I've spent the weekend mainlining Runic's Torchlight II. As of this writing, my level 39 engineer has killed 8,800 monsters, collected 161,207 gold, imbibed 535 potions, broken 771 crates and urns, and caught 9 fish.
This game is much more of a beast than its predecessor; in terms of scale and ambition, it's right up there with the biggest names in loot-collection and click-based combat. And so of course, Blizzard's Diablo III looms large over the entirety of Torchlight II. How could it not?
Below, I've catalogued some of the many ways that the two games are different.
As I've been playing, it's been very difficult to evaluate Torchlight II on its own terms, rather than constantly thinking "Oh, so X is different from Diablo III in Y way." Rather than letting all that mess get into my review, I thought I'd write down my impressions of the campaign about 18 hours in, and put them entirely in the context of Diablo III. Hopefully that will get all the comparisons out of my system.
But let's get this out of the way: If you liked Diablo III, you will almost surely like Torchlight II. Both games feel similar at their core, both have the same randomly generated replayability, and both games are satisfying in the same compulsive, clicky way. Seriously—this doesn't have to be some winner-take-all deathmatch. Both games are fun, and the two can co-exist. That said, if you didn't like Diablo III but have liked past Diablo games, Torchlight is different enough from Blizzard's newest game that it just may be your thing.
Here we go:
No Internet Required
Blizzard made the controversial decision to require an internet connection for Diablo III at all times, but Torchlight II can be played offline in single-player. While I do like the idea of a persistent, online world, in the end, I think that Blizzard's always-on requirement was and is too much of a headache. Torchlight II's approach is the clear winner. What's more, you can bring it to your next LAN party.
Faster, Avatar! Kill, Kill!
Torchlight II feels much faster than Diablo III—you'll level up much more quickly, and that speed sustains throughout the game. The result is a steady drip-feed of new skill- and stat-points, and everything feels a touch less grind-y. As a result of all that leveling, you're going to have a lot more skill points to divy up. Which means you'll have to make...
In Torchlight II, you'll have far more control over your character build. I've been playing as an engineer, and have been choosing from among three different skill trees, each of which are tied to a different kind of combat—two-handed, sword and shield, or gadget-based. It feels much more like a standard RPG (or more like Diablo II) than the slot-based, interchangeable upgrades of Diablo III.
On a related note, it's also worth mentioning that Torchlight II's skill trees are much more permanent—you can undo your last three skill upgrades in town (for a price), but you can't just swap your skills around all willy-nilly like you can in Diablo III. It's more restrictive, but also truer to its roots. It could be that you can fully re-spec on New Game + or something; I'm not that far yet. It'd be nice! But when it comes down to it: Not counting the mouse, Diablo III has four hotkeys for powers; Torchlight II has ten.
More Character Flexibility
Fortunately, whatever you choose, you'll still be able to change up your playstyle. That's because the character classes are much more versatile than in Diablo III. I'll occasionally find loot that's restricted to another class, but for the most part, my engineer can do just about anything. She's an up-close-and-personal kinda girl, but she's got a secondary weapon slot for a wicked crossbow, and if she wanted she could even wield an embermage's staff or a berserker's gloves. Of course, some of her bonuses are tied to specific types of weapons, but the game never tells her that she can't use an item.
Er, basically, that. There's fishing in Torchlight II, just like in Torchlight. Just go with it.
Every character has a pet that follows him or her around, and it's one of my favorite additions to the Diablo formula. Basically, instead of one of the three boring NPC followers that solo-players got in Diablo III, you get a cat, or a dog, or a wolf, or other beastie. My engineer's cat, Hans, is a damn sight cooler than any of those three prats from Diablo III, and he's smarter, too—I can send him off to town to sell my loot and even give him a shopping list of potions and scrolls to pick up for me. Sometimes, as a reward, I'll feed him a fish that magically turns him into super-sweet giant spider.
More Loot, More Numbers
If you are into loot, and numbers, then you will love Torchlight II. It's a hardcore numbers-gamer's kind of game, with vast statistics screens showing your characters' every ability and adjustment.
Unfortunately, it's also a lot less user-friendly than Diablo III—there's no way to immediately tell, for example, how your item will affect core traits like damage per second and armor rating. There are also three subsets of armor types, one for each element, so you'll have to take a ton of things into account when comparing gear. And you'll be comparing gear a lot.
It can all be a bit ungainly and confusing - if a weapon gives you +10 strength but has a slightly lower DPS than the weapon you're holding, it'd be great to see at-a-glance exactly which one will end you up with the higher DPS (since strength changes your weapon's damage.) Ditto for pieces of armor that raise your physical armor rating magically. It's all a little bit opaque, and while the obsessive stat-counting player may like that, there's so much loot in the game that I can't really keep track of it all.
