Torchlight 2 vs. Diablo 3: Two Different Approaches to the ARPG
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Why does the gaming community insist on comparing Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3? Yes, they’re both action RPGs. Yes, they’ve released within a few months of each other. Yes, they are superficially similar games.
But the most important reason is because when D3 disappointed some fans of the Diablo series, they turned to TL2 as the true sequel to Diablo 2 — from purely a gameplay perspective, of course.
Three key members of Blizzard North, the now-defunct division of Blizzard Entertainment that created Diablo and Diablo 2, now work at Runic Games and helped develop TL2: Erich and Max Schaefer, former project and design leads of the Diablo series who co-founded Runic in 2008 with Travis Baldree and Peter Hu, as well as Matt Uelmen, sound designer and composer of D1 and D2′s soundtrack, who joined Runic in 2009.
What did the former Blizzard North members bring to the Torchlight series? Matt Uelmen told Game Front:
“I think the Schaefers and myself try to bring a “big picture” approach. Our experiences and the ups and downs we’ve all had have given us a little more perspective and a little less ego than some might expect. I think all three of us really try to focus on the gameplay experience itself, and everyone at Runic tries to pitch in to fill the gap if we have a particular function that needs help.”
Let’s see how the influence of this shard of Blizzard North, as well as the work of the rest of Runic’s 30-man team, differentiates TL2 from D3.
TL2 offers players four classes to choose from, versus D3′s five classes. TL2′s classes feel more archetypical than D3′s, and while neither provide truly vanilla warrior/mage/archer options, D3′s characters have more flair and personality. What other game lets you play as a big bad voodoo daddy?
Both games allow you to select the gender of your character, but only TL2 allows you to customize your character’s appearance.
At character creation, TL2 has you select one of several “pets,” which include cats, wolves, hawks and much more. Your pet companion follows you around, helps you in combat, but can also be used to venture back to town with a stash of items you want to sell and a shopping list of items you’d like to buy while you continue your dungeon crawl uninterrupted. I’m not sure I’ll be able to play any other ARPG and not miss this added convenience.
Instead of pets, D3 has followers, which you meet in your travels throughout the campaign. At any given time, players can have one of the three available followers currently “active” and accompanying them in combat. Followers level up, have skills the player can choose, and engage in colorful banter.
TL2′s pets bring with them an ingenious convenience feature that D3′s followers lack, but D3′s followers add more tactical choices for players to make.
Bottom line: If you want a cute pet that sells loot and buys potions for you, pick TL2. If you want a hero seeped in style and backstory with a sidekick that has a story of her own, pick D3.
This quintessential element of any RPG is handled completely differently by TL2 and D3: skill trees. In fact, neither game ran with the traditional “tree” approach at all, though TL2′s system is far more conventional than D3′s. Arguably, each game’s skill design methodology implies that the others’ is inferior.
In TL2, you gain skill points as you level up, and every skill unlocks at a certain level. You gain the use of a skill by placing a skill point in it and can improve that skill by investing more points into it. The game allows you to “undo” your last three skill point expenditures at the cost of gold, but your choices are otherwise locked in.
In D3, there are no skill points; at any given time, you can have a certain number of skills. Every skill becomes available to the player at a certain level, and every skill has seven “runes” that unlock as the player levels up that modify their respective skill in a unique way. Players are free to change which skills or runes they have selected at no cost.
D3′s system allows players to experiment with the full spectrum of skills available to them, while TL2 makes players commit to their choices. Because of this, I felt far more variety in skill usage in D3 than in TL2.
Bottom line: If you want a unique character build and decisions that permanently affect your character, pick TL2. If you want to experiment at will, without restrictions, pick D3.
While both games boil down to furiously clicking critters to death by the drove, TL2 does feel like the faster-paced game. Movement speed is faster, you level up faster, loot comes faster, and it takes less time to beat the game. While faster doesn’t necessarily mean better, in this case… faster is better. The faster pace gives TL2 an edge over D3.
Bottom line: If you want a fast-paced game that rewards you constantly, pick TL2. If you want a slower (but still fast) experience and a campaign that takes longer to beat, pick D3.