Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Fifteen

By RPS on December 15th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

Try to imagine a world without Christmas… Right, it was the absence of an RPS advent that first hit you, wasn’t it? Sorry to have put you through that, but it’s important to remember the things you value. Fifteen days in I was worried you were taking it for granted. But what does Horace have in store for you today? What gaming treat of 2012 lies behind his sulky-faced door? Will you agree that it should be so celebrated, or become ENRAGED at its inclusion? Stick your finger into that poorly perforated gap and prize it open to find out.

It’s… Torchlight II!

Jim: Looking back at 2012 it struck me that I’d said almost nothing about one of the games that I’d played most this year. Torchlight 2 has dominated my casual play, because it’s been the co-op game of choice for myself and Mrs Jim. We tend to default to dungeon-crawlers and ARPGs, because of the ease of co-op, and consequently Torchlight 2 has been the game we’ve spent the most time with. Sure, we blasted through Diablo III a couple of times, and in many ways – particularly character design and nature and build-structure of the skills – the Blizzard title is the better game. Torchlight 2, however, let us play LAN from the moment we sat down, and simply held our attention for a greater length of time.

The reasons for this, I realise are both subjective and fairly nuanced, and I doubt they will be true for everyone who plays it. Many a Diablo III player wanted darkness and grit from their loot-hoovering, but for me the colour and zest of Torchlight 2 was far more rewarding. There’s a pure joy in bursting rainbows of melee weapons from the corpses of puppet-like undead, and Torchlight II hits all those notes with gusto, and although by and large the world design leaves me a little cold, the overall effect of its constant surge of colour was always positive.

There’s another aspect to this game though, which was sort of comfort-food nature of it. This is often true with grind games, but I felt it was particularly true here. Unlike so much else on this list, Torchlight 2 is basically forgettable. Beautifully made, yes, pretty, true, and crafted with an attention to detail and an awareness of player-needs that makes most other games feel as unwieldy as an encyclopaedia printed on ticker-tape. All that is true, and yet it will – for me at least – leave as little impression as that perfect Sunday meal I had last week. Important to me personally, and wonderful while I am partaking, but nevertheless a sort of background colour in the overall scene of gaming. I’m glad I will be able to come back to it, but I doubt I’ll return to it. That’s probably why I’ve said so little about it this year. Torchlight 2 is a game about which not too much needs to be said. Quietly, anyway, it will just get on with being one of the finest games of the year.

John: What a mad treat this was. There’s no doubt that Diablo III was a decent game, but it was one that suffered horrendously with an incredibly predictable terrible launch, and thereafter a sense of pomposity that never let me relax into it. Torchlight II, meanwhile, welcomed me in like an old friend.

It was everything I’d been craving from an ARPG, delivered with a breezy sense of humour and a deft touch. And also really difficult.

While it’s easy (and fun!) to criticise ARPGs for being brainless mouse-clicking, it’s only in playing a bad attempt that you learn what makes for a great one. It’s very easy to take for granted everything a game like Torchlight 2 gets right, until you play something that gets it wrong. It reveals that the delivery of incrementally improved loot is a fine art, than allowing maintenance of a rapidly depleting health pool is something that needs to be intricately woven into all your actions, and how tactics in combat need to be subtle, but present.

Torchlight II does all this, while maintaining a charming air that avoids being aloof. And it does it offline if you want it to, letting you damn well pause the game if the doorbell goes, as if it wants you to be playing it.

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59 Comments »

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  1. UncleLou says:

    D3 had a rocky launch, but has at least been constantly improved since then.

    TL2 is fun for a while, but I stopped playing in early NG+ because I am just hopelessly overpowered (on veteran difficulty) and only ever need one skill. A shame that Runic seem to be more interested in stuff like new pets rather than take care of same basic balancing.

    • wu wei says:

      As the difficulty ramps up, the auto-aiming function just kills the game dead for me, as it constantly retargets enemy when I’m desperately trying to retreat.

      I would kill for an always-move button, like the always-shoot one.

      • Beernut says:

        No need to kill anything:
        http://imgur.com/dGWle
        :)

        • subedii says:

          Yeah I was wondering what he was on about. I was pretty certain that there was a “just move” style button. IIRC the fans requested it from the beta.

