Embers of Competition | Torchlight II Beta First Impressions

Edit: WordPress doesn’t seem to be fond of multiple post updates after publishing — it tends to lose some of the prior updates. Anyway, server login issues have improved dramatically.

A bony hand bursts forth from the dirt, a twisted parody of birth as a colourful skeleton forces it’s way out of its earthy womb. My pet wolf, Fang, dashes forward into a leaping pounce and assails this terribly anorexic creature. I suspect he wants a shinbone more than he wants to… umm, kill the skeleton. I briefly wonder how one kills that which has no life, but am quickly shaken from my contemplations as lo: whilst my pet does manage to acquire a shinbone, this shambling skeleton warrior has been reduced into an upper-torso monstrosity propelling itself forward using naught but it’s arms. It really wants me dead.

Had I offended it in its past life so? As it pitifully drags itself closer, hearing its former shinbone being chewed upon by an overly large dog, I ruminate upon my past dealings with people who I met in my travels. Perhaps this was the owner of that faulty outhouse, the one which was unfortunately linked to a potent ember vein and thus, turned the simple act of flushing into an epic tale of dodging hot water geysers and avoiding drowning. I did tell him that I was an Engineer and what he really needed was a plumber, not that the old codger listened anyway. I affixed a couple of cable ties to a few visible pipes, casted a spell — the only one I knew at that time was to power a lightbulb for five minutes — then called it a day.

I have no idea what happened as I left town the following morning. Since I’m now travelling back on the same route, there’s a very high chance that this is the same person. Or used to be, at least. I look deep into its eye sockets, hoping to light a spark of recognition in either of us… A worm fell out of its nostril.

With overwhelming sadness, I realise that there is probably nothing left of the old man in that excuse of a body. If there was then he’d probably be consumed with unimaginable rage since I probably contributed to his death. Looking around to make sure no one was looking, I raise the oversized wrench I won at a travelling circus booth and crush the skeleton’s skull just as it was about to start gnawing on my leg. A swirling vortex of pretty particle effects circle my body and the words “Level Up” appear over my head. I get the feeling that the man-in-the-sky-controlling-me is immensely pleased with this development and next thing I know, I could suddenly summon a heal bot.

Torchlight II is turning out to be as fun as I had hoped it to be.

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In the colossal wake of Diablo III’s release — good and bad press alike — comes Torchlight II, the highly anticipated competitor in the growing Action RPG market. If you don’t already know, there is some buzz and love going around for the TL series because the co-founders also happened to create Diablo in the first place, back in the early days of Blizzard’s growth (alongside our own).

I’ll take a look at both of these titles in a later post, but for now let’s focus on the stress-test open-beta weekend for Torchlight II. Since there isn’t a Non-Disclosure Agreement, it being open and all, I can share all I want with you!

Imagine, if you will, being a squirrel and finding a walnut you previously hid but had totally forgotten about. For a moment, I was that squirrel, my whiskers twitching in uncontrollable glee as I hugged my beta-key-walnut and bounded towards my internet-tree-hole, ready to crack upon the shiny loot locked within. “Oh, how joyous a squirrel was he!” they would giggle and say. As my eyes dilated to that of a drug-addict in religious rapture and rainbows-sans-leprechauns spewed forth from my mouth, I hit the log-in button and bashed in my credentials like an excitable monkey.

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Who it what now? Odd, maybe I got a little too excited. I key in my information again.

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Like a nibbling rat, it hit me. This is the first time Torchlight is going online multiplayer and it is their first open beta. Was I unfortunate enough to have tried during downtime maintenance? A quick hit up on the forums confirmed my suspicions: others were having the exact some problem too, whereas others couldn’t even get into the web account or authenticate their keys. No biggie, the whole point was to test for bugs and server loads are definitely one of the concerns too. The best part of the whole affair is that there isn’t any ridiculous always-online DRM, so when I buy it and can’t log in, I’ll just play it off-line in single player, as is my intention for initial play-throughs all along.

Once again, I emphatise with all the D3 early adopters who took leave and what-not only to find themselves struggling to even get into the game. All too reminiscent of WoW Day-1 expansions. Shrugging it off, I decided to try again on the hour every hour. Little did I know that it would be nearly eight full hours before I could finally get in. Turns out this was an end-user stress test too.

