It seems there's a renaissance of the 'click click' Action-RPG in the PC gaming community, and we at Nitrobeard are pretty excited. We've covered Diablo 3's launch, we played hours beyond hours of Torchlight, and we each pitched in to help successfully Kickstart the upcoming Grim Dawn from Crate Entertainment.
Recently, I had the pleasure to play a solid amount of Torchlight 2 via the 'stress test weekend', and not only did I bring back some video footage for you all, but more importantly, I brought back a few thoughts: Will Torchlight 2 stack up to Diablo 3? Is there a noticeable difference between the two? Does Torchlight's focus on mods, single player, and tried-and-true gameplay trump Diablo 3's more controversial always-on, co-op, auction house-focused affair?
First off, let's touch on the general consensus of Torchlight 2. It promises to be 'bigger', 'badder', and packed with more content than the original game, and it's 100% true: Torchlight 2 is leagues better than the original, with more dynamic quests, random dungeons, weapon sets, enemy types, and most importantly, exploration. Torchlight 2 fully embraces its Diablo 2 heritage, and works in the same way, starting off in a town/main quest hub, and allowing access to a randomly generated world with random loot drops and rare bosses to find. Where the original Torchlight lacked the 'adventure' aspect of other games in the ARPG genre, Torchlight 2 has it in spades. I get the small twinge of 'I wonder what's around that corner' that Diablo 2 gave me so many years ago, and that's a bonafide positive for Runic. Lack of variety is what pulled me away from the original Torchlight far too soon, and I'm glad to say, variety of location isn't lacking thus far in Torchlight 2.
There is one thing that is hindering Torchlight 2 on the offset for me, though: The game bases its mechanics on Diablo 2, but the game feels like Diablo 2 Lite because of it. Keeping up with Scrolls of Identify and Scrolls of Town Portal seems like an archaic principle, now that Diablo 3 has made Town Portal its own spell (which can be cast at any time, with hardly any cooldown), and Identifying items simply takes a right-click, no waiting around or buying scrolls to do the dirty work. Also, the random environments, while they're a HUGE step up from the original Torchlight, are still a color-by-numbers affair. Within the first 10 minutes of being in an area, I can tell which assets are repeated, and where the 'flow' of the environment is focused. Compared to Diablo 3, which has fairly open, sprawling explorable areas, Torchlight 2 feels a bit cramped and cookie-cutter.
While we're talking about visual mechanics, it's only proper that I touch on the look of each game, and the aesthetic consistencies with each. Torchlight 2 does a great job of setting a mood, and giving variety, but the E-Surance style cutscenes don't quite click for me. The item names are great inside jokes to pop culture, and I'll be safe when I say I may have spotted a few awesome Goonies references in the above video. Caves and dungeons are visually distinct, lighting changes dynamically when spells are cast, and the attention to detail is pretty impressive. The monsters change with the area, but I've yet to really see memorable monsters that make me react in Torchlight 2. This is something Diablo 3 has in droves, and there's many-a-time where I can take a quick glance at a horde of incoming monsters, and be able to tell my chances of success without even clicking the mouse: Torchlight 2 didn't have that for my limited time with the game.
Before we get much further, I know where your mind is probably headed, because my mind did the same thing: Torchlight 2 is a $20, and Diablo 3 is a $60, and each should be graded as such. I'll agree, each title should be represented on its own merits and improvements, but in the next few months, there will be many threads on message boards with titles like 'Should I buy Diablo 3, or Torchlight 2', and quite a few people will give a pretty reasonible, albeit misleading, answer: 'Go with Torchlight 2, it's a similar experience, and it's a third of the cost'. Don't get me wrong, they'd be right, but the way it should be worded, is 'Its pretty similar, and a cheaper option'. Diablo 3 was in production for 8 years, and had a multi-million dollar budget, with pie-in-the-sky ideas for Auction Houses and drop in/drop out co-op, and that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Diablo 3 has also done something a little more important, and worthy of mention: It's making strides to improve the genre. Torchlight 2, for everything it is doing right, is copying a game that did everything right 12 years ago.
If you've never played Diablo 2, or have had a hankering for a call-back to that era of action rpgs, then by all means buy Torchlight 2, forget Diablo 3 exists, and go on your merry way with $40 extra to spend. That being said, the amount of depth you'll get in Torchlight 2 will vary. Will it be worth $20? Absolutely, I already have my copy, because the game will be a hell of a good deal. Will it be the same type of depth you'll find in Diablo 3? Nowhere close. I've followed Blizzard titles for years, and if there's one thing they know how to do, it's make accessible games that are difficult to master. Diablo 3 is very much the same way, as I see myself replaying the campaign at least 4 more times before I have my first break from the game: The auction house keeps things fresh, as I'll never know what great deals I'll find, or if my random Witch Doctor mask will sell for a high price, giving me a healthy bump in gold, to which I can upgrade my artisan's skills for more achievements. I can't wait to get in there on a higher difficulty and try to kill the Skeleton King with a sub-optimal build in record time. With Torchlight 2, the lasting appeal of the title will lie wholeheartidly in the mod support, and the creativity of the Torchlight coummunity.
