A few months back I was trying Torchlight II as a single-player substitute for my MOBA addiction. I didn’t get too far though, mostly because there was no real challenge. Mechanical requirements were very low and it all came down to right clicking the enemy with occasional keypress to drink a potion. It’s worth noting I played on Veteran difficulty, which is one notch above Normal. The highest difficulty is called Elite.
As a side note, Torchlight II has the good kind of difficulty setting for a hack&slash game. Monsters are much stronger on Elite, but there’s no extra XP or loot for that. If there was, well, it wouldn’t be such a hard challenge with those extra boons, wouldn’t it? You have to make do with standard equipment against a hardened opposition.
Recently I installed Torchlight II again, but wanted to do it right this time. I set out to finish the game on Elite with an Embermage - the spellcaster class. I researched common builds first and decided on a strong, but late-game build: The Tri-Sorc. Gimping myself in this way made early levels challenging enough to keep me going.
Main damage spell of this build (Frost Wave) becomes available on level 28, so before then you have to make do with weapon damage and just two other spells. Level seven’s Hailstorm doesn’t deal a lot of damage, but has a huge AOE and nice CC. Thunder Locus available from level 14 has nice damage, but it requires good placement and positioning. Frost Phase, also available on level 14, is a low-cooldown teleport what helps a great deal in fixing positioning mistakes. Those three spells became bread and butter of early skirmishes for quite some time.
The fact that core of the build revolves around skills acquired at later levels meant that I had to sit on a lot of unspent skill points for the first half of the game. Because of this my character was somewhat weaker than the level would suggest, rising the difficulty even more.
I put all my stat points into Focus. That boosts damage, but leaving Vitality low means low hit points and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. Some creatures can one-shot me if I allow them to get too close, while some enemies become downright annoying. I started to really hate Mirka Frostbinder with his homing storm attacks and big ass AOE. Eventually at later levels and with the right gear I should be the one one-shotting enemies, so high HP is non-essential. As the old MOBA saying goes “death is the best CC”.
I got Blazing Pillar at the end of Act I. That made a difference, because it’s powerful and auto-targeted. Very useful when pursued by a group of strong melee aggressors. The cast time is long enough that it cannot be spammed mindlessly though. You can’t let monsters catch up with you or you’re dead in seconds. That’s actually the real beauty of playing on the highest difficulty - it forces you to consider the fine details of every skill you use and every enemy attack that goes your way. A small detail like a spell cast delay would go unnoticed on Normal, but on Elite it sometimes means a difference between living and dying.
I finally reached Frost Wave in the middle of Act II. It wasn’t a big jump in my damage output, but combined with all the other skills I already had at this point it allowed me to clear levels in a timely fashion. Death’s Bounty unlocked at the same time also helps as it alleviates the need for potions, if placed correctly (by hitting a group of enemies before they die).
Getting to know game’s systems so intimately also gave me ideas for new builds. Next to my Embermage I’m also trying out a melee elemental damage Outlander. Elemental damage is boosted by Focus, so every level I put 3 points into that. The remaining 2 points go into Dexterity boosting dodge chance, which is the main survivability method of this build. I also needed an elemental weapon. While most weapons in Torchlight deal physical damage there are two made specifically for high-Focus characters: wands and staffs. I wanted melee, so staff became my weapon of choice.
The takeaway here is that the game’s depth would be completely hidden from me unless I set out to play on Elite difficulty. I guess the next step for me is to go and finally play Dark Souls. :)