Nostalgia is sometimes seen as a yearning for a simpler time, usually childhood. With this in mind, can one possibly be nostalgic for 2012? That was when Torchlight II was first released for PC. As such, Perfect World Entertainment is betting on the audience yearning for the golden age of seven years ago with the release of Torchlight II on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Torchlight II is a direct sequel to the first Torchlight game, where one of its protagonists, the Alchemist, has developed an obsession with obliterating ‘Ember’, a gemstone that is the source of magic in this world. Obviously, other magic users are not keen on this plan, and the player character sets out to prevent the Alchemist’s scheme, fulfilling any number of other quests along the way.
Comparison with the Diablo series is pretty much unavoidable. The team at original developer Runic Games consisted of many people from Blizzard North, which worked on the first two Diablo games. Runic Games deliberately set out to create a spiritual sequel to Diablo, following many of the tropes and gameplay elements.
The gameplay loop is familiar, and involves fighting monsters in an isometric environment, completing quests and picking up loot. The graphics are colourful and have a comic-book feel that manages to make it visually distinctive from its inspiration. The cartoonish proportions are more reminiscent of other Blizzard property World of Warcraft, while keeping its own style.
The interface has been redesigned for consoles, using a radial menu set-up for things like the inventory. Unfortunately, this redesign is a little on the clunky side, and lacks the intuitive simplicity of the menu systems used in the console versions of Diablo III or Victor Vran. One particular irritation is the bizarre decision to have the controller vibrate when navigating the radial menu. While the vibration feature can be turned off entirely, the ‘vibrate in menu’ feature can not.
Another slight annoyance is the targeting system, something that previously received criticism in the PC version. Unfortunately, the system has not received a significant improvement, and players will often find that they waste an ability on thin air instead of hitting enemies. This feature is a source of considerable frustration, particularly in the early game or if using a slow, heavy weapon.
One positive is the player pet. Unlike other games which reserve a pet for certain character classes, in Torchlight II everyone gets access to a pet, which can be customized alongside the player character. Options range from wolf, cat, and weasel to the PlayStation 4-exclusive pixie. The pet will fight enemies for the player and can carry items, which is particularly convenient as it can be dispatched to town to sell unneeded items, saving the player from having to regularly make the journey.
The time saving presented by the pet means that more time can be spent exploring the environment; this brings out one of the best features of Torchlight II, as every nook and cranny seems to have a secret. These range from hidden treasure chests to special powerful monsters who open portals on death. The dungeons likewise contain secret passageways, many of which can be opened up by destroying specific objects to reveal special loot.
In terms of story, on a surface level it works fairly well, clearly taking a lot of cues from Diablo II, with the evil former protagonist that the current players are hunting down. Some lore is scattered around, regarding the role of the various elemental guardians and the various other races such as the Estherians. Unfortunately, the narrative lacks the layers of history that have been built up for the Warcraft and Diablo universes, and so cannot boast the depth of those games.
Overall, Torchlight II is a very solid console port. The gameplay loop is generally satisfying despite the minor annoyances, and can even feel a bit zen once the player manages to sink fully into the rhythm. Torchlight II does not do anything remarkable for the action hack-and-slash genre, but functions as a good spiritual successor to Diablo II and makes for a good alternative for hack-and-slash fans who were put off by Diablo III.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available on PC, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.