Torchlight II gets right to the point. It’s not interested in wasting your time with introductory sequences or tutorials or any of that other bullshit. It’s fast-paced, responsive, and ready for you to start smashing skulls within the first seconds of play.
I’m probably going to enjoy Torchlight II since everything from the original is back and then some. With more pets and more character classes and more skills and a seemingly infinite number of swords and armor pieces and necklaces and rings and gems and other, must-have loot, Torchlight II is comfortably familiar. I’m quickly back into my old habits of performing dazzling attacks that pop open nightmarish creatures who suffer from incredibly high blood pressure … all made easy with a recharging mana bar.
But something happened last year that forever changed my perception of these point-and-click, action role-playing games. Bastion. While also as impressed as others with the slick, procedural level generation and the hauntingly somber voice-over companion, I instead loved a much simpler improvement so much more: the ability to dodge.
Giving players the option to avoid incoming attacks with a tactical move rather than a forced retreat changes everything. In Torchlight, I do a lot of running back and forth against high-health bosses. For lower-caste enemies, I’ll hold steady and spam devastating area-of-effect attacks and chug recovery potions. Sure, bursting open dozens of meat bags is visually striking and entertaining even if only for a while. But Bastion adds a risk/reward element that’s entirely based on player skill.
Suddenly, you realize that positioning is much more important. Reading your opponents’ move sets likewise becomes vital to survival. The action is no longer an indecipherable mess of blood and guts and special effects but one of keen observation and timing. Now, you’re invested in the moment-to-moment combat beyond mere glances and reflexive left- and right-button mouse clicks forever burned into muscle memory.
So to see Runic Games, a developer founded by the creators of 1996’s Diablo that kicked off the whole genre, releasing Torchlight II last week with all its polish but without the inclusion of an ability to roll out of the way is a shame. (And I do mean an innate ability, not an unlockable skill. Dragon’s Dogma does the latter, allowing only a single character class to partake in the joys of dodging. Come on, Capcom! You know better.)
This is a feature standard in the very best third-person action games on consoles — I'm talking about From Software’s Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls and Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. After playing those, going back ain't easy.
These developers get it. Indie developer Supergiant Games brought it to the isometric ARPG with Bastion. It’s time the big players get it, too.