Torchlight 2 was released yesterday. But before you sentence thousands of monsters to death by mouse click, and smash enough urns to embarrass a bull in a china breaking tournament, there's the small matter of which class to select: Embermage, Beserker, Engineer or Outlander. Each offer their own flavour of play and, more importantly, a unique selection of explosive particle effects. To help you make the right choice, here's our guide to each of the four characters. How do they work? What tactics can they use? Which of their early powers unleash the most carnage? Read on to find out.
We begin with Torchlight 2's primary magic user. The Embermage can fire high-damage elemental projectiles that tear through monsters. More than any other class, he relies on using active skills that draw from mana reserves. Playing Embermage is about spamming magical attacks, and only resorting to your weapon when recharging MP or dealing with those few mobs that slip through your firewall.
In that respect, he's the easiest class to play, both because of the incredible damage you can cause early on, and because there's very little tactical application of that power until the level 14 skill unlocks. He is, however, the most varied class from a weapon standpoint. While passive skills can be bought to bolster the effectiveness of the ranged Wands and melee Staffs, the only real concern is a weapon's DPS. The damage of the Embermage's skills is tied directly to the power of the weapon you hold, so whether you're welding wands, guns, swords or just a big rusty axe, as long as it brings the hurt, you'll see the benefit.
Your starting skill, Magma Spear, is a perfectly serviceable piercing fire bolt. Unfortunately, perfectly serviceable doesn't cut it here. If you really want to wreck shit (hint: you do), you'll want to grab Prismatic Bolt with your first free skill point. It answers the old “which elemental damage is best” question by firing five homing bolts that do all of them simultaneously, with a percentage chance to do further damage over time. It's a great all-rounder skill, and where you want to put your free points when you're waiting for level dependant skills to unlock.
Less useful, but spectacular nonetheless, is Shocking Burst. It's a short range electrical beam that rapidly depletes an enemy's health, then goresplodes them into so many meat chunks. It's handy for making short work of smaller groups of weak mobs. And because it's funny.
For passive skills, the thing to focus on is restricting enemy manoeuvrability. As a primarily ranged magic user, there's no reason to be letting melee mobs get too close. There are two main options to consider. Frozen Fate gives a percentage chance of freezing four enemies for a short period, making it useful for crowd control. Prismatic Rift, meanwhile, can teleport enemies a distance away when they hit you, which can be an effective tactic against champion or boss monsters.
At level 14 the Embermage finally gets some tactical options that allow him to prime a battlefield before unleashing the standard attacks. Place a Thunder Locus in the middle of the room, and the hovering orb will throw out high-damage thunderbolts throughout the subsequent fight. Firebombs are also useful when thrown in an enemy's path. They set fire to the floor, causing damage over time to anything that crosses them.
Every class has a charge meter located above the hotbar, and each one does something different to compliment the style of that class. The Embermage's fills as he attacks enemies and, once full, grants twelve seconds of unlimited mana and a 25% damage increase. A good trick is to place a high damage, high cost skill into the secondary skill slot, and tabbing into it when the charge is activated. Frost Phase works well as, on top of its ice damage, it teleports you a short distance, keeping you mobile for your brief period of charge activation.
Torchlight 2's punchiest class, the Berserker is all about melee weapons and fast and frantic combat. She's a scrappy brawler: the Berserker skill trees have less area of effect attacks than the other classes, so kills are made by quickly bouncing between one-on-one encounters, filling the charge bar to unleash a frenzied flurry of critical hits.
The thing to remember when starting out as a Berserker is that it's not a tanking class. Your starting Vitality (which determines armour and HP) is dangerously low, and if you get too absorbed by the hypnotically visceral combat momentum, it's all too easy to end up in danger. There are a few skills that do wonders for your survivability, but these restrict your weapon choice more than the Embermage. Your best bet is dual-wielding fast hitting melee weapons, and keeping your Strength and Dexterity high to increase your high-damage critical hits.
All your skills take the form of a wolf-spirit working through your fists. The starting one, Eviscerate, is a good, hard-hitting swipe of damage, but you're better off prioritising the skills that support your standard melee attacks. Primarily this means Frost Breath, which has a high chance of immobilising enemies directly in front of you and, more importantly, softens them up for increased weapon damage. Get into the habit of blasting this out at the start of every encounter.
Another early skill to grab is Shadow Burst, which sees you lunge through enemies, damaging them but also healing yourself. The HP gain isn't miraculous, but periodically using it in fights will help to increase your overall survivability. Combine it with the passive skill Blood Hunger, which gives back a percentage of health for every critical hit, and you'll find it a lot easier to regulate your HP bar without constantly chugging potions.
When you hit level 7, get the Stormclaw skill immediately. It not only gives your melee attacks extra electrical damage, but can also generate a lightning bolt that hits additional enemies. When activated it lasts 40 seconds, but only has a cooldown time of 20. Basically, if you're having a fight, you should have this active.
Elsewhere on the skill tree, Wolf Shade summons a ghostly familiar to run off and cause havoc, making it handy in boss fights or against large groups of enemies. For pure boss ownage, however, you'll struggle to beat the level 14 skill Raze. It's a powerful uppercut attack that increases in damage with every successive hit. Just find something tough, and spam it until they fall over.
Fill the charge bar and the Berserker enters Frenzy, dramatically increasing her speed and guaranteeing insta-gibbing critical hits on her melee strikes. It's an agonisingly short power, lasting only six seconds by default, so when activated, forget about everything and just find some more monsters to punch. You can always go back for the loot. Where possible, put spare points into Frenzy Mastery, a passive skill which increases your frenzy time by half a second per point. It's not much, but you'll appreciate every extra swipe.