There's one downside to Diablo 3's economy being based around the Auction House, and its that normal items sell for almost nothing to NPC merchants. Torchlight 2 will have a certain immediate gratification reward for finding super-rare items, because they'll be worth a pretty penny to NPC vendors in the world, and finding some may even raise your notorioty, something else that Diablo 3 lacks. For every good deed you do in Torchlight 2, you're given 'Fame' points, and once you reach a certain amount of 'Fame', you're given access to better items, dungeons, and random events. The grind of getting more Fame doesn't feel like a grind at all (it felt a little stale in Torchlight 1), it's the one 'carrot on a stick' design choice that really works in Torchlight 2's favor.
Also, each game has a very strong sense of consistency. Each setting stays true to itself, and if something is a bit out of whack, there's usually a reason for it. Torchlight 2 feels a little bit faster than Diablo 3, but Diablo 3 always feels a little more hectic, given the way the enemies give and take damage. For instance, in the above gameplay video, my Outlander was at times loaded with as many as 70 potions, so I never felt in any real danger. In Diablo 3, I'll be lucky if I have 10 potions an Act, unless I go out of my way to buy some from a merchant. The health orbs in Diablo 3 work very much like God of War and are great in a pinch, but they're so sporadic, it's hard to rely on them in a crisis.
Now let's get to the feature that has everyone in a tizzy on one side or another: Single Player, and Always-On DRM. Ironically, during my beta time with Torchlight 2, the installer had to ping the Runic servers to initialize the game, and if the server was down at any point (it was), the game would automatically close. Sure, I'll toss this up to the 'stress test' of the game, but essentially, isn't this a form of Always-On DRM? The point still remains, however, that yes, Torchlight 2 has a dedicated single player mode, and can be played in offline mode, without any need for an internet connection. Also, the single player and multiplayer characters can be one and the same, which is a fantastic feature, and one I do think should've been in Diablo 3. However, I'm almost level 25 in Diablo 3, and has the fact that I had to log in to Battle.net everytime made my experience any worse? Not really. I did run into small bouts of lag, and sometimes my graphics card would heat up enough to slow the game down to a crawl, but these were minor inconveniences at the most, and they automatically resolved within a few minutes. As I said in a previous Diablo 3 write-up, the trade-off of having to log into a server, but keeping persistent achievements, drop in/out co-op on the fly, the ever-changing Auction House, and viewing my friends' heroes at any point, is a fair one in my opinion.
We're at a great point as PC gamers, as I can't remember the last time we had so many great titles in this genre, one that's always been near and dear to my heart. I already bought Torchlight 2 and was very impressed with the beta, and urge you all to check it out. However, just know that while the title may seem like a perfect replacement to Diablo 3, comparing them isn't quite as easy as one would think. If Torchlight 1 reminded me of Diablo 1 (one town, one mutli-tiered dungeon), then Torchlight 2 definitely reminds me of Diablo 2 (overworld, randomly generated dungeons, co-op gameplay, Scroll of Identify/Town Portal), which is great. What's not so great, though, is that I played a game a while back that was alot like Diablo 2 as well: Diablo 2. It's a 12 year old game, and the design decisions are definitely starting to show their age. Diablo 3 is a genuine step in a new direction for this genre, but whether it's a good step or a bad step is up to your discretion. The only thing I'll say about it is this: I'm worried that Torchlight 2 will be successful. Not because I don't like Runic (I love them!), or I don't think Torchlight deserves success (it absolutely does, no question), but because many people will dismiss Diablo 3 as an option because of it. The two games are vastly different, with Torchlight 2 resting on its laurels, while Diablo 3 is making the genre something of a social affair with a living, breathing economy.
If we're forced to take sides, I'll gladly sit on the side of Diablo 3, as I view its gameplay structure very controversial, but very progressive. It has a sense of adventure that Torchlight 2 doesnt, and I see myself replaying Diablo 3 many, many times over, something that I'm not so sure about with Torchlight 2.
Just know, though, that while I'm playing Torchlight 2, I'll remember why I fell in love with this genre in the first place: Its simple structure, its addictive gameplay, its sense of humor, and its random content. It'll remind me of my summer of 2000, in which I lost many days of my life trying to be the best in the world at Diablo 2, and for every Scroll of Town Portal I click, and every Scroll of Identify I use, I'll be transported back there, and it'll put a smile on my face.
The year 2000 seems so long ago.