Torchlight II comes out tomorrow on Steam. It's a whole lot of fun, and it's different from Diablo III in some very interesting ways.
If you're planning on playing the game, I thought I'd look back at my first 30 hours with it and offer some basic pointers. As you head off after the Alchemist, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your first time through Torchlight II
Every time you start the game, you'll have the option to play single-player, on the internet, or via LAN. I played a lot of the game single-player, but found that once I opened my game up to people, I had even more fun. There's no substantive difference between the two experiences—you can solo the game on the internet, and can even have five other players on your server, all soloing in different parts of the map. But it's neat to be able to hop around, visit your friends, trade loot, and use the universal chat. It's wonderful that Runic has given players the option to play offline, but there's no real reason to.
That said, if you're making a server and letting strangers into your game (which seriously, is fun), be sure to put a level restriction on your room. It can be a little bit weird when a character who outclasses yours by 20 levels shows up and starts plowing through enemies for you. You have control, of course, so just set a cap to let people know that you're trying to keep things fairly close.
If you're going to play alongside friends, I recommend starting a new game together. It can be very easy to out-level each other in the early goings, and it's not very fun to play as a level five character alongside even a level ten character. I have a couple of alts that I use for multiplayer, while my main high-level character is really just for soloing.
Torchlight II has a lot going on on-screen, so it's really worth clicking the "help" button down at the bottom and reading what everything does. I leapt into the game without reading it, and about 20 hours later finally checked it out, only to find a bunch of stuff that I didn't really know about.
Er, I just wanted to say that. I haven't played through the game with all four classes, but I can report that the engineer is a wicked-fun class for playing through the game solo. Not only can you use a bunch of different weapons, the engineer's heavy weapons skills and toughness mean that you can go toe-to-toe with the biggest baddies. And honestly, the flame-hammer is one of the most satisfying video game moves of the year. Now, when it comes to leveling up...
Each class has three skill ladders with corresponding passive skills. You'll get about to level 50 by the end of the game, so expect to have about 50 skill points to divvy up. That said, you'll really want to pick one skill-tree and stick with it for your first playthrough. I got a lot of mileage out of the engineer's first tree, but if I had gone too far into the gadget or shield trees, I would've had to give up some much-needed power on my flame-hammer and seismic slam. I was really glad that I maxed out those two abilities.
Each character also has four stats—Strength, Dexterity, Focus and Vitality. You'll want to pick two to focus on for your build-type, but don't ignore the other three completely. Every weapon has a level-barrier as well as a stat-barrier, and often if your stats are high enough, you can use a really high-level weapon early. For my engineer, it was worth tossing some points into focus and dexterity, even though I was going for a strength/vitality build. In particular, focus is great because mana is always in short supply. (As your character will endlessly remind you, every time you run out.)
This one's a truism of most action-RPGs, but don't buy loot in stores. The storefront is laden with weaponry, but you'll find gear just as good out in the field. That's not to say that the Torchlight II blacksmith doesn't have anything worth buying, it's just that your money is best spent elsewhere. Namely…
When you've done a town-run and have a bunch of fresh coin from your lootings, hit up the local enchanter and enchant everything you have. Enchanting is one of the best ways to get amazing gear in Torchlight II, and every weapon—even high-powered unique weapons—can be further enhanced by an enchanter. You'll also meet enchanters in the wild, but be sure to look at their specialty before paying them. They might offer a service (poison, for example) that you're not that interested in. Through enchanting, I was able to turn a slotted one-handed axe into a peerless murder tool that I used for almost the entire third act, and am still using in New Game+.
This is just a personal thing, but I quickly remapped some of the keys to make the game easier to play. Specifically, I switched the potion hotkey from "Z" to "Q" and the mana potion hotkey from "X" to "W". I moved the weapon-switch to "E". That way, you can get potions off of the hotbar entirely and focus on using those ten slots for powers and pet power-ups. Also, don't forget that you have an alt-alt-fire on your mouse! You can set two powers to your right mouse-button, the second one is activated by holding down "Tab." Counting the mouse, you've got 13 assignable slots, more than enough for even the most overpowered adventurer.
Early on, I put a lot of points into the passive skill that made my character faster and more effective with two-handed weapons. I regretted it later, as I wound up with the aforementioned single-handed axe that was more powerful and faster than any double-handed weapon I could find, and let me use a shield. So, I'd say to go easy on the weapon-specific power-ups, since you never know what kind of weapons you'll wind up fighting with.
You'll find fishing holes dotted throughout the world, and I recommend using them all. Fishing is really easy—just wait until the one circle comes down to the other one—but will yield good results. Namely, it'll yield treats you can feed your pet to transform him or her into other forms, all of which can be very useful in combat. Speaking of that...
It's not just a good rule for the real world! It's also true in Torchlight II. It's easy to accumulate a ton of pet-food and never use it, but it really can be useful to have a stronger or more resilient pet in battle. Especially when you're going into a boss battle, be sure to feed your pet.
If you die in Torchlight II (and you probably will), you'll be given three options: Respawn where you stand for a bunch of gold, respawn at the top of the area for less gold, or respawn in town for free. Given that some of the dungeons are quite lengthy, you'll want to have enough money to take the middle option just about every time. It's never worth it to respawn where you stand, since you're invariably only a minute or so from where you died. That said, respawning in camp can make it a trek to get back to where you were, particularly if you died fighting a boss. So, keep some cash on you just in case.
In other games like this, low-level potions become useless as your character levels up and your health and mana reserves grow. But in Torchlight II, I found that low-level (starting from the second-smallest size) potions were still useful. Most potions will fully replenish your health or mana, it's usually more about how fast they'll do it, and for how long. Often, I'd come out of a battle with half of my health, and instead of wasting a fast, powerful potion I liked that I could use a cheaper, slower-moving potion that would still replenish my health. So, hang on to those lower-level potions. Well, except maybe for the very lowest level.
I played a lot of the sidequests in Torchlight II, but I missed a few early on—as a result, there was a period in Act II where I was under-leveled for everything and kept getting my ass handed to me. My advice in Torchlight II would be to do every possible sidequest—the levels come fast in this game, and a single sidequest can give you a level or more's worth of experience. It's worth the time.
I don't want to spoil anything about Act III for you here, but I will say that it is an order of magnitude larger than the two acts that precede it. There are a ton of hidden sidequests, challenges, and full-on storylines to explore. I missed several of them because I was on deadline, but I saw that they were there, and fully plan on going back and exploring them as soon as I can. But really—while the endgame may be beckoning, don't rush through the third act. The best stuff in the game is there, but you do have to go explore and find it all.
Remember: The whole of Torchlight II feels a bit like a bunch of loosely connected sidequests, so when you do sidequests, you're really just… playing Torchlight II. And there are some fantastic dungeons hidden away throughout the game.
So, pick your character, arm up, and sally forth into the great dark beyond. Those monsters aren't going to click themselves to death, after all.