There came a brief moment of complete disassociation on my first day burning through the newly released console port of Torchlight 2. I was curled up on the couch, Switch in hand, as my mage plunged the depths of yet another dangerous cavern when I thought to myself “What time is it?” I genuinely had no idea how long I had been sitting there playing and as I looked up at the clock I half expected the evening to have settled in.
It was barely three in the afternoon.
This is how it feels to sink into Torchlight 2. A game that seems designed not to thrill the player but to engage them in an endless loop, placating only the base desires. This isn’t inherently a bad thing; the Action Role Playing Game (ARPG) genre by nature will always have a degree of steady repetition but Torchlight 2’s greatest sin is doing so with as little panache as possible.
Now, almost five years to the day since its original PC release, it arrives on consoles. And while purists will no doubt enjoy the reverence for tradition found in the game’s core systems, Torchlight 2‘s light has been all but snuffed out in 2019.
Torchlight 2 Switch Review
The port itself has been handled with the kind of excellence we’ve come to expect from studio Panic Button. While not as graphically intensive as the team’s other recent ports, such as Doom and Warframe, the Switch edition of Torchlight 2 looks crisp and runs smoothly with only a couple of minor hitches.
The exclusion of local co-op is borderline unforgivable though. The adaptation of the game’s click-centric PC UI/input also works a treat as the console versions feel as natural as the Diablo III radial menu port before them.
This isn’t all that surprising given how openly inspired by the Diablo franchise the Torchlight games have always been. Runic Games was in part started by the creators of Diablo with the intention of continuing on the legacy of the Blizzard owned classic property.
This passion for games of yore is evident; despite my gripes with Torchlight 2, it can not be denied how much love was poured into its grimdark virtual world. But a slavish adoration of legacy stifles innovation as the potential for the future of the ARPG is squandered in service of its past.
It would genuinely be a disservice to say that Torchlight 2 doesn’t have a plot but asking you to care about it is a whole other issue. One of the heroes from the first Torchlight has been corrupted by dark power and is blazing a path of destruction across the land.
Naturally, it’s now up to you, a new recruit, to unite the realms against his rath. Along the way, you’ll meet different races with different cultures, other wandering adventurers on the road and maybe even foil an evil plot or two. You’ll do this, of course, by diving headfirst into enemy-infested dungeons and scouring the map for loot.
It’s the kind of vague end of the world tale that promises the greatest of stakes while allowing for endless delays. The bulk of this is told through copious amounts of text, some of which is voiced, but it’s a struggle to not skip the longer drawls of stock standard lore dumps. The world of Torchlight 2 is fascinating enough, especially once you reach lands with cultures inspired by tropes other than European fantasy, but the tale spun serves as little more than a backdrop to the action.
Given the nature of the genre though, it would be disingenuous to say that this has anything more than a passing effect on the experience. Even the reigning champion of the ARPG, Diablo III, had me occasionally zoning out during plot beats after all.
What pulls you into a game like this, and what keeps you glued to your seat, is the action-driven gameplay loop. In this sense, Torchlight 2 finds an uneven footing, despite some technical difficulties.
Torchlight 2 opts for the quality over quantity approach to its playable classes, offering up only four yet very distinct options. Your character can be built up to be almost the exact kind of warrior you envision. Embermages have access to a variety of elemental types, the Berserker class can brute strength his way through anything, the Engineer can summon steam-punk robotic aids and the Outlander is ripped straight from a Western, pistols and all.
Within each of the classes are elaborate skill trees but due to Torchlight 2’s vintage approach to builds, you’ll need to make some tough choices. There aren’t enough skill points to allow players to experiment with their chosen abilities meaning your path is relatively set once you’ve chosen it.
The game allows a small degree of point rollback but never to a degree where you can say change entirely from an ice-based mage to a fire one. You’re of course welcome to spread your points as thin as possible in an attempt to try different abilities but you’ll end as a jack of all trades, master of none.
Blasts of Banality
On the other hand, Torchlight 2’s emulation of the past results in a deeper levelling system, a welcome callback to the more complex origins of the Diablo series. In addition to your skill points, you’ll also have to distribute attribute points to base stats such as health and mana.
Even if the changes to your build are minor for each level there is something immensely satisfying about knowing that each inch you move the needle forward was a deliberate choice you made for your character.
Combat itself sits uncomfortably between thrilling and mundane. Given that each level up yields at least an upgrade to your existing skills, or at most a brand new power to try out, you’ll be consistently rewarded with flashy animations and satisfying game feel during combat.
These thrills are dulled by the simplicity of the combat which boils down to simple resource management (health and mana pools) and occasional precision timing. There are also some small bugs when playing as a ranged build as the autotarget system can wig out on occasion and even trap you in an attack loop.
Then there’s the loot.
Everything you do in Torchlight 2 will net you more loot to sift through. Finish a quest? Get some loot. Open a chest? Get some loot. Kill an enemy? Get some loot. Smash a rock? You guessed it.
For many players this is basically the name of the game; as combat can leave you wanting, the rewards reaped for hours spent grinding away at the game are all that matters. Torchlight 2’s problem is that it understands this a little too well and provides you with a suffocating stream of clutter.
It’s not that there aren’t useful items strewn throughout the endless lists of wearables, weapons and consumables but even the brightly coloured rarity rating does little to help you find them.
The constant stream of items is desensitising; even when you find one you like you’re bound to find a slightly better one just moments later. Fortunately, you’re able to unload on trusty pet companion the ability to haul a huge amount of loot back to town to sell and trade for money and potions.
Following suit of the gameplay, Torchlight 2’s overall aesthetic also wobbles between past and present. Panic Button’s port onto the Switch pulls its weight, especially in handheld mode, as the game’s visuals pop with detail and a smooth frame rate. No matter how clean a port this is it can’t change the fact that Torchlight 2‘s art direction is lacking identity.
An obvious emulation of concepts done to death in other fantasy games isn’t the issue here; there are only so many ways to imagine the kind of world Torchlight 2 is trying to build after all. Rather, the style chosen by Runic opts for cartoonish proportions and gaudy colour pallets giving the whole game a sheen of a slightly cheap mobile title.
It’s not disagreeable as such, but it’s also not all that pleasing. Much the same can be said about the game’s score which fairs only slightly better. Composer Matt Uleman’s work on Diablo II counts as some of the best music games has to offer and at times Torchlight 2’s score brushes up against this level of quality.
The ambient tracks, in particular, once paired with the game’s solid sound design, bring a sorely lacking sense of wonder to the experience but even Uleman’s work struggles to find resonance as the hours march on.
In many ways, I admire what Torchlight 2 attempted to do back in 2012. Runic Games’ adoration for old school gameplay ideals was, and remains, utterly charming and when it works it really works. Which is to say that Torchlight 2‘s shortcomings aren’t its spirit or intent, but rather its core lack of polish and identity.
The bones of a great game exist within the second entry, even today, but lop-sided gameplay and uninspired presentation obscure them far too much. It’s a shame then that Runic Games, having gone out of business in 2017, won’t get another shot at the Torchlight franchise.
A third entry may have just found the right balance between the past and the future.
Torchlight 2 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Torchlight 2
Game Description: The 2012 PC ARPG hit finally comes to home consoles tasking players with battling and looting their way through a fantasy world in peril.