I waited and waited; May 15th couldn’t come any faster. I had just been introduced to Diablo 2 by a friend one year earlier and fell in love with it. I think my love for action RPG’s started way back on the original Xbox with Hunter: The Reckoning. I was infatuated, I needed more. Fast-forward about 10 years and many forgettable action RPG experiences later, my lust for loot had not died down. I was waiting patiently, getting more and more antsy as the days passed, and finally Diablo 3 arrived.
Yeah, it had it flaws. Yeah, Blizzard did not stick to what many consider the “true” Diablo experience. Sure, the real money auction house made those willing to spend some Benjamins instantly more powerful. Maybe, the loot drop rates made grinding more tedious than ever. Sure, playing on Inferno made me rage quit so many times I lost track. But deep down, at the heart of it, Diablo 3 was a damn good game, regardless of its flaws. I don’t regret any of the 120 plus hours I dumped into two characters, and most importantly, I had fun.
The overall consensus of the Diablo community was that the third installment was a flop. Most disagreed with the core mechanics of the game and begged for something resembling the Diablo formula they had fallen in love with. Enter Torchlight 2. It was being developed by Runic, which was founded by people from Blizzard North, the studio behind Diablo 1 and 2. Torchlight promised to include all the things Diablo didn’t, and that those disappointed with Diablo 3 could finally get their hardcore action-RPG fix.
It had to be done. The comparison had to be made. The term “Diablo killer” seemed to be floating around between Torchlight 2’s August 30 appearance on Steam and September 20 release. Even though the two games appear to be practically an identical experience on the surface, their core mechanics differ. They may be two sides of the same coin, but both still provide experiences that are unique enough to warrant buying both.
Take a look at why Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 are different games and should be treated as such, and it will quickly become obvious that it is unfair to pit the two against each other as rivals competing for the same spot on your hard drive. It’s okay to like both. You will not be excommunicated from the PC gaming community.
Art Direction/ Presentation
This is the surface level. This is where I think the “one or the other” mentality began to set in. It doesn’t take a well-versed gamer to see that Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 are presented in just about the same way. Your health and special power reservoir sit on the left and right side of a series of hotkeyed moves. There is some sort of character, a pet or a NPC, following you around as you complete quests and gain experience. Take a close look; this is about where the similarities cease.
Want gritty realism with a splash of fantasy? Need mature realistic blood and gore? Diablo 3 is the answer. Want a cartoonish, almost World of Warcraft look with your blood and guts? Check out Torchlight. Diablo, without a doubt, has a few more coats of polish than Torchlight. Obviously, this comes from the resources and time Blizzard had compared to Runic’s Torchlight 2. Set pieces crumble as my level 60 Demon Hunter destroys all in his path. The lighting and textures are top notch. When a skeleton crawls out from a crypt, you can see the dust rising. When the floor in the Butcher’s lair shoots flames up on all sides, you can see them flicker individually. Don’t get me wrong Torchlight presents itself very well. All of the areas are fully realized and immersive, just like in Diablo. It just seems to lack that final coat of paint that makes the player’s characters, the NPCs, and the environments really memorable. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind Torchlight was not made to beat Diablo’s graphics, but improve on the gameplay.
I’m a sucker for good video game plots. The original Dead Space hooked me from the start. The metaphorical majesty of Papo y Yo made me not want to put it down. A game with a crap storyline that still pulls me in for the ride until the very end doesn’t come along very often. Surprisingly, both Diablo and Torchlight fit this bill. Two games I loved with story lines I despised popped up in the same year.
Torchlight 2’s story really borders on complete nonsense. Right now, I’ve put about 25 hours into my level 65 Outlander. I can’t even count the number of times I asked myself “what the hell am I doing and where am I going” or “where am I even at?” I still have only a vague idea of what I accomplished after playing through the game for the first time. The three acts just kind of ran together in a blur of looting and leveling glory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Diablo 3 on the other hand, was a bit easier to follow. Maybe it was because I was familiar with the lore of old, but I actually knew what I was doing and why I was doing it throughout all my playtime. This may actually speak more to the linear nature of the game than of the powerful story considering Diablo’s plot was just about as compelling as that of a Bernstein Bears book.
