Let’s start with the positive: this is an enchanting game for about the first 20 hours. The art style has a distinctive, toylike blockiness; the environments are big and varied; and as in Borderlands, there’s an endless stream of weapons and skills to try.

Are you a friendly steampunk monster?  No, huh?

Are you a friendly steampunk monster? No, huh?

It’s really a lot like Torchlight, except that rather than one near-endless dungeon (35 levels!), there’s a wide world, itself full of monsters, plus a number of smaller dungeons.  So, you still have several playable classes, a mixture of magic, swords, and guns, a pet who’ll fight alongside you and who will sell your loot back in town, fish to change the pet temporarily into another creature, portal scrolls to go back to town.  And the game consists of bundling through the rooms, blowing away a wide range of enemies, collecting gold, and evaluating loot.

Also as in Borderlands, the player characters from the first game have become NPCs in the sequel. Indeed, one of them has gone evil, and is the penultimate boss.

Your basic attacks (LMB) are supplemented by skills and magic– i.e., some of these use mana and some don’t. You can assign any of these to RMB, as well as to 0-9. I played as an Outlander– essentially a rogue, specializing in ranged weapons– and didn’t have much trouble anywhere in the game. If you like a skill, you can improve it by adding skill points; you won’t have enough points to try everything, much less max them all out.

A hint for the last two bosses: have plenty of health potions on hand. I had 71 going into the final dungeon, and used about 30. It’s really easy to run down your health bar quickly. (However, the boss doesn’t regenerate HP, so if you die you don’t have to replay the whole fight.) Mana potions are a little less important, as you can always just get out of range for a few seconds, but grab a few extra.

On the negative side… well, the last 15 hours or so were a chore. I never finished the first Torchlight: all the levels started to feel the same. And though the environments are more varied here, it’s pretty repetitive. It’s never terribly hard– even the final bosses go down quickly under a barrage of skill-spam– just remember to watch your health bar.

Also, it seemed that after a certain point, I only rarely got any loot worth keeping. Part of this is because you can add enchantments, and gems with their own enchantments. So I was making a lot of comparisons like this:

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That’s a final boss item, and it only does 2/3 of the damage of the bow I’d had for many levels. The whole slots and enchantments thing is expensive and makes it hard to switch weapons– which in turn erodes most of the fun of finding loot. It’s OK if most loot is trash, but this kind of game really needs the feeling that the next chest might contain a really insane weapon.

The other problem is that the game is nearly characterless. There’s a plot– evil guy is gonna destroy the world– booring. No characters are memorable, no quests are quirky, there’s very little to care about. Plus, no jokes. Torchlight had its moments (check out the Sword of Adam in the link above), but Torchlight II, for all the cartoonishness of the art, is deadly serious. Maybe they figured they couldn’t top Dungeons of Dredmor.

Now, there’s also co-op, and maybe that changes everything. A lot of games really shine only when you’re messing around with friends. I have a good gaming group, and yet the only thing we play consistently is TF2, so I rarely get the change to try multiplayer in games.

When you finish, you can either replay it at a higher difficulty level, or play a bunch of random dungeons. I tried one, which was not hard, and also built up my distressingly low gold resources.  But I don’t see myself playing through the whole set.

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