Looking at it from a purely objective standpoint, Torchlight II seems like a game that would grow stale within a matter of minutes. You kill, you loot, you level up, and then you do it all over again with slightly bigger numbers all around. Rinse and repeat for a few dozen hours, and that’s more or less Torchlight II in a nutshell. It’s a repetitive and seemingly dull gameplay loop that scarcely sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon, and yet time has a way of simply melting away once you sit down to play.
“Just fifteen minutes” suddenly turns into an hour or two, maybe more, and you’re left wondering how such a thing is possible. Suffice to say, it’s nearly impossible to put down Torchlight II once it gets its hooks in you because, at its core, it’s simply a fun game. Intoxicating, even. Couple that with excellent handheld performance and a surprisingly cheap price point, and Torchlight II becomes one of the closest things to a must-have purchase that you can get for the Switch.
The story picks up a few years after the first Torchlight, opening up with a scene in which the Alchemist – one of the playable classes in the first game – has become corrupted by an evil energy from the Heart of Ordrak, destroyed the town of Torchlight, and embarked on a path of destruction across the world. As a new hero, it’s your responsibility to get to the bottom of what caused the Alchemist to turn and to ultimately put a stop to the villain’s nefarious ways, while also doing what you can to help the people that have been affected.
As far as RPG stories go, the plot of Torchlight II is about as basic as it gets, mostly just there to provide context for the adventures you’ll soon find yourself participating in, but this isn’t necessarily a negative. A heightened focus on narrative would only serve as a distraction to pull you out of the gameplay loop, and Runic Games has done an excellent job of finding that perfect balance in which you’re given just enough information for the next mission to feel purposeful, before the plot steps out of the way and lets you get back to the monster mashing. Plus, at the occasional important story beat, cutscenes animated by none other than Klei Entertainment (the studio behind Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja) will make an appearance, providing a nice break in the action as you're provided with a short, well-directed sequence.
There are four different classes to pick from at the outset of a playthrough, each with their own distinct playstyles and skill trees, and you can pick a pet companion to assist in battle and perform ‘grocery runs’ for you (more on that in a bit). It may seem like four classes is a little light on gameplay variety, but the enhanced depth offered via the skill trees is where the real diversity in multiple runs comes out. You’re given a skill point to invest in one of three separate paths every time you level up, and how you choose to mix and match the skills as you progress will lead to some rapidly divergent gameplay opportunities.
For example, the Embermage class can choose between fire, ice, and lightning magic, each of which contain myriad spells with plenty of utility. You’ll never have enough skill points to fill all the trees, so you have to make some hard choices. Do you commit to a lightning build that utilizes the full spell set, or do you handicap some of your options in favour of adding a few crowd-controlling ice spells to your repertoire? Questions like these will be frequently asked early on, especially given how a sense of permanence is rapidly introduced because you’re only allowed to refund the last three skill points you invested. If you’re indecisive in how you want your character to turn out, that indecision could prove to handicap you later in the endgame when some precious skill points are permanently tied up in skills you no longer use.
Indeed, this feels a little unfair given that new players are being effectively punished for experimenting with different skills, but Torchlight II is the sort of game which is designed to be played through multiple times with new characters in each run, in an almost roguelike fashion. Lessons learned in early runs can be carried forward into future ones, and you’ll be having so much fun with the core gameplay loop that any missed opportunities in min/maxing are easily swept under the rug.
Breaking away from the rather straightforward, single dungeon approach of its predecessor, Torchlight II presents you with a vast and partially-randomized open world that all but begs you to search every corner in pursuit of treasure chests and secret dungeons. The world is divided up into a series of large segmented maps, each of which is packed full of loot, baddies, and quest-giving NPCs. Part of what makes this all so compelling is the sheer unexpectedness of it all.
Perhaps you’ll be making your way towards the next quest objective and stumble upon a slaving troupe, and after a heated battle with the goblin slave drivers, the gratefully released prisoners will offer you a rare piece of loot. Or maybe you’ll stumble across an NPC who lost an item in a ‘nearby cave’ unlocking a multi-floor dungeon filled with traps and treasure. You never really know what’s coming next in Torchlight II, but what’s next is never just ‘nothing’; there’s always another carrot being dangled in front of you, beckoning you ever further into the world as you grow your character and become more comfortable with their distinct strengths and weaknesses. There’s always another piece of loot to bump up your stats, always another side-dungeon to explore; you’ll seldom be at a loss for something interesting to do.