But enough of that, into the game we go!

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I don’t think I’m the only one who notices the similarities Torchlight’s transition from I to II is just like Diablo I to II. Here I am now, starting at an encampment and about to adventure above-ground, just after a cinematic of the previous town (Torchlight/Tristram) gets destroyed? I grinned a big grin, the kind wolves have just before demolishing innocent pig homes before being brought to justice before inter-grove animal court. There are no illusions — either it’s homage to their earlier works or just a sneaky nod at the Diablo fans as well.

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Speaking of wolves, here is mine! I’m playing an Engineer, one of the four classes available to you in Torchlight II, alongside the Berserker, Embermage and Outlander. I knew damn well right there and then I was going to be playing this game for a long, long time. You also get to choose a pet, of which there are a number that you can take a look at here on the official site.

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A great relief to many ARPG players: the skill and stat trees. Also, check out that awesome NPC I just talked to.

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Inventories for the pet and I. One of the features I really love about TL is the pet system, much like the companion in Diablo II onwards, only this time more adorable, useful and customisable. It can return to town to sell unwanted loot and also buy potions and scrolls without you ever having to portal back to town; use spells and equip pet-equipment you give it; as well as be how aggressive you want it to be.

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One of the nice things they’ve included is the statistics menu. It provides you useful information such as your performance, armour and damage output, as well as lists of idle stats such as number of times you’ve fished if you happen to be one of those people who like such things.

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Not to forget the shared stash, of course. This is the chest which is tied to your account, meaning it’s shared between all your available characters. I remember back in the old days (circa early 2000) when I had to drop items onto the ground in a server and quickly swap characters before it disappeared, or risk enlisting the help of someone online and hope he or she doesn’t run off with that precious worn sash you found.

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Here’s the settings screen. They might change some of these upon release but I’m pleased with what I’m offered. I like to bring your attention to the “Floating Damage & Text” option, which now allows you to choose how often you get to see damage numbers. Personally I set mine to normal because I like seeing how much hurt I create. I think I phrased that a little wrong…

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Fishing is here to stay, of course. There isn’t alchemy in this game nor a food mechanic. Fish are there for you to feed your pet, to transform them into different monsters with different abilities. This fish to turn your pet into a spider to web enemies, or into that creature if you want poison attacks. It’s a nice touch and adds some depth to the gameplay.

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Here I am fighting ghost pirates. Combat is meaty and responsive, and by that I mean I know whether the battle is going in my favour. Your skills don’t feel useless and there’s a nice balance so far between them (emphasis: so far). And when you get criticals and the mob dies in a grisly firework of blood… oh boy.

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And here I am about to enter a temple. This may just be the first two-to-three hours, but wow the variety in mobs and environments is pretty damn impressive!

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Mmm, cartoon gore.

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For a game that’s about loot, they sure know how to get it right. I haven’t even completed beta content and look how badass I’ve become.

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I created an Embermage to try out briefly and I wasn’t disappointed either. The odd thing here seems to be that I created her under Veteran difficulty and yet I can join Casual and Normal games and as you can see, is reflected as Normal in the load screen. Not sure if this is a bug or if that is purely meant for your single-player games.

Now there is some concern going around that Torchlight II is going all out in it’s first few hours and won’t have enough left to impress you towards the end of the game. It’s a legitimate issue as Torchlight suffered from it as well, leaving you fairly bored halfway-through the mine-descending levels. Mods saved the experience but I’m truly hoping that the developers have found a way to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting throughout and that mods would only serve to further enhance your adventures.

The open beta will last until Tuesday, so there’s still some time to try it if you’re interested. The download and install is less than 2GB so it won’t take you long; it’s the beta key and login problems that might prove to be the major obstacles here.

If you’re interested in getting the game then you can either pre-order through Steam (get the first Torchlight free) or via Perfect World (and gain beta access to the upcoming D&D MMO, Neverwinter). Post-release you can buy the game directly from Runic, if word on forums are to be trusted. The best part here is the price, which is USD19.99. For a game of this quality, why would you not want to buy it? Especially considering how other publishers have the audacity to tack full sixty-dollar price tags on other crappy releases.

Torchlight II will be released in Summer 2012. http://www.torchlight2game.com/

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