You know how they say that first impressions are the most important? Well, there’s really no better way to show the differences between Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 other than to compare each on their first day of release. While both had their share of release day problems, Torchlight 2’s didn’t stop me from sitting down to actually play the game. Two hours after loading up Torchlight 2 I was already level 5 and had acquired a fair amount of loot; two hours after loading up Diablo 3, however, I was sitting on my couch wondering when their servers would be stable enough to play. That first day, for both games, really summed up each overall experience; Torchlight 2 invites you to play with a smile and open arms while Diablo 3 invites you with a scowl and a cold shoulder.
Runic’s inviting Torchlight 2 atmosphere isn’t a happy coincidence of good game design, but a deliberate tactic designed to create a larger community. They seem keenly aware that the key to any successful game is a happy, active, and robust fan base. They’ve kept their price low at $20 not because their game isn’t as good as other $60 titles, but because, as they say, “Not everyone has $60 lying around.” It’s really for this reason alone that I’m surprised at how enjoyable Torchlight 2 is compared to its more expensive cousin. While everything about the game screams that it should be a $60 title the only thing that doesn’t is the price tag. Torchlight 2 doesn’t just hold its own against Diablo 3; in some cases it’s flat out better.
There are No taxes
This is town, you won’t be here much.
When I say taxes I mean all of the things required by the game to maintain the gameplay or your character for the sake of “balance.” Usually they take the form of either a fee, like buying skills or repairing gear, or a time sink, like excessive traveling or backtracking. I don’t mind when this is a gameplay feature like in Fallout when it can add to the game’s survival theme, but when it’s added to a game like Diablo it feels like a cheap trick designed to keep people playing longer without making progress. There are no taxes in Torchlight 2 every second is spent doing the things I want to do and not the things I have to do.
Just like in the original, Torchlight 2 characters are given pets that act as mules, carrying and selling loot back to vendors while you keep playing. They can also pick up other essentials like potions and scrolls in case you’re running low. There’s really no need to go back to town at all if you don’t want to; I went through the first three acts without having to make any maintenance trips back to town. Not once did I feel like I had to do something I didn’t want to because the designers thought I should, I just played.
The Loot is Better
There’s nothing quite like a level 10 Epic that’s actually useful.
Let’s face it, dungeon crawlers, or whatever you want to call them, are all about the loot. It’s the fuel that keeps players’ engines revved and allows them to continue adventuring without becoming bored or overwhelmed. While I spent more time than I’d like to admit repeating the same loot runs over and over again in Diablo 3, I found that progressing naturally through Torchlight 2 was sufficient to keep me adequately geared – So far I haven’t had to repeat an Act in order to move forward. Not only are drop rates better, but overall the loot is of better quality especially the higher tiered legendary items.
At first I didn’t like the idea of Runic failing to implement some form of auction hall into Torchlight 2, but after a few days of playing I realized that it really doesn’t need it. I had become accustomed to needing an AH to find any loot of value, but when you can actually play the game to get the loot you need it becomes unnecessary. I rather like saving my gold for enchantments instead of spending a week saving up for one overpriced auction hall item. Adequate difficulty settings help in making the game feel balanced without keeping characters loot starved.
Lag Free Solo Play is Encouraged
What is this “Single Player” thing you speak of?
One of the biggest complaints about Diablo 3 was its always online requirement for solo play. It seemed an unnecessary restriction that punished players with laggy service more than it prevented piracy. Sometimes errors prohibited players from logging on all together. While Torchlight 2 also had its share of first day jitters, no one was prohibited from playing due to lag or any other type of server failure. Even with a crashed website on the first day, players could still start their characters in single player with the knowledge that they could bring those characters into multiplayer as soon as their website was back up. I even managed to score some loot for a buddy of mine in the process.
Having a more traditional single player campaign allowed Runic to make mistakes and fumble the ball without penalizing all of their customers. When their multiplayer was functioning properly the next day I just invited my friend to join me right where I left off, we didn’t even have to repeat anything I had done. The game didn’t just save my character from my single player campaign, it saved my progress as well. There’s also no lag to speak of either, none that I’ve felt at least. And if my connection gets a little sketchy, single player always remains a lag free option.
The Levels are Denser
An early game steampunk dungeon full of all sorts of goodies.
With the knowledge that Torchlight 2 only cost $20 dollars I sat down to play thinking I would have some sort of “ah ha!” moment in which I figured out how Runic managed to make the game on the cheap. As I moved through the first Act I kept thinking that somewhere I would see the man behind the curtain and that I would think to myself, “Ok, this level sucks that’s why it only cost $20.” But I didn’t. If anything the levels were vastly more populated and interesting than those in Diablo 3, and I happened to like some of Diablo’s level design. Everywhere in Torchlight 2 feels a bit more alive, with plenty to keep a person who likes to explore busy. There was a distinct lack of those giant open fields full of monsters that tend to be everywhere in Diablo.
Despite the levels being more interesting there were also better reasons to search every nook and cranny. In Diablo players were encouraged to explore an entire map in the hope of finding rare and elite packs for loot, but in Torchlight players are encourage to search not just for rare enemies, which are also present, but hidden areas, fishing holes, phase beasts (which lead to secret challenges), side quests, and rare treasure chests that require the player to hunt for the key. It’s the combination of all of these things that keeps a player on their toes. I didn’t just need to explore for more loot, I wanted to.
One of three very specific skill trees.
I’ve written in the past about how I actually enjoyed Diablo 3’s skill system. It gives players the freedom to level a character and experiment quickly without feeling pigeonholed. Torchlight 2’s class and skill system is kind of a hybrid of a few different systems, and while it also allows for experimentation, there’s also the possibility for deeper customization. There are only four core classes, but so far it seems that focusing on different skill trees gives the classes more variety than I originally expected. Players have the option of respeccing their last three abilities, but after that all skill allocations become permanent.
The ability to respec those last three skills gives players the option to test new abilities without committing to them yet still retains some of that old-school permanence. I have two different engineers at the moment and both play completely different. One is kind of a sword and board support tank I play with my friends and the other is a two handed solo play monster. The longer I play each of them the less and less it feels like they came from the same class. The other classes are similar, with more and more depth to each the longer you play.
Torchlight 2 has definitely been worth the $20 I spent, but if you’re looking to be more frugal I’m sure Steam will have some sort of ridiculous sale in the future.