          EDIT:

          Can I just say, I really like the way that TL2 allows you to add modifiers to key presses when binding keys. More games need to do this.

        • wu wei says:

          Well, that’s just embarrassing :|

          Thanks! :)

  2. Premium User Badge

    golem09 says:

    I played it for about 200 hours, then logged in to Path of Exile again, and was unable to go back to T2.
    But it was fun while it lasted. Had more fun with Dark Souls though, which I played until the T2, and didn’t even finish.
    But unlike Jim, I can see myself go back to it, although I still hate that dreadful auto aim.

    • UncleLou says:

      PoE has improved quite a bit in the last few months, hasn’t it. Only reason I am not playing it anymore right now is because I don’t want to burn out completely before it launches properly.

      • derbefrier says:

        Yeah same here. Patiently waiting for open beta next month. I am playing through T2 right now amd its pretty fun though but I don’t see me playing it much after PoE releases. It’s just more of what I want in an arpg.

    • Caiman says:

      PoE was unplayable for me in Australia. I’d click to attack, it would send the signal to the server, the server would send the result back to me, and about 500 ms later my character would attack. Having the basic feel of the game dictated by the server isn’t going to work if you don’t have local servers.

      • Solux says:

        If you’re having trouble with Australian ping, the Singapore server option will be much better. You’ll still get some lag issues and things that everyone mentions, but it’s much better than everything always being late. It usually gives around 120 ms ping for me compared to around 300 for using the US server and 350 for Europe.

  3. Syra says:

    meh it was okay, after all the internet qq, still wasn’t as good as d3 =/

  4. subedii says:

    For me probably the most important thing about this game was the simplest: It allowed me to set the difficulty level to something more challenging right from the start, instead of making me have to trudge through the entire freaking campaign once or twice in order to get to a fun difficulty.

    After that, I just loved the charm and the character of it all. Co-op’s an easy hoot. I agree it’s not something that I’m going to focus on like a laser light, but TL2 knows what kind of game it is and doesn’t try to force other systems on itself that aren’t necessary. The enchantment system is a pretty good loot sink, the builds are pretty flexible (griping about re-specs aside, but I don’t mind that), and in general I always feel as if I’m powering up something interesting or finding some new weapon to mash things up with, so in that respect they got the balance and feel of the game right as well. And the combat felt tight, it felt immediate and had “impact”.

    It’s easy to say that TL2 got the “feel” right, but in practice it’s a hundred little things that you need to get right in order to get there, and that’s what TL2 did.

  5. IneptFromRussia says:

    Why my comments keep being tagged as spam? >_< i had such important things to say, spent literally a minute writing a post

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      You don’t fool me, spambot!

      • Nike says:

        I know how you feel IneptfromRussia. There are so many things I’ve wanted to comment on that never get posted. :-/

    • Sander Bos says:

      Don’t put links in your comments, I think that is part of the magic of getting your comment on. Still, the texts that come alongside this comment box and flagged comments are downright disingenuous, I have never seen a flagged comment of mine actually later actually appear. So RPS stop your lying, there is no review process on flagged comments, a hyperlink is not actually allowed code as it suggests below, and your crappy comment filtering has nothing to do with a conscious decision to limit freedom of speech and everything to do with laziness.
      No links, so this comment should be fine?

      • brulleks says:

        I’ve never had a problem with comments containing links being accepted.

        Unfortunately, neither have many of the spambots.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          And on the flip side, I’m a real person and I’ve only once had a comment with a link in it accepted!

          @ Sanderbos – A website not publishing your comment is not limiting your freedom of speech in the same way that a paper not printing your letter is not either. You seem to misunderstand the principles behind the ideal, it is certainly not a way to force someone to publish any old tripe that rolls out of your gob.

          • Sander Bos says:

            I don’t think I have misunderstood that. I pointed out that the reason they claim for not publishing comments is incorrect IMHO. They can filter out whatever they want, and they can even say why they filter for whatever reason they want, and you can misrespresent the contents of my comment if you want.
            And what I wanted to say was that the reasons they list for not posting comments are not in line with the truth, and as long as I don’t put a link in this comment it should appear on this site.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            I suggest you get over it. IMHO all this stress is doing your heart no good. Look I can make opinion statements with no evidence as well

  6. JackShandy says:

    “the delivery of incrementally improved loot is a fine art”

    I wish these addictive engagement mechanisms were praised less in general.

