Torchlight 2 vs. Diablo 3: Two Different Approaches to the ARPG
Loot is the heart of the ARPG genre, the driving force that keeps players clicking away for hours at a time. TL2 and D3 have completely different perspectives on loot rewards.
In D3, special items come in the Magic, Rare, Legendary, and Set variety. Magic and Rare items are randomly generated, while Legendaries and Sets are drawn from a list of specific, named items. Acquiring multiple items from the same set confers additional bonuses. It is not uncommon for someone to reach the level cap and have only found one or two Legendaries — or none at all. As for Sets, they’re even rarer.
TL2 has the same special item types as D3, with the added Unique item type, which is essentially a less powerful Legendary item. Loot flies at the player. After completing my first run-through of the game, I had accumulated over 25 unique items and 20 set items, including three complete sets. I never grew bored of finding sets and uniques.
From this perspective, playing an hour of TL2 is a far more rewarding experience than an hour — or several days — of D3. The reason D3 has to starve players of its most delicious items is because of the Auction House, whose market would become so completely saturated with Legendaries and Sets that they would lose all value.
D3 is balanced around the assumption — nay, the condition — that the player will use the Auction House to properly gear himself. TL2 is balanced such that players will be sufficiently geared and rewarded even if they fly solo.
Bottom line: If you want rewarding loot drops, pick TL2. If you enjoy gaming virtual markets, pick D3.
Diablo 3′s Auction House provides a safe, secure, and convenient way for players to purchase and sell items, both with in-game currency and real money. When it’s not down for maintenance, of course.
TL2 offers a means of trading items in-game, but no market to allow buyers and sellers to coordinate — it is up to them to find each other via forums or in-game chat. While it may seem like a vital convenience feature to be missing during a time when MMOs have made in-game marketplaces ubiquitous, the fact that TL2′s mod tools will allow players to create or duplicate items at-will means there can be no strong basis for a stable economy.
Bottom line: If you don’t want to trade much with other players, pick TL2. If you want a robust trading system, pick D3.
In a previous article, I stressed the importance of keeping “value” in mind when defining “replay value.” A game system that forces you to replay through content in order to experience something new isn’t adding value.
For instance, both D3 and TL2 contain a system that allows players to keep their current character after beating the final boss and starting the game over, with monsters scaled up in difficulty to challenge them. This is added value. The act of replaying the game is not a vehicle to a new experience — it is the new experience.
Starting a new game in order to try out a different character build is not replay value, because the act of replaying the game is a means to an end. If you could make a copy of your current character and simply swap in different skills, you’d be able to keep playing while experiencing something new.
TL2′s more conventional skill tree does not grant it increased replay value over Diablo 3, with its freeform swap-in and swap-out skills.
That aside, it feels as though more randomization went into Torchlight 2 with respect to side quests and map generation, with a wider breadth of random content to draw on than D3. These randomized elements make map exploration more rewarding in TL2 than in D3, which feels more like following a linear path through a semi-randomized map. This means subsequent playthroughs of TL2 will likely offer more richly differing experiences than in D3.
Bottom line: If you enjoy exploration, pick TL2. If you don’t mind repeating the same content over and over, pick D3.
Music & Visuals
Both D3 and TL2 have an art style that can be described as cartoonish, with TL2′s visuals markedly more so.
The visuals come across as more professional in Blizzard’s work, as can be expected from a larger development team with a bigger budget, but the style fits TL2 much better than it does a sequel to the dark fantasy franchise. Also, D3 has too many rainbows and ponies. Ahem.
The music in both games is of exceptional quality, but TL2′s music feels altogether more familiar to the ARPG genre. Composer Matt Uelmen’s distinctive style, which played a big role in establishing the atmosphere of D1 and D2, is clearly recognizable in TL2 without being a carbon copy of his earlier work, less seeped in the moods of darkness and despair.
The 12-string guitar that strummed Diablo’s iconic town music is heard in TL2, and Matt Uelmen spoke to Game Front about the sometimes similar sounds:
“Well, I like to think I have at least a little range as a writer, but, for me, it would be hard to approach that kind of setting any other way. Even if I tried to make the approach a little more (or less) pre-baroque, it would still probably end up sounding like Pink-Floyd-goes-Ren-Fair if you were to give me a high fantasy village to score. I would mention that my approach in that town [in TL2] is much more directly melodic than some of my previous work, and that it emphasizes a nylon-string guitar front and center, which is something you won’t find in the Diablo universe.”
Bottom line: If you want a more lighthearted, colorful world, pick TL2. If you want a marginally darker world, pick D3.