Torchlight is an all-time classic, an essential game even, and it got a great port to the Xbox 360 in the run-up to Torchlight II.
Runic didn’t mess around when they brought the game to Microsoft’s console. They added in the animation blending system and updated automap from the sequel, and a very workable gamepad control scheme.
Certainly, everyone thought, the new sequel will also come over to console platforms.
Instead, here we are seven years later at the end of the following console generation (and the middle of Nintendo’s), and Torchlight II is finally happening. This port took so long that the original development house went out of business, and the original team is now working on a sequel at a brand new company.
Fortunately, this new version of II is in the capable hands of Panic Button, the folks responsible for the genius Switch ports of Doom, Wolfenstein, and Warframe.
The choice of development team completely changed my mind about this new version. I was initially skeptical that it was just a cynical cash-in before the impending release of Torchlight Frontiers, but I know Panic Button will do everything they can to make this new version worth playing.
I’ve always been a little bit hard on Torchlight II, because it’s not as scrappy as its predecessor.
The first game was made in just 11 months by a small team, and is so well put together and polished that you’d never know it. The second game is bigger in ambition, scope, and budget, and while it lives up to those elevated standards…it’s not as impressive to me, a self-proclaimed lover of pluck.
That’s not to say Torchlight II doesn’t have a lot going for it. It’s a faster and larger game. Even the default movement speed is like the racing car sprint in the original Doom. It’s one of the fastest, most intense action-RPGs ever made, and it’ll challenge your skills, if you want it to.
It retains the fully beautiful art style and effects animation from the first game, and is optimized enough that it’ll run on the proverbial toaster.
Its larger story and the design needs of its online portion also leave it feeling scattered and aimless at times. Areas blend together a bit without the methodical progression of the first game. The gem combining system is gone. There’s one additional class, but the classes aren’t as distinct as they were in the first game.
Also, the font selections for the UI seem like they were done by a random number generator, till you realize they were trying to train your eyes about what to look at and what to ignore through visual cues.
It almost works?
A prime example of the design incongruities is the overarching storyline, which follows the Diablo II template of HERO IS NOW VILLAIN, but then immediately dispenses with the iconic town of Torchlight instead of revisiting it to press nostalgia buttons.
I think the story learned the wrong lessons from Diablo. So lovers of well-crafted narrative and lore might be a little let-down.
Still, it’s a better game mechanically than the first, and its speed, intensity, and scope mean it should still be fun for players in 2019. The Steam release still draws plenty of attention monthly. And it’s got all the numbers-going-up action you could ever ask for.
Diablo III’s console version proved that a game this fast could work on a controller, but I honestly thought with the announcement of Frontiers, Torchlight II would be nothing but a distant memory.
I’m glad that it’s coming back in the hands of a proven, capable developer. The optimist inside me would love to hope for a new port of the original game as well, but that probably wouldn’t make a ton of business sense as it doesn’t even support multiplayer.
(Incidentally, the Mac version of Torchlight 1 is about to be rendered inert in Apple’s march away from 32-bit applications. Play it now if a Mac is your platform of choice, and you plan to keep installing OS updates).
Torchlight II is a phenomenal game even though I’m still acting like an old fogey about its many design changes. At $20 for a massive amount of content, its September 3rd PS4/Xbox/Switch release is the perfect way to build hype for the third entry.
It’s also my personal lone hope for a high quality non-Diablo ARPG on the Switch, after the performance compromises of Titan Quest and Victor Vran, and after Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 turned out to be more of an intense character action game than a purely loot-driven thing.