First look at Torchlight 2 (and how it differs from Diablo 3)

Runic Games is running a Torchlight 2 stress test this weekend and I was lucky enough to get an invite. I already have TL2 pre-ordered, mind you. I’ve been waiting for this game with the same kind of anticipation many of my friends have been waiting for Diablo 3.

The two games share an awful lot of similarities. Both are action-RPGs that are focused on looting and leveling and both are pretty casual-friendly. Both are mouse driven and played from a 3/4 view 3rd person perspective.

The big difference? Torchlight 2 is the sequel to Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 isn’t. πŸ™‚

My biggest disappointment with Diablo 3 is that there’re no strategic decisions to be made when it comes to growing your character. For a given class, everyone unlocks the same skills/runes at the same level. There are certainly tactical decisions to be made (Which skill/rune combo is right for this area of the dungeon I’m in?) but everything is easily reversible and at a given level everyone has the exact same skills to pick from (disclaimer: I’m still in Act 1 so maybe this changes).

Compare this to Torchlight 2 where every time you level you get 5 points to put into stats. Here’s a strategic decision: do you want to focus on one stat or spread things out? If one stat, which one? With the dude I’ve been leveling I’ve been putting a ton of points into Dexterity and relying on increased critical hits for causing damage, and my dodge stat for avoiding damage. Is this smart? Not sure yet, but it’s the strategy I’m using with this character. Later I could roll the same class and put a ton of points into strength and have a different kind of character.

Diablo 3 also has stat increases each level but the game decides what they are and most players probably don’t even notice them. Fans of the game like that they’ve got one less thing to worry about and tell me that they’d probably spend the points the way the game is auto-spending them anyway, so it’s just more convenient this way. That may be true for your first character in a given class but I think Torchlight 2 will have a lot more replayability.

But it isn’t just stats, there are skills too. Each level you also get a skill point, and each class has 3 skill trees. You can specialize in one tree or spread things out. You can also craft a character that fits your playstyle. Spend a lot of points in passive skills and your actual playing experience will be fairly simple. Or spend point unlocking a ton of active skills and your fingers will be dancing on the keyboard hitting different skills constantly. It’s all up to you.

Diablo 3 has some of this on a tactical level, but in Torchlight 2 you won’t be able to get everything on a single character. That’s going to encourage multiple play-throughs with variants of the same class and should help keep the game interesting long after folks have squeezed all the goodness out of D3. (Let’s face it, this style of game is all about the journey and leveling up characters after you’ve experienced the story once.)

It all boils down to more choice. Diablo 3 is about cool loot and tactical choices, while Torchlight 2 is about cool loot, tactical choices and strategic character building. Torchlight 2 also gives you two sets of weapon slots and lets you toggle between them, which makes combat more interesting. Add in the pet you have right from level 1; a companion who’ll run back to town to sell excess loot and buy you some more pots, as well as helping out in battle. Oh yeah, and you can fish for treats that’ll turn your pet into some other creature for a while.

I’ve been playing an Outlander, a class described as “a gunslinger with some secret weapons!” He was ‘born’ with a pair of pistols but soon enough I found a nice bow and I was playing him as an archer for a while. But then I found a nice magical ‘claw’ weapon, so now when things get into melee range I switch over to a pair of claw weapons. Plus he has a ‘glaive’ that he can throw and that bounces around hitting more than one enemy (that’s his first magic spell) and I’ve been leveling that up. He also has a kind of rage mechanic where the more things he kills quickly the more powerful he becomes, and I’ve been spending points on a passive skill that slows down the ‘draining’ of rage between fights. Basically I’ve ignored his ‘gunslinger’ side and he’s still very playable. I could roll a new Outlander and put all his points into ranged attacks and that would be a very different character.

Now, let’s give Diablo 3 its due: in terms of sheer spectacle, D3 beats Torchlight 2 hands down. The artwork is better, the lore is better, the NPCs are more interesting, the sound design is better. And D3 has the ‘bonus’ that everyone and his brother is playing, so if you’re looking for a multi-player game, someone is probably ready to join you.

Torchlight 2 just has more interesting gameplay, more replayability, and costs $20 instead of $60 and probably runs better on older computers. If you find yourself enjoying Diablo 3 gameplay but are hankering for something a bit more meaty to sink your teeth into, then consider dropping a Jackson on Torchlight 2 when it comes out in (I’m guessing) a month or two.

Here’s a gameplay video. This isn’t an epic fight or anything; I just fired up a game and started recording. It’s a little hard to make out but about a minute in I switch from bow to claws, and later back again, and you can see the blue glaive flying around now and then. The wolf is my pet; her health is at the top left corner of the screen. Middle center bottom of the screen is my rage meter.

14 thoughts on “First look at Torchlight 2 (and how it differs from Diablo 3)

  1. Only thing that would get me into Torchlight 2 is an indication of how the devs learned from the terrible, terrible loot system they had in the first game. “Upgrading” via a cumulative 2% chance of total destruction of the item? Getting an necklace drop at level 4 and never seeing an upgrade for that slot for 20+ hours? Then the “sidequests” that “rewarded” you would level 37 green items worse than the garbage you picked up off the ground in the first dungeon.