    • tormeh says:

      Hear hear. I would prefer the entire gaming space caring a lot more about story and a lot less about combat mechanisms and phat lewt. Before you ask I find games much more engaging than books since I am a protagonist (with restricted decision space) in games vs. simply a passive spectator in books.

      Opinions I guess.

      • wu wei says:

        It’s very much opinion, because I’m the complete opposite. I can take or leave story in game, it’s the mechanics that fascinate me. I much prefer modes like DMC4’s endless enemy waves to the actual narrative-driven game, as I can more directly focus on learning the mechanics to the depth that I want, rather than at the rate the story proscribes. (I do, however, find environment-as-narrative extremely compelling in games, like *Dark Souls*.)

        Our difference kind of strikes me as being very similar to the tabletop RPG distinction between storytellers and powergamers. Personally, I think the real problem is that the term “game” has become too extended to easily encompass all of these things we’re talking about.

      • JackShandy says:

        I don’t mean to set myself against combat mechanics as a whole. I love mechanics, with or without the supporting buttress of story. I’m specifically against mechanics that are designed to addict the player without offering them anything of value.

        Loot mechanics are an extrinsic reward. Killing the monster feels rewarding because it gave you a mace of +5 whatever, rather than because it was an intrinsically satisfying mechanic. I think these extrinsic rewards are shallow, exploitative and can be genuinely harmful, so it’s a constant shame to see them praised so widely.

        • subedii says:

          Depends how it’s done.

          RPG’s in general typically have a big aspect to them where you get the sensation of “powering up” as you’re moving through the game, which is why so many games use the mechanic today. Arguably they drip feed abilities that for the most part could have been given to you right from the start (and some games work best when they DO give you access to everything from the start), but then it becomes harder to create a sense of escalation in everything. Games like Dishonored and System Shock 2 come to mind in the way that the abilities come slowly over time. Even Doom started you off with a Pistol and didn’t give you access to the BFG until much later on.

          What I dislike is when they try to use as a form of “unlock” mechanic (see: Most modern multiplayer FPS’s) in order to try and create false investment and drag you into the game purely so that you spend more time with them, with the ostensible reward that after 10 more hours you can unlock the “fun” stuff.

          Getting back to TL2, I never would have played it if I didn’t find the core gameplay mechanics fun and satisfying. The combat’s much more “tactile” (if I can apply the term) and active than most games in the genre. I would never be able to get invested into D3 by comparison simply because the initial 30-40 hours of gameplay are boring, all because they expect you to play through the entire game once before ALLOWING you to play at the fun difficulty.

          The loot is temporary and in a sense a representation of that increasing ability as you take on tougher monsters and larger mobs. But the whole thing won’t work (at least for me) if it’s just a linear treadmill of “I do twice as much damage now so the enemies have twice as much health”. I think a lot of ARPG’s are built around that, and arguably so is TL2, but maybe it just goes about it in a better fashion.

          I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say why I liked TL2. It could be that the leveling up of both monsters and myself is actually completely unnecessary to me and I’d happily just jump around that game anyway, smashing things. And a bit like in Dishonored, the rest (whether it’s more skills or bigger weapons with more nutty effects) is just there to give you the sensation that you’re powering up.

        • derbefrier says:

          I dissagree completely. I don’t know exactly what you think could be harmful or exploitive about this type of system but to me it sounds like your missing the point of this type of game completely. The loot is there for one reason, as part of the customization of your character. Gear is as important to your characters identity as what spells you use or how you distribute your stat points. It’s about seeing your character grow in power or about what crazy stats you can get to work with your build. It’s not about the monsters at all. Killing them is a means to an end in this case that end is building a character you can be proud of. I have a lot of fun killing hundreds of momster with my characters amd seeing how I can manipulate the numbers to get interesting outcomes. I understand how some can see this as pointless amd not fun but exploitive and shallow? Nah the character customaztion in these games is anything but shallow and i fail to understamd how you can come to the conclusion this is in any way exploitive.