The Berserker may be the scrappiest of the classes, but the Engineer is the weightiest. The satisfying arcing thwack of her wrench pulverises pretty much anything that gets in her way. She's the slowest class to play but, due to the high Strength/high Vitality opening stat combo, is also the most resilient. Where the Berserker is reckless, the Engineer is methodical, tanking through the game while using tactical deployments to control the arenas.
That makes her one of the easier classes to play with, but also a more interesting one than the super-spammy Embermage. There are a host of interesting choices to be made, including a varied selection of skill trees that each favour a different weapon set up.
The Engineer's Charge bar is broken down into five segments that activate as she does damage. Unlike the other class bars, the meter doesn't need to be full to make use of it. Instead, certain skills use up one segment to activate more powerful versions of their default attack. Others will drain the entire bar, doing extra damage proportional to the number of segments filled. A big part of what makes the class so tactically diverse is deciding exactly when and how to use it.
For instance, Flame Hammer, the starting Engineer skill and, for once, one worth keeping hold of. It strikes the ground, creating a crater of fire and trailing flaming snakes out from the centre. It's powerful, impressive looking and, when there's Charge available, it generates multiple explosions. It's the best of the early Engineer abilities, and one that's worth upgrading through to the first tier bonus.
The other unlock to prioritise is Healing Bot which, true to name, deploys a little robot that follows you around, periodically casting a pulse that heals both you and your pet. It's not quite good enough to help you out if you're fighting for your life, but as a way to recharge between encounters it's invaluable (and adorable). Once deployed, it stays on the map until you leave the area. Pop the skill in your hotbar and get into the habit of deploying it whenever you enter a new level.
Your big decision when playing as the Engineer is whether to use two-handed weapons or a melee/shield combo. While it's a matter of preference, I'd advise going with the former. The shield specific skill, Shield Bash, is a bit crap. As Torchlight 2 is a 'best defence is a good offence' kind of game, pick up the Heavy Lifting passive instead, which increases the attack speed of two-handed weapons, counteracting their natural sluggishness. Also consider the Charge Domination passive. It gives a small chance to fill your Charge bar when you kill an enemy.
The other Engineer weapon of choice is the cannon. Pop one in your secondary weapon slot and you can switch between it and your melee weapon with the W key. While the cannon isn't the most useful weapon, the Blast Cannon skill is great in certain situations. Plenty of the game's dungeons are full of tight corridors of charging monsters, and the ability's high-damage piercing shot is great for softening up the line before switching back and introducing them to Mr. Hammer.
Finally, an absolute essential upgrade is the level 14 Spider Mines. It allows the Engineer to deploy three robotic spiders that seek out enemies and explode on contact. Why so essential? Because they're exploding robotic spiders! What other reason do you need?
Finally we have Torchlight 2's archer/gunman/sort-of-mage-type-thing. The Outlander is arguably the trickiest class to play as. He's got the low Vitality of the Berserker, with none of her HP boosting tricks. Get surrounded by enemies and, on the higher difficulties, the only damage you'll be doing is to the finger in charge of the health potion key. That also means he's the most consistently interesting and tactical class to play as. Staying alive requires constant situational awareness.
Your primary challenge is controlling and hindering the movement of enemies. Torchlight 2's monsters love to charge you, which spells trouble for a purely ranged class. Consequently, the Outlanders skills are the least showy of the four characters, instead being targeted at providing you the means to effectively control the battlefield.
Glaive Throw is a nice starting skill, with high poisoning damage that rebounds off enemies. Abandon it immediately. The other two level 1 skills are nigh on essential for progress. Rapid Fire is, as the name suggests, a rapid flurry of projectiles that chip away nicely at an enemy's health bar and, more importantly, cause knockback. A key survival technique during champion and boss fights is using this to pin them away from you, out of attack range.
Blade Pact creates an area of effect that, when passed through, slows down enemies. It's large enough to cover most corridors, so you can use it keep groups at distance, retreating slightly as they approach and laying down another area when needed. Both Blade Pact and Rapid Fire reduce the armour rating of whatever they hit, so always start off with one or the other, to make mobs easier to dispatch.
The general Outlander rule is that if it causes a status effect, it's worth having. That includes both Tangling Shot, which immobilises enemies, and Rune Vault, which causes a blinding effect as you leap away from anything that might get too close. If you'd prefer a pure damage attack, consider Shadowshot, which splits into three secondary bolts when it hits a target. It's nowhere near as powerful as the Embermage's Prismatic Bolt, but it's as close as the Outlander's going to get.
Eventually you're going to want to start letting familiars do the heavy lifting. The best way to do this is to start putting points into the Shadowling Ammo passive. Once bought, killed enemies have a chance of spawning a shadow bat to fight by your side for a few seconds at a time. Similarly the Bane Breath active attack poisons monsters, spawning a fiend when they die. Used together, these skills can start to snowball into small, deadly, incredibly temporary armies.
With so much mob management to keep your mind occupied, it's something of a blessing that the Outlanders Charge skill is so... boring. As it builds, you gain extra attack speed, critical hits and dodge chance; up to 10% on each if the bar is completely full. On the one hand, it's a good enough reason to keep it charged as high as possible for as long as feasible. On the other hand, yawn. Where's the cathartic release of incredible power? With the other classes is where.
We're in the process of reviewing Torchlight 2 right now, but you can check out our first impressions to see how we're finding the first ten levels.