Getting Into Gaming: Torchlight II
There’s something magical about stepping out of the town border knowing there’s a whole world, or multiple worlds out there; worlds of snow and ice, of desert, of mountain ranges and of swamps, just waiting to be explored at your leisure, not to mention the treasure to be found, the people to be rescued, the valiant quests for the good of all mankind, and the hundreds of bad guys just waiting for you to bash the hell out of them!
I’ve always loved ARPGs. Titan Quest was one of the games my boyfriend used to introduce me to LANing and more importantly, to ‘long term’ games (games which actually take hours, rather than minutes to finish). Even now, having played so many other different kinds of games, I still find that a good ARPG is exactly what I need sometimes, because it’s somewhere in between casual gaming and proper gaming. So I get to feel like a badass swinging my battle axes, without the stress of having my face eaten off by an alien or the imminent threat of national war brewing at my door.
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But I’ve found that I’m oddly fussy when it comes to finding an ARPG that I really like. The first one I was ever introduced to was DotA and that was back in high school when I had gaming skills and knowledge equivalent to that of a severely handicapped lab rat. Highly trained chimpanzees were better at gaming than me, and although I owned Age of Empires and The Sims I cheated at both and never took them seriously. When I got to university DotA suddenly made a reappearance among my friends and so I decided that I should give it a try, see what the fuss was about. I still don’t see what the fuss is about though! I played for a while and found the game repetitive and boring for the most part, while sometimes being too complicated for me to enjoy. This is a brief summary of how my game went: runrunrunrun bashbashbashbash runrunrunrun healhealhealheal. And then trying to build weapons and armour confused me so I gave up. Now I’m sure I missed something, some finer element of the game play that makes it infinitely more complex and clever, and my friends insist that I just need to get used to it and then I’ll enjoy it but it just didn’t capture my interest enough for me to want to try.
Then I discovered Titan Quest, while watching over my boyfriend’s shoulder as he and his sister played during one holiday. It looked fairly easy and the controls were simple enough and it did my favourite thing of giving you all the cool stuff you need so you never need to spend money on anything! So I tried playing it. At first I behaved like a ham-fisted ape, pressing all the wrong buttons, taking health potions when I meant to cast a spell, casting random spells when I was meant to be doing a power attack, and quite often running in the wrong direction all together. But I still enjoyed it and the skill tree made me feel like a kid at Christmas, so I pushed through my ineptitude because I really wanted to be good at it! And it was simple enough that very soon I was reasonably good and I could successfully LAN it with someone without being a total cost and causing them to die.
But the trouble with ARPGs is that once you finish them they don’t have a lot of replay value. They’re too short for you to forget what happened and what to do and where to go, but too long for you to just sit down and play one afternoon when you’ve got a bit of spare time on your hands. So once I finished Titan Quest twice (once as a single player and once with my boyfriend) I didn’t really feel like playing again for a third time. So the game got backshelfed. Besides, there were dozens of brand new exciting games for me to watch so I didn’t really miss it much when it was gone.
And then Torchlight II happened. It pretty much takes all my favourite elements of Titan Quest (amazing skills, free stuff, interesting landscape and diverse quests) and then makes them better, like cutting back the skill tree so you can actually focus on a few skills and not miss out of 75 other skills you could possibly have, and including a casual play mode so that I can just arb around with my characters for funsies occasionally. Plus there are randomly generated maps so that I can have four accounts at once and play a different map in each one and there isn’t that awkward stand-off every time you open a treasure chest in a LAN. Obviously, the game isn’t perfect and it still does annoying things like give me no idea which way is forward, but I’m starting to learn that the day they build a perfect game with absolutely no bugs or annoying habits will probably be the day the Earth is eaten by a giant Mayan water serpent in the sky!
I’ve tried three of the four classes (Engineer, Outlander and Berserker) and I’m leaving Ember Mage to last because I have very little faith in my ability as a spell caster. The simple hack-and-slash of the Berserker will always be my favourite style because I just really like pile driving villains into the ground. Perhaps it’s a deep seated psychological compensatory measure for my small stature and petite build in real life… Or maybe it’s just really fun being a brute! But I’ve also enjoyed Engineer (because who wouldn’t want to hit someone with an absurdly oversized wrench and get rewarded for it?) and I found Outlander a lot more fun than I thought I would even though ranged attacks aren’t normally my thing!
I think what Torchlight II did well, for my taste at least, was to not take itself too seriously. They still bothered with some vague suggestion of a story line (actually a pretty epic story) to justify your solo demolition quest across the planet and they put effort into the weapons and armour, but you don’t need to strategize your movements with military precision to successfully defeat you opponents, because most of the time running headlong swinging a hammer is quite good enough! There also isn’t any sort of grading mechanism. You just play. No-one could ever really say that they were better at Torchlight II than someone else, mostly because there’s no way to judge it, but also because no-one would care anyway. The game is also sort of open plan. I like to explore every millimetre of the map and kill every random mook, but you could just mission straight through that, picking up side quests as you find them, and there’s no real obligation to play in any particular way, as long as you get the XP that you need!
I’ll accept that ARPGs may not be the peak of gaming prowess, but not everything needs to be about being the best and sometimes it’s really nice to just relax a little and not have to try too hard with a game. Of course you can make them competitive if you want to, but with a game like Torchlight II I feel like that’s not really its intention. I love games with great story lines and attention to detail, but when I’m having a lazy Sunday afternoon or just want to take a break from my work for a while, I’d rather play a game which doesn’t require me to think to hard or be too clever or quick with a trigger.