In this series I compare two games, one a big budget AAA title from a major publisher and the other a smaller title from an independent developer. This episode looks at the action RPG juggernaut that is Diablo III and it’s indie cousin, Torchlight II. Which one scratches my loot and slash itch?
I’d played the original Diablo a bit when it first came out but didn’t really get into it. At that time I was primarily a console gamer, mainly into Super Nintendo RPGs. Diablo II passed me by completely as I was still a console gamer, now heavily into Playstation and Dreamcast.
When Blizzard released the open beta for Diablo III I decided to check it out. At that point I’d gone through the typical player cycle with Blizzard’s other massive fantasy franchise, World of Warcraft, playing heavily for a few months and then getting burned out and quitting for a few months. The new Diablo looked like a lot of fun and the beta turned out to be pretty addictive. I preordered the full game and was all set to play at launch (with all the other eager Diablo players) but soon discovered that the Blizzard servers were getting hammered (by all the other eager Diablo players) and logging in was a challenge in itself.
At this point in recording my gameplay footage I lost connection to the Blizzard servers and was disconnected. I’d totally forgotten about Diablo 3’s always-on DRM, where the games requires a constant internet connection in order to play. There’s currently no officially supported option to play Diablo III offline, without having to always be connected to Blizzard’s servers. This makes sense in a game like World of Warcraft (with a persistent shared world) but not so much for Diablo. Presumably this requirement was in place to subvert hacking and item manipulation, as one of the controversial additions to Diablo III was a real money auction house and having online only gameplay will ensure greater control over item transactions.
At launch the Diablo Blizzard servers were totally unreliable, with disconnects, input lag, and rubbing banding common occurances. Even as a non-Hardcore player the game became far too frustrating to play for an extended period. You’re at the mercy of Blizzard’s servers and you have little control over playing a game that you’ve bought. This is one of the main reasons I stopped playing Diablo III and started looking for an alternative.
Torchlight was released in 2009, developed by Runic Games (a game company made up of previous Blizzard employees) and represented a desire to return the Diablo archetype to its roots. In reading about Diablo III I’d heard good things about Torchlight and the soon-to-be-released sequel.
I found Torchlight II a worthy alternative to the high production values of Diablo III. Both are action role playing games with randomised dungeons and progressive loot and offer cooperative multiplayer and scaling difficulty levels. However, Torchlight II has a more playful art style and implements a number of welcome changes that help to set it apart from its flashier cousin.
To begin with, there are much more customisation options for new characters. In Diablo III all classes look the same outside of their armour but in Torchlight II a Berserker can have dark skin or brown hair, an Outlander can wear a bandanna or ponytail, an Engineer can be a monocled gentleman or a goggled steampunk. I like building a personalised character and Torchlight II embraces this approach.
There are several major gameplay differences to Diablo III, such as distributable skill points and the addition of active pets that fight alongside you and help to manage your horde of loot. At first I thought the pets would cause Torchlight gameplay to become too busy, and this happens occasionally, but ultimately I love having them in the game as it adds another level of customisation and character creation.
Runic Games have also embraced modding in Torchlight and this adds potentially endless community-generated content. There’s already an impressive amount of mods that can drastically change your playstyle or the appearance of the game. That’s one of the things I love about this game: being able to play how you want.
Want to play local coop on your LAN? Go ahead, that’s enabled by default. Want a different skin for your pet? Install a mod, you’ve now got a turtle. Want to fight through an endless dungeon to test your powerhouse Berserker? And so on.
Diablo III gives you access to Blizzard’s version of Diablo, a highly-polished action RPG with great visuals and addictive gameplay. They’ve got total control over your experience, for good or bad. If the Blizzard servers go offline for whatever reason, you can no longer play the game.
Torchlight II is Runic Games’ indie alternative, offering customisable gameplay that lets you find your own style and helps you define your own experience.
Both games are a lot of fun but I’ve got to choose Torchlight II as my preferred action RPG. I love the cartoony art style and the ability to control my own gameplay experience.Colin Le Sueur