I spent the weekend playing Runic's Torchlight II. At the time of this writing, my level 39 engineer has killed 8,800 monsters, collected 161,207 gold, drank 535 potions, broken 771 boxes and urns, and caught 9 fish.
This game is much more of a beast than its predecessor; In terms of scope and ambition, it's spot on for the biggest names in loot collection and click-based combat. And so of course Blizzard's Diablo III plays a big role in Torchlight II. How could it not?
Below I've cataloged some of the many ways in which the two games differ.
While playing, it was very difficult to rate Torchlight II on my own terms instead of constantly thinking, "Oh, so X is different from Diablo III in a Y-way." Instead of putting all of the clutter into my review, I figured I'd write down my impressions of the campaign in about 18 hours and put them fully in the context of Diablo III. Hopefully this will get all the comparisons out of my system.
But let's get that out of the way: if you liked Diablo III, you will almost certainly like Torchlight II. Both games feel similar at heart, both have the same randomly generated repeatability, and both games are satisfying in the same compulsive, clicking way. Seriously, this doesn't have to be a deathmatch that takes all winners into account. Both games are fun and both can coexist. That said, if you didn't like Diablo III but liked previous Diablo games, Torchlight is different enough from Blizzard's newest game that it might be your thing.
No internet required
Diablo III: Internet only | Torchlight II: Internet? Which internet?
Blizzard made the controversial decision of requiring an internet connection at all times for Diablo III, but Torchlight II can be played offline in single player mode. While I like the idea of a persistent online world, I think Blizzard's constant requirement was and is too much of a headache. The Torchlight II approach is the clear winner. What's more, you can bring it to your next LAN party.
Faster, Avatar! Kill kill!
Diablo III: Always gentle. | Torchlight II: Time for another level!
Torchlight II feels a lot faster than Diablo III – you level up a lot faster and that speed is maintained throughout the game. The result is a steady drip with new skill and stat points, and everything feels less dragging. As a result of all of these levels, you will have a lot more skill points to split up. Which means you have to do …
Diablo III: Predefined skill trees. | Torchlight II: You choose everything.
In Torchlight II you have a lot more control over your character building. I've played as an engineer and chose from three different skill trees, each tied to a different type of combat – two-handed, sword and shield, or gadget-based. It feels a lot more like a standard RPG (or more like Diablo II) than the slot-based, interchangeable upgrades from Diablo III.
In this context, it's worth noting that Torchlight II's skill trees are much more permanent – you can undo your last three skill upgrades in town (for one price), but you can't just swap your skills out either way you can in Diablo III. It's more restrictive, but also truer to its roots. You may be able to specify New Game + or something entirely new; I am not ready yet. It would be nice! But when it comes down to it: Without counting the mouse, Diablo III has four hotkeys for powers; Torchlight II has ten.
More character flexibility
Diablo III: Very limited ability combinations. | Torchlight II: Choose your own style of play.
Fortunately, no matter what you choose, you can change your style of play. That's because the character classes are much more diverse than in Diablo III. I will occasionally find loot that is restricted to a different class, but for the most part my engineer can do almost anything. She's a very close and personal girl, but she has a secondary weapon slot for an evil crossbow, and if she wanted she could even wear an embermage's staff or a berserker's gloves. Of course, some of her bonuses are tied to certain weapon types, but the game never tells her that she can't use an item.
Diablo III: No fishing. | Torchlight II: Fishing.
Um, basically that. Torchlight II is fishing, just like Torchlight. Just take part.
Diablo III: No pets. | Torchlight II: So many pets.
Every character has a pet that follows them, 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 had in Diablo III, you get a cat, dog, wolf, or other beast. My engineer's cat, Hans, is a hell of a cool sight than any of those three Diablo III fools, and he's smarter too – I can send him into town to sell my loot and even give him a shopping list of potions and scrolls give pick up for me. Sometimes I feed him a fish as a reward, which magically turns him into a super cute giant spider.
More loot, more numbers
Diablo III: Lots of loot. | Torchlight II: Insane prey.
If you're into loot and numbers, you'll love Torchlight II. It's a hardcore game for numbers gamers with huge stats screens that show all of your characters' abilities and customizations.
Unfortunately, it's also a lot less user-friendly than Diablo III – there's no way to instantly tell 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 there are a lot of things to consider when comparing gear. And you'll be comparing a lot of gear.
It can all be a bit awkward and confusing – if a weapon gives you +10 Strength but has slightly lower damage per second than the weapon you're holding, it would be great to see exactly which one you will end up with at a glance the higher damage per second (since strength changes the damage your weapon does). The same goes for pieces of armor that magically increase your physical armor rating. It's all a bit opaque, and while the obsessive gamer who counts the stats likes that, there's so much loot in the game that I can't really keep track of everything.
More hardcore. Hardcore-er. Hardercore.
Diablo III: Normal = always possible. | Torchlight II: Normal = you can even get stuck.
The stat stuff isn't the only thing about Torchlight II that is harder than Diablo III – the game itself is more difficult and interesting, even at "normal" levels of difficulty. This may be due to some tuning issues during the game, but I've found the final halves of Acts 2 and 3 to be difficult, and if I'm not careful, even simple enemies will destroy me.
