The Torchlight 2 announcement came just after I started poking at Torchlight again. I had long ago started a game on the highest difficulty but wandered off after getting tired of how that slowed down the game — it is just a matter of giving all the enemies bigger numbers, which means that my pets drop faster, monsters take longer to kill, and more things one-shot me. The game’s bosses are easy except for their masses of minions, which becomes really annoying when the end boss’s big ability is summoning masses of minions (and sometimes consuming them).
I finished that run-through this weekend. One oddity of Torchlight is that the meanest attacks are area-effect. Most games work on the principle that multiple-target effects have lower damage, but the nasty things in Torchlight tend to hit entire areas. This starts with trolls and constructs in the first maps, but it gets ugly in the lava tileset, with goblin archers that fire exploding arrows. They fire volleys of them, and at even-con you will die in the overlapping explosions. You have a chance to avoid it, because you can hear them fire and see the arrows on the ground before they explode, but you need to notice the sound, see the tiny arrows on a very busy screen, and react quickly. And sometimes you walk into a room and see three of those archers along with their friends.
Even when not playing “very hard,” the difficulty in the last (Black Palace) tileset jumps tremendously because of the number of potential instant deaths. Dark Zealots are the worst, because they have a five-bolt poison attack, a huge lightning attack, and they summon cannon fodder that can be rather mean at maximum difficulty. The poison bolts will follow you, and they collectively do some multiple of your hit points, so you need to out-run them, get behind a wall, or use minions as
human skeleton shields; the lightning attack one-shots on a crit; both attacks can hit you from the edge of the screen. The Ice Elementals are rarer but meaner, with a spammable triple-blast attack and a giant ice block that one-shots an area. Blood Disciples use a charge attack in groups, and a few at once will kill you faster before a potion can heal you. Don’t use long animations in front of Dragonkin, because their fire breath DoT can kill you in approximately two seconds. And all of these guys spawn together in large groups. And occasionally you meet them via teleporter, with eight surrounding you and attacking the instant you appear.
After killing Ordrak, I re-started my first Easy game and my first Vanquisher game. Contrast. The first maps are deliberately easy, and I was entering with the most entertaining bows and guns I had found in earlier games, plus the skill points for having retired characters. I am four tilesets in and still one-shotting almost every non-boss, two- or three-shotting the big trolls, and killing bosses in three seconds or less. Without adding points to the starting skill, it one-shots entire groups of enemies as my rifle shot reflects around rooms. The difficulty screen describes Easy as “casual fun,” but it is more like continuous, unfair domination.
My repeated thought on Very Hard was, “I am not playing Torchlight to think strategically and play careful. I am here to smash hordes, not pull enemies to I can kill small groups safely.” Easy is perhaps a bit too far in the other extreme, but I must say, it is liberating and joyful to destroy enemies with your rifle after dealing with them all on the highest difficulty. I wonder if I would even see the enemies if I played Easy with an Alchemist who focused on summons.