Most of the mobs you come across in your journeys are dispatched in a matter of seconds, while the real threats come from getting horded by dozens at a time or having a few unusually powerful ‘Champion’ variants of enemies wreck you. At its heart, combat requires very little from you in terms of raw skill and is instead more a test of resource management and strategic thinking. You can have up to eight different spells, items, or attacks bound to all the main buttons, and each of these combat options is governed in some way by meters or cooldowns, so a typical engagement is more about knowing when to activate different abilities and how to balance the various recovery times.
This sort of knowledge is something that just comes with time, but it can be immeasurably rewarding once you get dialled into a certain playstyle and can watch your character roast dozens of enemies at a time in splendorous displays of fighting prowess. Those of you that prefer a more action-heavy combat system may be a little disappointed by the more numbers-driven style of play here, but those who take the time to learn and invest in it will find that it’s exceedingly satisfying.
Torchlight II is about loot first and foremost, and the game seems to understand this as it positively showers you in it at every twist and turn. Breaking environmental objects, killing foes, and completing quests will all yield you some random new thing you can wear or fight with, and it’s your job to figure out which of these things can best serve the playstyle you’re going for. To be honest, probably eighty to ninety percent of the stuff you get is trash that won’t serve you at all, but any excess can be handed to your pet at any time, which will dutifully carry it back to town and sell it if you so desire.
The funds from these sales can then be reinvested into either buying better loot or improving the stuff you already have. An enchanter can be paid to add random stat modifiers and buffs to gear for a not-so-cheap fee and various gems you find on your travels can be equipped into slots to provide similar boons. It may all sound a bit complicated, but what’s nice about the Torchlight II system is how it keeps things relatively straightforward when it comes to equipment. The hard part doesn’t come from having to figure out complex stats and calculations, but from the agonizing decisions you must constantly make when equipping similarly beneficial pieces of gear.
As far as replayability is concerned, Torchlight II will probably take you anywhere from twenty to thirty hours to beat, depending on how thorough you are with each game area. Once you reach the end, you can then choose to either run it again in a harder new game plus mode (which can loop up to five times) or you can choose to take part in the Mapworks, which lets you rerun old areas and dungeons with interesting new modifiers and traps to make the run harder. And, of course, all of this can be experienced with friends locally or online if you don’t want to go it alone.
To be honest, Torchlight II is a bit disappointing in regards to its endgame – particularly when you compare it to the ‘endlessness’ of a run in Diablo III – but there’s also a certain kind of value to be found in having a definable end to a character. Once you hit the level cap, that basically marks the end of any notable progression you can make for that character, but there’s nothing stopping you from diving back in as another class or using another build to see how it changes your experience. It’s certainly feasible that you could derive a couple of hundred hours from Torchlight II before feeling bored due to the pitch-perfect nature of the loot distribution and progression, but just be aware that the endgame feels a bit lacking.
As far as presentation is concerned, Torchlight II manages to nail quite a distinctive look in how its art style is chunky and colourful, yet carries a certain kind of darkness and intensity. The disproportionate models and exaggerated look of the environments give off a strong cartoonish vibe, which can sometimes prove to seem oddly lighthearted as you fight off some Lovecraftian horror that you found in a pit.
Panic Button – which handled the port to Switch – has done yet another impressive job here; loading screens are kept short and performance in either docked or handheld sticks to a solid 60FPS with nary a dropped frame in sight. However, some minor glitches here and there prove to be an irritation. For example, when deciding how to distribute stat points after levelling up, the descriptions of the stats don’t match up with the actual stats you’re pouring the points into.
Or, in another example, you can’t pick up loot if an enemy is nearby because tapping ‘A’ will cause your character to attack, even if they’re standing right by the piece of loot and a prompt indicates they can pick it up. We also had the game completely crash on us a couple of times, and though the erasure was mitigated by autosaves, it was nonetheless an unwelcome setback. Given Panic Button’s track record, we’d anticipate that most of these issues will be dealt with in relatively short order, but all the same, bear in mind that the glitches are a small but noticeable blemish on an otherwise excellent release.
Torchlight II proves to be a wonderfully well-polished ARPG that’s sure to provide dozens of hours of fun, all at an incredibly low price point when you consider what’s all being offered. Rewarding, loot-heavy gameplay, an expressive art style, and oodles of replayability come together to make for an impressively charming and addictive experience, even if it’s let down by the occasional technical hiccup or glitch. We’d give Torchlight II a strong recommendation to anybody who’s interested in seeing what the ARPG genre is about, as this proves to be an accessible adventure that sacrifices none of the unique qualities that set the genre apart. Genre veterans may want to pause and think before buying, as there isn’t a whole lot here you haven’t seen before, but it’s tough to argue that you won’t enjoy the time you spend with this one.