Personally, I don’t think the point of either of these games is to present a moving story filled with unique characters and colorful dialogue. But it still is really important to the overall feeling of the game. For example, I was able to play Diablo longer in a single sitting simply because I had direction.
The mechanics behind stat points, skill points, and experience are really what begins to separate the two games. Each game has the usual classes. However, for example, the Barbarian and the Berserker may boast the same style of play, but the way they evolve as the hours add up are so very different.
Diablo features pre-set skill trees, set stat boosts for leveling, and runes. When my Demon Hunter hit level 20 I got the elemental arrow skill, but I had to wait all the way until level 59 to get the Nether Tentacles rune to make my build viable. All along the way, each time I leveled, I could not choose what stats got boosted. I had to live and die by dexterity with little focus on much else. Just like my Demon Hunter, all the other characters are very specific, and not very versatile to say the least.
Torchlight lets you control everything. Nothing is preset or class specific, except for the types of skills you can purchase with skills points. Sure, I still had to wait until certain levels to finish my Outlander build with a focus on critical damage, but it actually felt more worth my time. My Outlander was unique, and no one out there had the exact same character as me, which was commonplace in Diablo. Donating skills points to my Demon Hunter’s strength would be a total waste. What about strength for my Outlander? It boosted his critical hit damage. Instead of ignoring stats for a specific class like Diablo did, Torchlight embraces all kinds of stats, making them useful to each class in a different way.
Leveling up your character in Diablo feels like a chore. Sure, you blast through the first 30 levels, but when I was stuck between 50 and 60 on both my Barbarian and Demon Hunter those were some of the worst times I had with Diablo. I felt like I was going nowhere. Torchlight does a fantastic job of scaling the experience you receive to your actual level. It takes about as long to go from 64 to 65 as it does to go from 10-11. The level caps are different though, so in the end, a fully leveled character seems to take the same amount of time for both games. Torchlight just keeps you engaged the whole time.
The other aspect of character progression that is huge in both games is the looting mechanic. Good gear can make a break a build in both games, but how you get it is so different.
Gear & Loot
This is where my biggest gripes about Diablo 3 stem from. The loot is just plain awful. I played around 70 hours on my Barbarian, found no viable gear and re-rolled. I thought, “Hey maybe it’s just the Barb.” I was so very wrong. Throughout getting two separate characters to the level cap, I found a single level 15 piece of legendary gear. It was for a monk. I have no monk. I can’t help but agree with the Diablo nay-sayers. The loot drop rates were low to make the auction house viable. I may be alone here, but there is no way in hell I am buying a digital weapon for real money after shelling out $60 to play the game in the first place.
Torchlight gives into all of your looting desires. I already have two full sets of gear for my Outlander and I haven’t capped yet. There were times when I would get multiple legendary set pieces from one boss. That’s right, one boss. There is no auction house. You have to play to find your gear, and that makes playing feel directly rewarding. This has its downside too. Sure you get all the loot your heart desires, but it seems to take away from the feeling unique and legendary gear brings. In other words, finding good stuff in Torchlight just doesn’t feel as satisfying as in Diablo. That is, if you can find anything useful in Diablo.
Torchlight’s gear actually does so much more for your character than Diablo’s. I’ve found pistols with over 10 affixes on them in Torchlight, and could even add more through the in-town enchanter. I didn’t even find a useful weapon in Diablo. My
Demon Hunter’s 1,100 DPS two-handed bow came fresh from the auction house for around 250,000 gold, and that was a steal. All that gold came from around 2 hours of farming, something you’re never forced to do in Torchlight.
To sum this up succinctly, I’ve actually found good weapons that helped me through Torchlight on weapon racks. Not once, through all my hours with Diablo, did I get an item that was close to useful from either a weapon or armor rack.
Gameplay & Difficulty
Both games really do play similarly. You focus on leveling up your character to face foes that grow stronger as you progress through the story. There are main quests as well as side quests and you earn some kind of reward for completing them. You can play online with friends or alone with followers. But this is where the similarities stop.
