Why The Engineer is the Best Thing About Torchlight II

Posted by PeezMachine (241 posts) -

My time with the Torchlight 2 beta featured some incredible highs and some disappointing lows. A lot of things about the game felt carelessly designed, which can't be shrugged off with a “well, it's just a beta,” especially with the expected release date so quickly approaching. However, the Engineer class offered a glimpse into what the future could hold for Torchlight.

The biggest problem I had with Torchlight 2's actual action was the lazy resource management system. Need mana? Drink a potion! It's not an incredibly deep system, especially compared to how resources are implemented in Diablo 3, with each class having various ways to spend and recover their skill-using resource. Of course, Torchlight 2 has another resource, the class-specific “charge” resource, which is built by damaging enemies but has class-specific effects and usage. However, I found that the charge mechanic didn't bring enough to the table to make resource management interesting, with one massive exception: The Engineer. Let's take a look at how the Engineer's charge mechanic brings some much needed depth to Torchlight 2 and makes it more than a potion-drinking simulator.

The first thing you need to know is that the Engineer is the only class whose charge is measured in discrete stages, from zero to five charges. Sure, you can have 3.5 charges, but that extra half a charge won't have any effect on skills that are based on charge level – it's just progress toward your next charge. There are three things you can do with an Engineer's charge: build it, spend it, or use it to empower skills without actually spending it (we'll call this “accessing” charge). The way these three facets of charge interact both with each other and the Engineer's mana pool creates some of the best action RPG combat I've ever seen. There's simply incredible risk-reward action going on, and the need to balance mana, charge, offense, and defense keeps things fresh and exciting in a way I just didn't get with the more passive charge mechanics of the other classes. Let's take a look at the faces of charge and why they work so well for the Engineer:

Building Charge:

Since charge quickly fades when you're out of combat, you'll usually enter a battle with no charge and full mana. You can build up your charge rather slowly by using your basic attack, but doing so means that you're delaying access to your charge. Meanwhile, your mana is sitting there at full, so your mana regeneration is going to waste. Fortunately, the Engineer has access to skills that will generate more charge than a normal hit, but cost some mana to use. This creates an interesting bit of risk-reward gameplay – use your charge-generating skills overzealously and you won't have enough mana to use skills later in the battle. Get too stingy with the skills, however, and you won't have enough charge to spend, which will greatly limit your defensive and offensive abilities.

Accessing Charge:

Some skills don't spend charge, but instead just gain bonuses based on how much charge you currently have. For example, the skill Ember Hammer can be used regardless of your charge level, but does an extra 10% damage for each level of charge you have. Since Ember Hammer doesn't spend charge or have have a cooldown period (some skills do), you can unleash a flurry of consecutive extra-damage attacks – provided you have the mana. This is the “reward” part of the risk-reward aspect of building up charge; if you were able to build up charge without spending too much mana, you'll be able to use the fully-empowered Ember Hammer more times (and you'll get a better return on your mana than if you used Ember Hammer more times at a lower charge). The fact that you don't lose any charge with this skill (and several others like it) help make the “race to the top charge level” a fun and rewarding experience.

Spending Charge:

While no skill requires that you have any charge, many skills will consume some or all of your charge if any is available. In return, the skill will gain bonus effects. Two such skills are Flame Hammer, an area attack which will use one charge to gain extra range and damage, and Forcefield, which creates a defensive barrier around the Engineer that absorbs a small amount of damage, but will consume all available charges and increase the absorption amount based on the number of charges consumed. The bonuses for spending charge tend to be better than the bonuses you get for merely accessing charge, which makes sense since you're actually losing charge in the process. But now you have a lot of (fun!) questions to ask yourself in a battle. Should you spend some charge with Flame Hammer to try to thin out the herd of enemies as early as possible at the cost of being able to use fewer fully-charged Ember Hammers? Should you wait until you have all five charges before using Forcefield to get the most defensive bang for your mana, or will that leave you with no charge and not enough mana to quickly rebuild it?

In short, what makes the Engineer's charge mechanic work so well is that it functions as an interesting resource, something that Torchlight 2 appears to be sorely lacking. While the interplay between charge and mana would be even more special if you couldn't have your cake and eat it too by just spending mana to build charge and then drinking a mana potion, it still works as-is. When compared to the other “get a bonus for filling it up” charge mechanics for the other classes, the Engineer's charge provides versatility, depth, and most importantly, fun. When you build that charge quickly using the right combo of skills and basic attacks, access it for a series of powerful attacks, and then spend it to either mop up your enemies or gain a defensive edge against tougher foes, it feels absolutely incredible. And when you fail miserably, you know it was because you didn't balance your mana and charge needs very well. The other classes in Torchlight 2 have this sort of inevitability about them – you either have the stats required to win a fight or you don't, and that inevitability and lack of excitement is mirrored in their charge mechanics. With the Engineer, though, every battle is a hands on affair, and it's a thing of beauty.

