The original Torchlight is an awesome game and there isn't much to complain about. It's fun to look at and incredibly addicting. Torchlight II thankfully doesn't stray too far away from the classic gameplay, but it does feel noticeably more streamlined.
It's also bigger -- three times the size of the first game, in fact -- so you'll get to enjoy many dozens of hours happily gathering loot.
Torchlight II (PC, Mac)
Pets are much better this time around. You can pick between owning a ferret, a chakawary (a little dragonlike guy), a cat, a bulldog, a panther, and a wolf. They are all adorable and I could just stare at their cute little animations all day. They still serve as your combat partners and can go back to town to sell loot. Now, you can also give them a shopping list to bring things back with them. That's right, your pet can bring back health and mana potions, town portal scrolls, and identification scrolls.
There are a lot of very nice little changes to the interface that help to make the overall game experience better. Unidentified items can be identified by simply right-clicking them, meaning you don't have to click on a scroll and then click on the item. Loot names can also be toggled on and off instead of having to hold down ALT when you want to see things. There are more tweaks like this that don't really bring any drastic changes to the gameplay, but they do eliminate extra clicks and make information easier to access, which is always a good thing to see.
All of the maps are randomly generated in Torchlight II. The overworld areas and dungeons are always different, so the replay factor is almost infinite. There are even random quests scattered around, such as soldiers who need help fighting back wolves. If you save him, you'll gain experience, a few coins, and he'll give you some loot. Even though it's all random, it doesn't feel like it; if you told me that someone designed these levels, I would believe you. The camp area I started in reminded me of one of Titan Quest's zones. Whatever magic Runic is crafting behind the scenes works well.
The newest feature that Runic has revealed about Torchlight II is the charge bar. This bar fills up during combat, and it drains when you're not fighting. Upon filling it up, you can use a special ability that is unique to every class. Engineers have more powerful attacks, Berserkers have every attack become a critical hit, Outlanders can move faster, and the Embermage is able to cast spells without draining mana.
I saved the best for last; the multiplayer. It's good. Unlike Dungeon Siege III, players will gain full rewards no matter what. You can be playing alone, host a game, or join someone else's game with the same character and earn just as much XP and loot all the time. You can start a quest in your game and finish it in your friend's. You can even help your friends complete quests you don't have. You'll still get XP, gold, and some loot, but you won't get any unique quest-related drops from bosses unless you also have that quest.
Joining another person's game doesn't mean that you really have to play with that person. Players can run off wherever they want to. Playing together is much more fun, of course, but the game doesn't force you to do that. In the time I spent with the game, I played a ranged Outlander while another player joined me as a melee Berserker. He could get up close while I stood back and shot from a distance. The game scales how tough the monsters are according to how many players are there and what levels everyone is at.
Torchlight II is shaping up to be one of the better games of 2012. It will face some tough competition from Diablo III, but don't skip over it or think of it as "the cheap Diablo." From what I've seen, Torchlight II is a very good game and it's just as polished and enjoyable as Diablo III. The random content will actually give it more replayability, and its lower price makes it easier to fit the game into your budget. I won't tell you to pick this over Diablo III, but don't ignore it, either. If you like action RPGs, you need to get Torchlight II.
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10:00 AM on 01.27.2015