What can I say about Torchlight II that hasn’t been said? The Beta has closed and E3 is now in the past, so hopefully this post won’t get lost in the E3 madness, and we will still foaming at the mouth with anticipation for Torchlight II!
Many, many thanks to the fine folks at Runic Games for allowing us to test drive the Torchlight II Beta. If I had any doubts before (and I had not), they would’ve been shattered like an ember crystal in the mines below Torchlight! The game seems even better than anticipated, ripe with a sleeker artstyle and brimming with refined features. Most underused new feature seems to be the ability to now give your pets a shopping list. Yes, previously you could load up your pet and let them sell your unwanted junk in town, all while you continued to click-attack and loot in the nether regions of Torchlight. As if that isn’t enough, you can now make sure your pet returns with not only money secured by selling your overflow, but also with a supply of scrolls or potions!
Skill trees for the new classes really seem to pop. I’m sure it was part my own fault and part innovation on Runic’s part, but in the original outing I didn’t seem to focus my character classes on a specific skill tree. Now, rather than attempt a jack-of-all-trades, the skill trees really seem to encourage you to focus your class skills in a specific direction and then replay with a new character to try out different builds. This was especially apparent with the Embermage class, who has the option to study Fire, Ice or Electric schools of magic. Sure, you could take the buffet approach to this, but focusing all of your skills points and harnessing the power of one of the three sets is much more attractive. Still, the skill trees are a work in progress with perks for higher level skills and respecs being put under the microscope.
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Now, all of that is fantastic, and I cannot wait for Torchlight II to launch, but there was one thing that stood out of this “Multiplayer” Beta: its performance online. Now, a little clearing of the air before we proceed. I in no way intend to fuel a competition between Diablo III and Torchlight II; they are both outstanding games and any hint of a competition between the two is silly at best. Go out and enjoy them both for the top-notch experiences that they are. There is no “winner” or “loser;” they are both stellar entries. Yes, they are both in the same genre and both releasing in the same year (hopefully); beyond that, I will not be accused of putting hashmarks in either column. Now, having experience with the Diablo III Beta, of which you can read here, I knew that playing on a home internet connection that was awarding me an abysmal ping of 1740 probably meant that I would not be able to enjoy this Torchlight II multiplayer Beta at home, at least not without the lag noted in my Diablo III post or similar results with the internet connection required game Darkspore. Both games lag out like crazy on my wonderful home ISP, but, to my surprise, Torchlight II did nothing of the sort. Now, this means nothing outside the Beta, because Torchlight II will not require an internet connection to play on launch, unless, of course, you are looking to play co-op. However, I did think that this was a great topic to bring up and discuss.
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The video posted above is a gameplay capture from the Torchlight II Beta being played on the same home connection that rendered Diablo III and Darkspore, along with any other online game, completely unplayable. You will notice the absence of any and all lag, but how exactly does Torchlight II do it? Well, first, let’s look at the previously mentioned games, Darkspore and Diablo III. Both of these games feature characters persistent to single-player and multi-player, so your single-player loot and progression is immediately available in a multi-player or co-op session. As such, and with very competitive PvP players invested in these games, there must be anti-cheat measures taken to preserve an even playing field, free of hacks, cheats and illegal stat buffs. To achieve this, the player must be constantly connected to the game online, via the company’s servers, with the bulk of the work being done server side. Now, we know that Torchlight II will operate on an “honor system”, basically meaning that there will not be anti-cheat measures; it is simply up to the player to surround themselves with co-op partners that will not employ any unwanted hacks, cheats or the like. So, should you not care if your co-op partners use such things, that is fine. Should you object, then you must find other co-op partners that you can trust. Either way, the onus is taken off of Runic Games and off of their servers. This opens the game up to using a peer-to-peer server system, in essence placing the workload on your computer and not on the Runic servers. The end result is a game that can be freely played on any internet connection AND used in all of its beautiful, lag-free glory in the LAN space, regardless of what type of an internet connection you are running the game from. No matter how you choose to play—solo, online co-op or with LAN buddies—Torchlight II will provide you the best possible experience. Now, of course, the seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op will still not work should you have a very high ping and desire to play with online partners, but I commend Runic on the approach that they are taking to ensure the best gameplay experience for everyone.
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Now that we have the technical jargon out of the way, let’s talk a bit about this fantastic Beta experience. The artstyle has changed very minimally, but it seems much cleaner and sleeker. The four classes are all new–The Engineer, Embermage, Outlander and the Beserker. The Engineer, previously titled the Railman, seems especially interesting. This character has the damage dealing of the Barbarian/Beserker, being skilled with 2-handed weapons, but then it has the summons of an Alchemist. The ability to summon bots, not very much unlike the Alchemists’ golems, bring with them buffs for the parties health/mana regen or stats. The Outlander and his rougue-like skill tree and Glaive ability makes him immediately attractive. All characters come in male and female customizeable flavors and there are many more pets to choose from. In addition to the original cat, you now have a Wolf, Hawk, Weasel, Panther, Bulldog and Chakawarys, in addition to the star of the show—the coveted Falcor, the pet of Runic’s own Minister of Culture.
The Beta gave players a sizeable chunk of the game to explore—more than I could get around to during the Beta period. I managed to finish the complete portion available and play with more than one of the characters and pets, but I can’t help but feel there was a portion left unexplored when the Beta came to a close this past May. Fans of the original classes need not worry, as Runic has promised in the past, and we can now attest to after playing the Beta, those fond character classes will have there own “cameos”, so to speak. All in all, the Beta confims what we already know: Torchlight II is going to be a complete home run. The game is already available for pre-order on Steam for $19.99, giving you a free copy of the first entry with each pre-order. I would highly encourage you place that pre-order now, it will be the best twenty dollars you have ever spent. See you in Torchlight II later this year!