#1 Posted by PeezMachine (241 posts) -

My time with the Torchlight 2 beta featured some incredible highs and some disappointing lows. A lot of things about the game felt carelessly designed, which can't be shrugged off with a “well, it's just a beta,” especially with the expected release date so quickly approaching. However, the Engineer class offered a glimpse into what the future could hold for Torchlight.

The biggest problem I had with Torchlight 2's actual action was the lazy resource management system. Need mana? Drink a potion! It's not an incredibly deep system, especially compared to how resources are implemented in Diablo 3, with each class having various ways to spend and recover their skill-using resource. Of course, Torchlight 2 has another resource, the class-specific “charge” resource, which is built by damaging enemies but has class-specific effects and usage. However, I found that the charge mechanic didn't bring enough to the table to make resource management interesting, with one massive exception: The Engineer. Let's take a look at how the Engineer's charge mechanic brings some much needed depth to Torchlight 2 and makes it more than a potion-drinking simulator.

The first thing you need to know is that the Engineer is the only class whose charge is measured in discrete stages, from zero to five charges. Sure, you can have 3.5 charges, but that extra half a charge won't have any effect on skills that are based on charge level – it's just progress toward your next charge. There are three things you can do with an Engineer's charge: build it, spend it, or use it to empower skills without actually spending it (we'll call this “accessing” charge). The way these three facets of charge interact both with each other and the Engineer's mana pool creates some of the best action RPG combat I've ever seen. There's simply incredible risk-reward action going on, and the need to balance mana, charge, offense, and defense keeps things fresh and exciting in a way I just didn't get with the more passive charge mechanics of the other classes. Let's take a look at the faces of charge and why they work so well for the Engineer:

Building Charge:

Since charge quickly fades when you're out of combat, you'll usually enter a battle with no charge and full mana. You can build up your charge rather slowly by using your basic attack, but doing so means that you're delaying access to your charge. Meanwhile, your mana is sitting there at full, so your mana regeneration is going to waste. Fortunately, the Engineer has access to skills that will generate more charge than a normal hit, but cost some mana to use. This creates an interesting bit of risk-reward gameplay – use your charge-generating skills overzealously and you won't have enough mana to use skills later in the battle. Get too stingy with the skills, however, and you won't have enough charge to spend, which will greatly limit your defensive and offensive abilities.

Accessing Charge:

Some skills don't spend charge, but instead just gain bonuses based on how much charge you currently have. For example, the skill Ember Hammer can be used regardless of your charge level, but does an extra 10% damage for each level of charge you have. Since Ember Hammer doesn't spend charge or have have a cooldown period (some skills do), you can unleash a flurry of consecutive extra-damage attacks – provided you have the mana. This is the “reward” part of the risk-reward aspect of building up charge; if you were able to build up charge without spending too much mana, you'll be able to use the fully-empowered Ember Hammer more times (and you'll get a better return on your mana than if you used Ember Hammer more times at a lower charge). The fact that you don't lose any charge with this skill (and several others like it) help make the “race to the top charge level” a fun and rewarding experience.

Spending Charge:

While no skill requires that you have any charge, many skills will consume some or all of your charge if any is available. In return, the skill will gain bonus effects. Two such skills are Flame Hammer, an area attack which will use one charge to gain extra range and damage, and Forcefield, which creates a defensive barrier around the Engineer that absorbs a small amount of damage, but will consume all available charges and increase the absorption amount based on the number of charges consumed. The bonuses for spending charge tend to be better than the bonuses you get for merely accessing charge, which makes sense since you're actually losing charge in the process. But now you have a lot of (fun!) questions to ask yourself in a battle. Should you spend some charge with Flame Hammer to try to thin out the herd of enemies as early as possible at the cost of being able to use fewer fully-charged Ember Hammers? Should you wait until you have all five charges before using Forcefield to get the most defensive bang for your mana, or will that leave you with no charge and not enough mana to quickly rebuild it?

In short, what makes the Engineer's charge mechanic work so well is that it functions as an interesting resource, something that Torchlight 2 appears to be sorely lacking. While the interplay between charge and mana would be even more special if you couldn't have your cake and eat it too by just spending mana to build charge and then drinking a mana potion, it still works as-is. When compared to the other “get a bonus for filling it up” charge mechanics for the other classes, the Engineer's charge provides versatility, depth, and most importantly, fun. When you build that charge quickly using the right combo of skills and basic attacks, access it for a series of powerful attacks, and then spend it to either mop up your enemies or gain a defensive edge against tougher foes, it feels absolutely incredible. And when you fail miserably, you know it was because you didn't balance your mana and charge needs very well. The other classes in Torchlight 2 have this sort of inevitability about them – you either have the stats required to win a fight or you don't, and that inevitability and lack of excitement is mirrored in their charge mechanics. With the Engineer, though, every battle is a hands on affair, and it's a thing of beauty.

