaming rigs (the game should run on any decent computer), and serve up some caffeine for a fun night or weekend of gaming. Have a lock-in, and see how far your group can get!
While there is some complexity to character building, actually playing the game is very straightforward. Everything can be done with the mouse, and even gamers who want to use the keyboard will find that there’s little memorization required for the controls. The game also has one of the best in-game help menus I’ve ever seen. Also, while we’re talking about Torchlight II, look me up on Steam! I’m level250geek. I usually run an Outlander.
Until next month, when I’ll be sharing a recent conversation I had with Wil Wheaton, keep telling yourself—just one more level!