Torchlight 2 preview: Embers only

Runic Games is showing Torchlight 2 on the floor of E3 this week, and we're just as busy as you are looking at all of this E3 news, so we'll get right to it: It's great. All of the things you loved about the first Torchlight are back, polished and updated, along with one of the most long awaited features of the game, co-op multiplayer. Not a lot has changed, but not a lot needed to -- this is Torchlight with a lot of smoothing, a great graphical upgrade, and a whole lot of fan lovin'.

There are two big announcements for the game at E3 this week. First, the Berserker has been revealed as one of the game's new classes, joining the Railman, the Outlander, and one other as of yet unannounced class. Second, the game's multiplayer will support something we haven't seen developers talk about in a while: Local Area Network, or LAN, play.

Wait a minute. LAN support? As in offline, play-with-your-friends, Fritos and Mountain Dew-fueled late night LAN party support? Runic Games CEO Max Schafer knows you don't actually have to do that for games any more, right? Like dedicated servers, LAN support is something of a lost art in this modern age of console gaming. "But people asked for it," Schafer told us, so yes, Torchlight 2 will be playable on a LAN.
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The one catch will be only that LAN players must have exactly the same mods installed, as certain mods will likely have assets that everyone will need to see while playing. But other than that, says Schafer, go nuts. The not-yet-set-in-stone "default max is 6-ish" players for the co-op mode, he told me, just because any more than that and all of the spell effects can start getting really confusing. But any limit on the co-op max will probably just be a config variable, says Schafer, so "if you have 100 people in your game and want to see what happens, go for it." That's an awfully refreshing attitude in these days of online passes, authentication servers, and all of the other headaches most companies place on playing their games away from the almighty Internet.

The Berserker class feels just as fresh -- he's (the version I played was male, though you'll be able to choose a gender in Torchlight 2) a hulking dual wield monster with an animalistic bent for all of his skills, similar to an Enhancement Shaman in World of Warcraft. Wolfstrike is probably his most basic skill, just a forward cleave that features a big spirit wolf swiping enemies in front of you. Drake's Breath evokes a dragon spirit that fires a cone of flame in front of you, and Wolfpack is probably the most visually impressive (and mana costly), blasting a circular ring of spirit wolf missiles that will home in on targets around you. The full skill trees for the Berserker weren't done yet, but it's a hack-and-hack class -- run in and chop up a bunch of enemies until everything's dead.

There will be new pets, Schafer said, but we haven't gotten to see any yet. The sequel will have a fuller story than the first game, and there will be cinematics put together by Klei Entertainment, the studio behind last year's Shank. The UI is full of little updates and additions -- the inventory is brighter and clearer, and even the gem slots on each armor piece are easier to see at a glance than before. And of course, the game runs great with lots of new environments, though I was playing most of the time on a "comically large" map built specifically to show off at E3.

If there's one nit to pick on this one, it's that the quest system is still a little confusing -- it's often hard to know exactly where to go and what to do besides just charge through the nearest undemolished dungeon (not that that's not fun already). With more story and more quests to play with, it'd be nice to see a little more direction there, maybe even something like a breadcrumb path or the occasional pointer.

But that's still basically a core issue with the top-down action RPG genre as a whole, not the fault of Torchlight 2 specifically. Torchlight fans will likely love this one, and even those new to the series will find an incredibly polished and solid world, crafted with a lot of care and love, to explore and loot to your heart's content.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.