#2 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

Why The Engineer is the Best Thing About Team Fortress 2

--

Back on topic, it seems like kind of a bummer to me that Torchlight II is sticking to old clicky-click RPG tropes of burning through potions. Though I'm sure that there's a subset of gamers out there that will prefer that to the way Diablo 3 handled it.

#3 Edited by Wampa1 (716 posts) -

@Ravenlight: Trust me, being the only one of a group of people who was happy Diablo 3 changed things up I can tell you there's a large subset who want something way closer to Diablo 2. This is that for the most part it seems. (not to say that makes it better or worse just more traditional)

#4 Posted by CheapPoison (740 posts) -

I don't get why you would say the mechanics of diablos resources are that much better. I found them to not be too different and just basicly mana with a twist. Only the witch hunter was interesting enough to really be called new.

#5 Posted by Wandrecanada (407 posts) -

While I feel that the engineer was by far the most robust class of the beta I think you discounted a lot of nuance in how the charge bars work for each class. While each bar looks to function the same on the surface (100 points and %damage/effect bonuses) there are very important differences in the risk reward of each bar type. The mage class is probably the best example of a charge bar that requires nuanced play to maximize. At max charge mana costs are reduced by 100% and all spells have no cooldown. Seems pretty straight forward. Except for that one extra mechanic that was added... After 5 seconds in focus state (100% charge) your bar drains empty.

Imagine fighting a pack of trash mobs and without paying mind to your charge bar hitting focus state on the final enemy. Now imagine there's a named mob 5 seconds away with a hoard of minions. You've lost your entire damage boost and the opportunity to run hog wild on your spells when you needed it most. On the harder difficulties this becomes a huge part of your gameplay as a mage.

Whatever changes they do make I'm pretty certain that the 3rd resource will make all the classes more interesting to play. Coupled with non linked skill trees and offense, support, and defense categorized skills for each class (not to mention a range or melee viable option for all) means Torchlight 2 will give everyone the diversity they're looking for. The first act itself felt really big and I quite enjoyed all the random event driven content. Weather you enjoyed Diablo 3 or not Torchlight 2 was clearly conceived by the minds who brought us Diablo 1 and 2. Only this time it's bigger, brighter and trash loot has a purpose beyond floor bling.

PS: Pets can shop for scrolls and potions while they're selling all that vendor trash.

#6 Posted by PeezMachine (241 posts) -

@Wandrecanada: I think the Embermage's charge has some potential, but it's rendered obsolete by mana potions. If you really needed to rely on the charge for your mana management, then I could see a lot of fun there - balancing damage output with mana use so that you can make it to full charge creates a sort of rhythm and flow to things. I actually had a lot of fun with Embermage when I put a self-imposed five minute cooldown on mana potions. I also think the Berserker's has some potential, but the class as a whole felt so poorly designed and one-note that it couldn't really cash in on it. The versatility of the Engineer's charge (offense or defense, sustained damage or burst damage) is what makes it so fun, and the other charges just felt a bit monochromatic in comparison (and the Outlander's was just boring, although I do like the "stun if charge is empty" as an initiator).

: I would agree that Diablo 3's resources themselves aren't exactly groundbreaking (and that the Demon Hunter has the best resource game, largely because the limited use of cooldowns and the hatred/discipline duality). However, Diablo 3's resources just feel very well supported, like there is a whole lot of versatility to them. For example, you could play a Barbarian that uses Frenzy and the Weapon Master passive in conjunction with a Mighty Weapon to build Rage very quickly. Do you then Give yourself a bunch of skills with which to spend that Fury, or do you take the passive that gives you +25% damage while at full fury? Or maybe you split the difference, taking the +25% damage passive but keeping a few Rage skills on hand for emergencies (which is actually similar to the Engineer's "do I keep using Ember Hammer or do I need to turn in my offense for a Forcefield" decision). Or maybe you forego increased Rage production and focus on weaker but more reliable skills that don't rely on rage. In short, Diablo 3 gives you more fun ways to build resources than just drinking a potion and then a whole bunch of cool ways to use them once you have them.

#7 Posted by CheapPoison (740 posts) -

@PeezMachine: mmmmh, ye sure the usage of it seems to be pretty well executed.

But i do agree with the engineer being the most interesting. I like the charge bar mechanics but for the other 3 classes it is more about keeping in the fight to boost the bar to get it's bonus. Which isn't too much of a difference, although i do think the effects are cool and give the classes at least some different feel and i enjoyed the berserkers charge bar quite a bit altough i found him the weakest of all the classes.

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