What We Know: There are two types of people in this world: those who have played Torchlight, and those who haven't. If you haven't played it, what are you waiting for? Go download it on Steam for your Mac or PC right now. We'll still be here when you get back. If you have played it, then you'll know how excited I was when Torchlight 2 was recently announced.
What We're Seeing Now: It's no secret that Torchlight was developed by several key members from the team that developed the original Diablo, and the influence definitely shows: loot galore, health potions, Town Portal & Identify scrolls everywhere. Not that these are unique to the dungeon crawling world at this point, but the way into the presentation of Torchlight was obviously paved by Diablo.
The first game offered up terrific gameplay with a fun art style. There's a definitely a cartoonish look and feel to the title, and that's carried over along with most of the previous gameplay elements. What they've really done with Torchlight 2 is taken a fairly well-honed blade and put a diamond edge on it.
That, or they've just put a second blade into your other hand. It's sharper either way.
Torchlight 2 finally takes you outside the town of … er, Torchlight this time around, and you'll be exploring the randomized wilds of the overland while looking for loot and bashing baddies. There's a big exploration elemlent to both the original Torchlight and the sequel, so Runic Games has attempted to expand that role by having you encounter area events and miniquests as you wander the world. You might pick up "A Mysterious Key" dropped by a foe you've just offed that will open a chest somewhere nearby. But it won't be marked on your map, and you'll have to find it yourself.
Gone, however, are theold characters from Torchlight. You'll actually be able to encounter them as NPCs in the game, but you can kiss them goodbye when you boot up the sequel. This time you'll customize a new hero to take into battle. They've revealed two of them out of a planned four so far, and they won't be recycling any of the older classes.
The Railman (or woman) is a steampunk, working class hero. They're scrappy and good at melee combat. While not necessarily a tank, he does have a lot of armor buffing skills. The Outlander is more of a rogue type, good at ranged combat (although not shabby at melee), faster and has a more brooding demeanor. Plus, they wield a glaive that they can toss around. Shades of Krull.
You'll be able to pick sex, hair (and haircolor) and even the appearance of their face, which is a big improvement over the last game. They have more artists on the game this time around which means you'll get a lot more customization for each class as you find more armor and items down the line. The look of your character changes over time, letting you see how much you've progressed in the game.
One unique aspect of the the characters is that you can "retire" them once they get to a certain level and gift all of your nifty gear to a new character. Not a bad mechanic if you decide to reroll. Your pet is also upgraded as well, and you can choose a dog, cat or a ferret, which was previously only available as a bonus if you bought the "Encore" boxed copy of the game. More pet types will be coming, and they now have an expanded inventory and added functionality.
The game also supports online play via a lobby server, and through LAN, that includes multiplayer, as well, which is brand-new to the series. You can choose to work together, or go your own way. You'll see icons representing where your fellow adventurers are on the map, and it certainly doesn't hurt to team up for some of the bigger dungeon boss battles. Thankfully, you can completely ignore them if you want. If you do choose to game together, loot that drops for you will only be seen by your player, meaning no more battles over who gets the rare axe that just dropped.
The menu bar has evolved with mana and health shifting to the outside and increased functionality coming to the action items in the middle. "We want people to be able to play this game with one hand tied behind their back," said the developer who served as our guide. They're looking at making it easier to identify items as well, so you don't have to carry around a sheaf of Identify spells. This is just one example of how they're trying to streamline the game, and you can also mod the game as much as you want, complete with Runic's blessing, and via TorchEd, the Torchlight editor.
"Someone asked us if we intended to make a Torchlight 2, and … no. We hadn't. But we decided that since the first one was so well received, that this might be a very fun thing to do." They're still working forward to release a Torchlight MMO with Perfect World at some point, as was the original plan, but right now they're focused on Torchlight 2 and are aiming to have the game ready by spring 2011. I'm ready for it right now, Runic. Just saying.
One protip that I learned from this session? If you hold Shift while attacking in the original game, your character won't move. This was like finding out I actually have two arms and not just one, because I kept clicking to attack, and accidentally tapping the ground near the creature I wanted to hurl a wand fireball at. Which of course sets you walking off towards them. Now you can hang back and unleash a barrage of ranged attacks without worrying that you'll try to get up close and personal. Whew.