    Ugh. Just thinking about it makes me mad all over again.

  2. @Azuriel: That’s something that I haven’t seen in TL2 so far. I’ve received great upgrades (though not every hour for each slot but all in all, I certainly can’t complain!) and there are enchanters in the game that “attempt to upgrade” an item for gold. I assume that “attempt” means it can fail and I paid the gold for nothing. But the item can’t be destroyed (I looked it up on the forums and it didn’t sound like it can get destroyed).

    Quests gave me really nice upgrades as well.

    Of course, I may look at it differently because I didn’t think in TL I picked up gargabe regularly. ^^

  3. The increasing chance of destruction with enchants was a good thing IMO – you had to decide whether to take the risk of one more enchantment or not.

  4. can’t wait πŸ™‚ and already have plans to play with some friends. incidentally, I’m hoping that torchlight 2 will allow mods the same way torchlight 1 does. you were saying something about enchanters being useless? not with the mods I have installed that make enchanting 100% success. among other things πŸ˜›

  5. As someone who never played the original Diablos and was only half-interested in getting D3, I have to say that from comparing feature lists alone Torchlight 2 sounds far more interesting to me. The price point helps a lot in that regard, as well.

  6. I’m not entirely sure why they have to be compared. I know I’ll be playing TL2 (I played TL1 a little bit but the utter lack of drops and single player only limited its appeal for me. I enjoy these types of games much more playing co-op with my SO.)

    In DIII, initially I thought it was a bummer that I didn’t get to assign attribute points, but eventually came to realize that in the scheme of things assigning those points is largely irrevelant with the way the loot system works. And although I don’t hate skill trees, gaining incremental advances (i.e. my primary skill is now 2% better!) isn’t any better than with the way DIII’s skill and rune system work (and you have even more choices if you go free elective.) Lastly in prior Diablo’s by the time I made my last character (usually a caster) I was sufficiently burnt out that that character class never really progressed. Now I can fully explore two or three different classes, or try hardcore, and/or nightmare, etc. I don’t see my time with DIII limited (aka replayability) because of character building or the lack thereof (I never made two of one class anyway.) I’ll probably end up with as many hours invested in D3 as I did Skyrim, yet the two games are completely different gaming experiences.

    (And no I’m not a Blizz fanboy, the Diablo series is the only game I play from the them.)

  7. I’ve been playing the TL2 Beta, and this weekend played several hours of DIII, and I completely agree with everything you’ve said. And like Scopique, every time my backpack got full in D3 I wished I could just send my pet to town. I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the skill progression in D3. I find it ridiculous that you can unlock a new skill, but you can’t use it at the same time you’re using another skill. In this era of hotkeys plus SHIFT+HOTKEY plus CTRL+SHIFT+HOTKEY, not being able to use all the abilities my character has is incredibly frustrating. I’m having fun with both games, but my frustration level is much higher on D3.

  8. It’s funny – I like the skill system in D3 for the exact same reasons you dislike it.

    By their very design, skill trees build from lesser to greater as a reward for investment in the tree. As the character levels, additional, more powerful skills open up. This encourages saving of skill points for these more powerful skills and often means that the lower levels are simply minimal-investment grinds to more powerful abilities. In addition, there is no recourse if you make a mistake and assign a point incorrectly. Too bad, roll again, thanks for playing!

    In contrast, the D3 skill system is more tactical. The scarcity of active slots (6) means you have to select from among the bank of skills. The rune system provides a little bit of push-pull, enabling a small amount of customization. The fact that you can swap skills means you can try different combos and see what suits you best. Take your archer (Demon Hunter) and swap from primarily bow skills to traps and turrets, all without having to reroll and level up *another* of the same class.

    I’m not saying one is better than the other. They’re just different sides of the same coin, different offerings with different results.

    Personally, I hated running around as a Sorcerer in D2, waiting until level 30 to get my main ability (Frozen Orb). To me, it felt like I spent my entire first playthrough waiting for the game to begin since every spell I used was a placeholder for the real deal. Plus, it got really painful right around levels 27-29, when your single-point spells could barely kill an enemy. Not much fun until you hit 30.

  9. See, and I like the skill system in Torchlight 2 because it gives me replayability. With D3, I’m honestly looking at these characters and thinking, “Why would I ever make another character? Every character I make is going to develop in exactly the same way.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying the heck out of D3, but I don’t see myself continuing to play it once I’ve beaten it with one of each class. There’s no reason to, for me.

  10. [i]Torchlight 2 is the sequel to Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 isn’t.[/i]

    This isn’t surprising, and a quick review of history would tell us why: the people who made D1 and D2 (Condor, later Blizzard North) left almost to a man once their contracts ended, later forming Runic, giving us the gem of a natal series that is Torchlight. It’s great to see the specifics of this new game! One of the very few I [i]know[/i] I will be purchasing this year.

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