          • Grygus says:

            I don’t want to put words in Jack’s mouth, but addictive mechanics can be harmful in terms of game design because they can seduce a developer into using them instead of actual content. My favorite example of this is daily quests in MMOs. They are expressly not content after the first time you run them, and rarely do they serve the story or world in any way, but they are treated as content and, worse, are now de rigueur. The developer thinks, “well the players keep playing so that must be fun,” when in fact virtually nobody likes them. It contributes to an atmosphere of game-as-job, poisoning the entire process.

          • subedii says:

            It’s also a core conceit of the vast majority of “Free 2 Play” games, which is why I hate playing most of them. The gameplay mechanics are designed around items, skills, and aspects that you specifically DON’T give to the player unless they play for 300 hours or “invest just $2.99 now!“.

            Everyone always talks about how these items are “side-grades” but the reality is that most of them fulfill a specific role that people want and would ordinarily expect to play, or need to play in order to see some success for the team. Or sometimes they literally are straight up upgrades.

            Not to get too far into the F2P stuff, but for me I’d be much happier if the paid additions were purely in the cosmetics territory.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            This is not even getting into issues of addiction and exploitation: Some people are more prone to being conditioned by these systems – to spend more money or time in them – though that is generally assumed to be a small (but nonetheless seriously impacted) group.

            *

            I would also argue that games which implement random item reward structures tend to have relatively shallow player choice as a side effect. While there is customization, by necessity it must be ephemeral; the player is constantly replacing things and making new temporary choices. Furthermore, because the gear dropped is random, it has to be pretty consistent and vary in only minor ways so as not to risk pushing the player too far to the fringes of the power curve.

            In short, if you use this sort of random loot cycle you must avoid items which have a high-impact narrative value. I.e. you can’t give the player a sword that makes them invisible or boots that let them double jump.

            Said another way, if you give a character one choice between a sword of dragon slaying and a shield of invulnerability in 10 hours of play, it’s very different than giving the player 100 choices between 50 different swords and shields of +1% magic find/crit/damage/move speed in the same period. Not that one way is right and one is wrong, but certainly one feels more like a traditional fantasy story than the other.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    I would have played this game more, but each attempt to play co-op with a buddy resulted in constant de-synchs every few minutes. A glance at their forums showed this to be a common problem, even for people playing on LAN.

    As I was hoping to play this game through purely in co-op, I lost all interest after about 4 attempts.

    • derbefrier says:

      Hmm when was the last time you tried it? I have been playing co-op on and off all week amd haven’t noticed much of a problem. There’s a little lag every once in a while but I wouldn’t call it any where near game breaking. Perhaps they have fixed it or Mayne I have been lucky.

      • Premium User Badge

        Vandelay says:

        It was probably about a month ago that we last gave it a go. There would be times when my co-op partner would just stand still for ages or would be attacking invisible enemies. We also had enemies just stop attacking one or both of us on numerous occasions.

        We did manage to play for an hour or so without too many problems, once we started timing our loading, but it was such a hassle that neither of us felt much urge to go back again.

  8. Baal_Sagoth says:

    It was quite odd to observe the shit-slinging contest between D3 and TL2 fans. The respective hype and backlash. In the end I think it’s good that they’re very different games that can’t be compared all that easily. Well, other than being personally in favour of either one or both.
    I fall into the camp that really loved Torchlight 2. It was good to relive that great D2 feeling in a modern format without a bunch of MMO crap being added. You know, wielding a weapon because I ripped it from the clutches of a slain monster, playing a character that is truly my own – flaws and all – and actually having the game modes that made D2 so great to me: Singleplayer and LAN.

  9. MistyMike says:

    I enjoyed T2 despite not really liking the crawler genre in general. So I guess that means the game was well desinged. But the endless garbage sorting was really getting on my nerves near the end.

  10. rockman29 says:

    I like Titan Quest more than D3 or TL2, except that inventory management sucks… lol.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      If it weren’t for the massive difficulty spikes in Titan Quest, it would have been my all-time favorite ARPG.

  11. Baines says:

    Torchlight II does have some strikes, though.

    Devs were apparently annoyed that Vanquisher was an easy one-stat build in T1, so they changed the behavior of Dexterity in T2. The result is that the Outlander is the only character who has a primary that at best is their second most important stat. The Outlander is the only class where focusing on your primary results in an nonviable character.