I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would describe Diablo 3 as simplistic, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is. Grind for gear and levels throughout events that Blizzard claims to be random. Even though certain dungeons were in different locations, I felt as if nothing significant changed between my multiple play-throughs. Your character levels all by itself. You can change your build on the fly, so if you can’t get through an area, try some new moves. You go from one point to next with no travel between acts and very little exploration. Click until you find the Devil.
In comparison, Torchlight is hardcore. From the start, you better have some idea of what kind of build you want, or you’re done. Game over. Assigning all of your skill and stat points willy-nilly will prove to be totally useless. If you create a solid build and start to progress through the acts, one thing seriously stands out. The game simply feels massive. Areas are huge, and by huge I mean it took me over two hours to explore the Ossean Wastes. I didn’t even go into any dungeons, just walked around. Couple this with the crap-loads of loot and you will have just as much fun battling enemies as you do exploring. That is something Diablo definitely did not achieve, and more than likely, they won’t be able to no matter how many patches Blizzard tosses out.
As far as the enemies go, Diablo’s really look better. Scary even. Torchlight’s enemies do little to intimidate and aren’t really polished. Their movement can be delayed a choppy at times making it difficult to dodge projectile attacks. Also, there does not seem to be much distinction between how different enemies move around Torchlight, which makes it difficult at times to fight strategically. That being said, the enemies from Torchlight still really fit into the world much better. Sure Diablo is focused around an invasion, but every time I encountered a pack, it felt like they were just hanging out waiting for me specifically. The enemies in Torchlight have a life of their own. They may be sleeping, chatting with other enemies, or even fighting each other. You fell like you’re intruding on them, rather than the other way around.
There is also a huge difference in how the games are paced. In Diablo, I could walk around for 10 minutes in an over-world area without fighting any significant enemies. In Torchlight, I can’t even count the numbers of times I was decimated by a champion pack literally as soon as I entered an area. Not even enough time for it to register. Mostly, in Diablo, you have time to get your bearings upon entering a dungeon or over-world area. Not in Torchlight. There are enemies everywhere and you would be hard pressed to find an instance were a swam of enemies isn’t triggered. However, neither pacing style is necessarily better than the other. Overall, both games have excellent pacing; they just achieve it differently.
The pacing also speaks to the difficulty of both games. Diablo gets harder and harder as you unlock each subsequent tier, but I felt like I could play through Normal mode with my eyes closed. When playing normal on Torchlight, the last act is impossible to solo. At least with my Outlander that is. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one game is better than the other, they’re just difficult in different ways.
For the Future
I can sit here and break down the mechanics of each game, explaining how each mechanic is different than the other and how they illuminate the difference between Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2. When it comes down to it, at least in my opinion, what matters most when choosing a video game to play is fun. Just like most other gamers out there, when I drop 100 hours into a game, I want to enjoy them. Diablo 3 and Torchlight both really hit the nail on the head when it comes to having fun. Both provide addictive, fast paced gameplay that features the ability to play by yourself or with a myriad of other players online. Sure the always online requirement for Diablo may impede on some of this fun, but once your get into the game, that action makes you forget. That is, until you lose connection to the Diablo server.
Really though, both games provide wonderful action RPG experiences. If you are a fan of the genre even in the slightest bit, you need to play both games. There is no need to pick sides here, even though both may be different experiences. Diablo is a slower-paced user friendly game filled with more realistic action, impressive, sometimes destructible set-pieces, and memorable characters. Each class is very different from the other, but there is not much to separate two characters of the same class from another other than gear. A level 60 Demon Hunter is a level 60 Demon Hunter. Torchlight is a faster paced experience catered toward the experienced action RPG player. It’s unique art direction on top of its insanely in-depth character progression mechanics make no two characters alike. My Outlander is mine and I probably won’t ever see the same one.
Diablo, which has already been patched a few times, will be getting another here soon. Blizzard keeps improving upon the game in the hopes of bringing all of those who have quit Diablo back. Torchlight may not get patched frequently, but Runic did leave it open to be modded. That means within a few months there will be mods galore available for download to completely re-invent the Torchlight experience. Again, I don’t believe either is really better than the other, they are just different ways to achieve the same goal of keeping people playing as long as possible.
In a situation like this one, where two games seem to be pitted against each other, who wants to take sides when you can have double the fun playing both games?