Torchlight 2 preview: Finishing Touches

As September 20 looms close, one might expect to see Torchlight 2 developer Runic Games scrambling in its final days. The recently announced release date is approaching fast. But the game has at least felt complete since my time with it at PAX East, giving a wide berth to Diablo 3 and affording itself plenty of time for finishing touches.

As a result, my time with it at PAX Prime showcased not just the functional mechanics of the sizable follow-up, but some areas that Runic has had time to think through extra features. One of the most important revisions comes to skills, which now include tiered bonuses. Runic found that players weren't feeling much reason to invest in skills beyond the standard stat increases, so now each skill includes three much more powerful tiers that are unlocked as you progress.

This second look also gave a sampling of the one factor that can't be judged from a single demonstration: variety. While the first game felt largely the same throughout, the handful of settings I've been able to explore now couldn't be more different. The grassy meadow, desert wasteland, and musty dungeon were all distinct expressions of this world. Even still, it all carries a unified look, and the environments clearly belong in the same world. Torchlight 2 seems to have gained breadth without sacrificing depth.

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I spent my time as a pre-built female Berserker, a far cry from my previous experiences with Embermage. Besides the obvious qualities of being a faster, more aggressive character than many others, I invested into some Wolf abilities. Triggering the transformation to wreak havoc on scads of underlings is a more active exercise than traditional dungeon-crawlers, and felt appropriately vicious.

Despite the increased power, though, I'd occasionally run into creatures too strong for me to handle. A Runic representative would look over my shoulder and tell me, in no uncertain terms, to run away. After the original game offered such clear sequential challenge in descending the dungeon layers, it was reassuring to know that I'll have a reason to revisit areas in the sequel.

This close to release, Torchlight 2 was essentially a finished product. Runic even said that it will watch the community for cues on post-release plans, and mentioned the possibility of additional pets. But it's been finished in a sense for months, and the extra time was well-spent assuring the pieces fit together perfectly.