More Hardcore. Hardcore-er. Hardercore.
The stat stuff isn't the only thing about Torchlight II that's more hardcore than Diablo III—the game itself is more difficult and interesting, even at "normal" difficulty. This may be because of some mid-game tuning issues, but I've found that the latter halves of the second and third acts are difficult, and if I'm not careful, I'll get wrecked even by basic enemies.
It bears mentioning that I'm only playing on normal, and I haven't had any time at all to explore Torchlight II's post-game—it could well be that the high-level Diablo III stuff is every bit as hardcore as Torchlight II, just in a different way. But for a more casual player, Torchlight II is harder core. And yes, just like Diablo III, Torchlight II offers a "Hardcore Mode" where death is permanent.
In Diablo III, I played as a Monk, and as a result had a few abilities that caused me to regenerate health mid-battle. My Torchlight II engineer has no such abilities, and as a result Runic's game is much more about potion-management than Blizzard's is. That's actually kind of cool—it feels a lot more like Diablo II in that way (or at least, what I remember of Diablo II), and combines with the higher difficulty to make the game more fraught.
Still Just Wrist-Slapping
Here's a difference that's also a similarity—both games don't really punish you much for death. In Diablo III, you respawn right next to where you die with some damage done to your armor (Well, unless you're playing in hardcore mode). In Torchlight II, you're given an option: Respawn where you died for a big chunk of gold, respawn at the beginning of the dungeon for less gold, or respawn in town for free.
It's a bit weird, since you can usually sprint through the dungeon really quickly and save yourself some money, so you're really just paying for some time. Which feels a tad arbitrary. But then again, Blizzard's armor-damage was also just a tax on time and money, so I guess I'm not much of a fan of either approach.
No Real-Money Auction House
Adding this one because it's a not-insubstantial difference, even though I don't use the RMAH: Torchlight II has no equivalent to Blizzard's Real-Money Auction House, and so no way to pay to get the best gear. If you want good loot, you'll have to earn it in the game.
So far anyway, I've found Torchlight II's bosses to be more varied and interesting than the bosses in Diablo III. I'd usually run up to Blizzard's bosses and just start wailing away, maybe drinking a potion if I needed to, until they died. In Torchlight II, bosses follow varied attack patterns, use environmental tricks to trap and disorient you, summon clones and minions, and generally follow more interesting routines. It also helps that the game feels, as stated above, a little more difficult.
It's a Whole Wide World Out There
Something about Torchlight II's world feels more open and fully realized than Diablo III. Which is weird, given that Diablo III has such exhaustive lore and such an involved story, but something about the apocalyptic, heaven-and-hell nature of Diablo III's story left the world feeling like little more than an arena for battle, especially in Acts III and IV.
Torchlight II, on the other hand, has a world that feels more lived in—the enemies you're fighting aren't always demonic invaders, often they're just the beasties that roam a particular area. Fungus monsters inhabit caves, roach-beasts skitter from hidey-holes, and werewolves leap out of cottage basements. It feels more like you're exploring and less like you're breathlessly running from point A to point B. I find that preferable.
Here's something I never thought I'd say: Torchlight II manages to have a story that makes even less sense than Diablo III. No, really! I'm sure that fans of the first game will understand what the heck is going on, but I played a good bit of Torchlight back in the day and I often have literally no idea what the hell is going on in Torchlight II. That's not to say it really hurts the game, it's just surprising that Blizzard's mess of a narrative still feels more interesting than Torchlight II's gobbledygook hodgepodge.
Torchlight II has some really good sidequests. Overall, I'd say they're more interesting than the sidequests on offer in Diablo III. In fact, given that the main story feels like a bunch of random sidequests, the whole of Torchlight II just sort of feels like a ton of quests over a big, sprawling world. That's more my speed than Diablo III's breathless sprint against the forces of darkness, and as Torchlight II opens up more and more, I bet that feeling will only grow.
What do I mean by Torchlight II opening up? Well...
The Future's Bright
The biggest difference between Diablo III and Torchlight II is one that we haven't seen yet. Namely, that Diablo III is completely closed and controlled by Blizzard, while Runic has invited the modding community to tweak and re-invent Torchlight II however they want.
That means that we'll be seeing new, user-generated content for Torchlight II for the coming months and even years. As much fun as the basic click-loot-click flow of Torchlight II is, I sense that Runic's smartest decision may have been to put the future of their game in the hands of their fans, rather than holding all of the cards for themselves.
So, there you have 'em: My impressions regarding how Torchlight II stacks up with its most obvious rival after 18 hours spent playing. I'm still banging away at the game and doing more multiplayer (which is still something of a question mark until it's been out in the world for a bit), and will have a full review later this week. And in that review, I promise that I'll keep talk of Diablo III to a minimum.