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Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Fifteen

Underground Gaming

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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