It's worth noting that I just played normally and didn't have time to explore the aftermath of Torchlight II at all – it may well be that the high-level Diablo III stuff is just as hardcore as Torchlight II, just in a different way . For a casual gamer, however, Torchlight II is a tougher core. And yes, just like Diablo III, Torchlight II features a "hardcore mode" where death is permanent.
Drink Festival 2012
Diablo III: Some potions. | Torchlight II: All potions.
In Diablo III, I played as a monk, so I had some skills that prompted me to regenerate health in the middle of battle. My Torchlight II engineer doesn't have such skills, so Runic's game has a lot more to do with potion management than Blizzard's. That's actually pretty cool – it feels a lot more like Diablo II (or at least as I remember Diablo II) that way and combined with the increased difficulty of making the game fuller.
Still just wrist claps
Diablo III: Not very punitive. | Torchlight II: Not very punitive in other ways.
Here's a difference that is also similar: both games don't actually punish you for death. In Diablo III, you'll respawn right next to where you died, with your armor damaged (unless you're playing in Hardcore mode). In Torchlight II you have an option: respawn where you died for a large piece of gold, respawn for less gold at the beginning of the dungeon, or respawn in town for free.
It's a bit weird as you can usually sprint through the dungeon really quickly and save yourself some money so you're really only paying for some of the time. Which feels a bit arbitrary. On the other hand, Blizzard's armor damage was just a tax on time and money, so I'm probably not a big fan of either approach.
Not a real money auction house
Diablo III: Do you want booty? Buy it! | Torchlight II: Do you want booty? Play the game!
Add this because, although I don't use the RMAH, there's a not insubstantial difference: Torchlight II has no equivalent to Blizzard's real money auction house and therefore no way to pay to get the best gear. If you want good loot, you have to earn it in-game.
Diablo III: Decent bosses. | Torchlight II: Excellent bosses.
So far, I've found the Torchlight II bosses to be more diverse and interesting than the bosses in Diablo III. I used to run to Blizzard's bosses and just start moaning and maybe have a potion if I had to until they died. In Torchlight II, bosses follow different attack patterns, use environmental tricks to trap and disorient you, summon clones and minions, and generally follow more interesting routines. It also helps make the game feel a little more difficult, as mentioned above.
There is a whole wide world out there
Diablo III: Linear, fast-paced narrative. | Torchlight II: Feels more exploration based.
Something in the world of Torchlight II feels more open and complete than Diablo III. Which is strange considering that Diablo III has such an exhaustive lore and an intricate history, but something about the apocalyptic, heavenly nature of Diablo III's story made the world look little more than an arena for battle, especially in of Acts III and IV.
Torchlight II, on the other hand, has a world that makes you feel more alive – the enemies you fight aren't always demonic invaders, it's often just the beasts that roam a certain area. Mushroom monsters inhabit caves, cockroaches frolic in hiding holes and werewolves jump out of the cellars of the huts. It feels more like you're exploring, rather than running breathlessly from point A to point B. I think that's preferable.
Lack of storytelling
Diablo III: Stupid cockamimi story. | Torchlight II: Somehow even more nonsensical.
I never thought I'd say this: Torchlight II manages to have a story that makes even less sense than Diablo III. Not really! I'm sure fans of the first game will understand what the hell is going on, but I played a fair bit of Torchlight back then and I often have literally no idea what the hell is going on in Torchlight II. That doesn't mean it really hurts the game. It's just surprising that Blizzard's mess of narrative still feels more interesting than Torchlight II's Gobbledygook mess.
That said …
Superior side quests
Diablo III: Mostly unforgettable side quests. | Torchlight II: Lots of side quests, mostly meaty.
Torchlight II has some really good side quests. Overall, I would say that they are more interesting than the side quests that are offered in Diablo III. Given that the main story feels like a series of random side quests, Torchlight II does indeed feel like a ton of quests across a big, sprawling world. That's more of my speed than Diablo III's breathless sprint against the forces of darkness, and as Torchlight II keeps opening up, I bet the feeling will only increase.
What do I mean by Torchlight II? Well…
The future is bright
Diablo III: Get your gloves out of our game! | Torchlight II: Please modify our game!
The biggest difference between Diablo III and Torchlight II is one that we haven't seen yet. This means that Diablo III is completely closed and controlled by Blizzard, while Runic has invited the modding community to tweak and reinvent Torchlight II at will.
That means we'll see new, user-generated content for Torchlight II in the months and even years ahead. As much fun as the basic click-loot-click flow of Torchlight II is, I sense that Runic's smartest decision was to put the future of their game in the hands of their fans instead of keeping all the cards to themselves.
So there you have it: My impressions of how Torchlight II can measure up to its most obvious rival after 18 hours of play. I'm still doing the game and doing more multiplayer (which is still a question mark until it's a little bit in the world) and will have a full review later this week. And in this review, I promise that I will keep the conversation about Diablo III to a minimum.
Republished with permission. Kirk Hamilton is an editor at Kotaku.