For me, the thing about a game like Torchlight 2 is that when I'm playing it I'm never entirely paying attention. Or rather I'm never giving it my entire attention. This is not a slight. If anything, I love the effect this has, because it means that when I replay it after a long absence, phrases return to me like fragments of some dream I can only half remember. The Temple Steppes. The Path of the Honored Dead. These things, I can just about get the tips of my fingers on them when I root through my life for their origin. Maybe they muddle around inside my head all the time when I'm not playing, almost breaking the surface, almost announcing themselves.
Torchlight 2 has landed on Switch. I'm playing it at the moment and it is wonderful. It's a wonderful port I think, the colours slightly more lurid and headachey than I remember them being on PC, while attacks and skills and potions and scrolls are mapped very neatly to face and shoulder buttons and can be reassigned in a few seconds of menu time. A game like Torchlight 2 requires flexibility on consoles. While you can't do the pleasing Skills Glissando that is such a part of the old ARPG appeal on PC, you can do an equivalent here on Switch, a sort of frantic squeeze of all fingers, jabbing all buttons, when you need all the fireworks to go off at once. It's still magical. It runs beautifully so far - and I've had a lot of monsters on screen at once already - and while the music occasionally hangs when loading a new area, well, what can I say? I'm never giving it my entire attention anyway.
For me, these are games about letting your hands do the talking. I remember reading something to the effect that birds of prey and other predators often have neural links between their eyes and their claws that bypass the rest of the brain. Have I got that right? They can attack without the need to think about it and slow themselves down. Man, birds of prey would be excellent at games like Torchlight 2 - if someone could handle the remapping job. I love to just chug along, occasionally sitting up and changing my in-game hat or sending my in-game llama back to town to sell stuff, otherwise bash bash bash and level level level.
Torchlight 2 lets you do an awful lot of this. Unlike the first game it's not one dungeon but rather a huge realm with a load of dungeons. You can chug along bashing stuff and then disappear down into the procedural earth and bash stuff some more. I have met a lot of people who find ARPGs quite limited, who say: is this all you do? I think I understand that. I understand that underneath it all the skills are mainly ways of offing people or keeping yourself alive. I understand that quests and loot and items and cash and levels are all ways of making yourself more efficient at the offing and keeping alive business. Reduce these games and they're click click click. (Someone once told me they think of Diablo 3 as Blizzard's clicker game, at least when it operates at the level a lot of us play it at.)
But I don't see it that way. To me they seem like the most luxurious games around, because while I click away and my brain drops in and out, I always believe in the fiction, the ancient land all around and me as a bit of a hero here to purge bad things and retrieve good things. I believe in the things of ARPGs. Just now, while I have been typing this, I have been dipping in and out of a sequence in a graveyard where I have to summon a ghost to unlock a chained gate. Beyond, I am told, lies a crypt! Beyond lies a crypt! And here's the ghost, holding a lantern, retreading a path, fumbling with a spectral lock and chain. To summon this guy I have bashed everything, sure, and in the crypt I will bash more things, and probably mentally duck out for a bit until someone coughs up a nice pair of trousers as they die. But right now, I am leaning forward, paying attention, believing in ghosts, and locks, and crypts, and quests. And now I can do all of this on the bus. Torchlight 2 on Switch is magic.