    Second Outlander issue is that it is a gun/bow character where the optimal build doesn’t even involve using guns/bows. Making a build that actually relies on using your gun is considered the hard way of playing the class. Or, as one person on the forums described it, “playing a physical Outlander instead of a Focus-based one is the Torchlight 2 equivalent of cutting yourself.”

    Still only two storage chests? One of the most popular mods for T1 was extra storage.

    Official mod support, planned at one time for an October release, is still absent. And it sounds like it isn’t coming particularly soon.

    And, though some people vocally don’t want it, I wish they’d break down and just put support for real respecs in the game. The game is long enough and with enough characters that it shouldn’t need the artificial length extensions given by forcing people to recreate characters from scratch if they spend a point in the wrong place. (The “respec last three skill points” ability is fairly useless, and there is no stat respec at all present.)

    • rockman29 says:

      That… sucks to hear, because I picked Outlander…

      • Baines says:

        Outlander is…

        Well, I’ve beat the game on Veteran with an Outlander, relying on ranged weapons (a Strength build instead of a Focus build). I died plenty of times. It is certainly harder than playing a Vanquisher on Torchlight 1. (To be fair, the Vanquisher was a pretty easy point-and-kill design.)

        I ran my Vanquisher as bow and crossbow, so i tried to run my Outlander the same way. On Veteran, that only works at the start. The range benefit just isn’t as important in T2. You so often get swarmed that you are often fighting stuff within pistol range. There is a passive skill to boost the range of both pistols and bows, so pistol range can get better. Bows, however, find themselves eventually able to shoot past the fade out spot for distant monsters. And most important is that both rapid fire and venomous hail ranges are completely separate from weapon. I ended up needing a shield for defense, and that meant that I had to use a pistol. I kept a bow as backup for a while, but realized I was never switching to it anyway.

        But while they toned down some of the Vanquisher-like aspects, they added the Glaive skills. They don’t require a ranged weapon, are affected by Focus, and are just really useful all around. And Cursed Daggers makes a good accessory attack when running a Focus build. On the Runic forums, the “Glaivelander” is considered the easy-mode Outlander.

        That doesn’t mean you have to play that build. You can beat the game with other Outlander builds. It is just harder to do so. And the reasons why it is harder to run a gun/bow-themed character were arguably rendered pointless when the devs added the skills that made the Glaive builds so powerful.

        • Premium User Badge

          drewski says:

          I beat NG+ on veteran with a (cross)bow build. Biggest problem is you just can’t do damage fast enough to stay alive as soon as the mobs get serious. Definitely wouldn’t try it on Hardcore…

          But it will always be my favourite character, because it represents the way I actually want to play T2.

  12. The Random One says:

    In a world without Christmas I’d have gone out today. But this is a world with Christmas, so I hide in my home, away from mad shoppers.

  13. Minsc_N_Boo says:

    Torchlight 2 is my GOTY. I skipped D3 after trying the beta, and this is the sort of ARPG I was after. Online could be better, but it is by far the best £15 I spent this year.

  14. catherinecatherine says:

    like Edna replied I’m dazzled that someone able to get paid $5103 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this webpage http://www.ASK22.com

  15. karthink says:

    What ARPGs need now is a slick loot management system. I like comparing weapons, and two at a time doesn’t cut it. Give us an in-game loot interface that’s as slick as Hipmunk and basically infinite storage.

    Yup, I just said Torchlight 2 needed Excel in-game.

  16. Shooop says:

    I’ve put about 89 hours into this little game since buying it only about 2-3 weeks ago.

    I’ve found it and Borderlands 2 to be the perfect antidote to GW2’s crappy “Stand still and press button until monster dies” formula. It’s simple, but it’s so well polished and just feels great. You can make yourself insanely powerful if you want – it’s actually an option. And mods!

    Now if they’d just get multiplayer working properly so anyone on a new game + could join anyone else.

  17. RegisteredUser says:

    Could someone explain a bit more whether or not there is an “auto-aim” and what that spells exactly in the game?

    I thought it was kinda like in 1, where you bashed/rushed/cast in the place and direction you aimed at with your mouse?