In the market for a new ARPG, I tried out the demo of Torchlight II (TL2) and purchased it the same day. While playing, I couldn't help thinking of my time spent on Diablo 3 (D3) and how the two games compare. Each has faults, as well as areas where they excel. This is my breakdown:
Stats/Skills - D3 sports a forgiving stat/skill system, designed to have a character choosing and reallocating skills on the fly while stats are assigned automatically. Those skills are dependent, in theory, on the situation (more often than not in D3 I found myself locked into my skills and rarely changed them, especially my follower), yet TL2's system is one where players not only choose where to place their stats (str, dex, focus, vit) each level but their skills as well. The skills, after 3 picks, can no longer be changed, and the stats are permanent once you close the screen. Lucky for me, I have enough experience with video games, specifically ARPGs, MMOs, and RPGs, that the stat allocation was not much of a problem, and I have not had to start my character over due to a mistake--I imagine this could be the case for a beginner. If I had to choose which I preferred, it'd be TL2; I feel there's more of debate on what stats/skills I use and why.
Gear - The loot system in TL2 is far more gratifying than D3 and at times, before I had decided on my Outlander's talents and stat allocation, overwhelming. There are rare sets and unique sets, a myriad of enchants, gems, and different appearances. The customization is endless, including spell scrolls that drop off mobs, chests, and breakable objects. For my Outlander, I specialized in a lot of passive abilities and poison glaives, causing me to search for gear with bonuses to dexterity, crit, and poison damage, yet I could have easily decided to amp my focus stat, rely on spells. Then again, I could have also picked fire damage spells over poison. Therein lies the fun, making your character unique and tailored to your own tastes--first by stats/skills, then by finding the right gear.
Along with equipping your character with additional spells from scrolls, like the nifty summon dead I found on my Outlander, I can also equip spells, tags, and collars on my pet; this makes the pet just as customizable, and I've read there is a mod that allows the renaming and changing of the pet throughout the course of the game, in case you don't like the hawk after all and would rather have a badger or an owl.
Because of the magnificent drop system, the few bits of crafting in TL2 is obsolete. I rarely find myself in the hubs, especially since I can send my pet off to sell and buy items from merchants. Fishing is a decent feature but nothing mind-blowing; most of what comes out of a fishing spot is an item to temporarily boost your pet and change its appearance (Update: I received a unique pet collar from fishing so there are some goodies to be found).
Combat - TL2 and D3 have similar systems for combat. While I find D3 to be sleeker and more fluid, TL2's boss fights are a blast. I spent most of my time in D3 on a Demon Hunter, a glass cannon where one mistep meant death; though the Outlander of TL2 plays like a Demon Hunter and has some spells that are practically identical, I have not found one-shot mechanics. Instead, in TL2, I kite the boss around avoiding damage, keeping out of melee, while mowing down constant waves of minions. When I overcome the odds, the board is filled with gold and loot with an additional boss chest squirreled away...for more loot.
I should note: the mechanics for combat in D3 have greatly improved since launch via monster power, class adjustments, paragon system, and a boss engine, and I suspect both of these games will continue to improve.
Maps - There are truly randomized maps in TL2 that can play like a maze as opposed to D3's system, which after four play-throughs on a single character (I did all characters to max level except my wizard) didn't feel random at all. While both D3 and TL2 have easter eggs, TL2 has secret rooms and phasebeasts that offer levels with small puzzles. Because of the bonus rooms, something I stumbled upon by accident, I began searching every inch of the maps. During my time on D3, I went from searching maps to sprinting through them as my list of events slowly lessened and my achievements grew; it was a habit TL2 broke, and I think the randomness will lend itself to a more enjoyable replay value, whether as another class or in a new game+.
Graphics - I wouldn't say either TL2 or D3 has better graphics than the other, because they incorporate different art styles. TL2 is a little more cartoony, less gloom, blood, and gore, but I don't mind. I think the art is splendid and different, the environments and characters wonderful, and at the same time, I can play D3 and enjoy the guts splattered on the wall while spiders hatch from corpses.
Sound - Though I like the music for TL2 over D3's, I must admit I miss my character yelling during combat. When a creature dies, I find myself wishing I knew how to create a mod that would have my Outlander yell, "Die, you filth!" Unfortunately, I'm not that computer savvy, so for now, D3 wins the overall ambience and sound effects during battle, as well as voiceovers (maybe not the templar), yet not the soundtrack.
Story - As I've found with most ARPGs, the stories are basic. Both TL2 and D3 are the type of game designed for combat and loot, not exploring the depth and pysche of the characters; though D3 attempted to transcend the formula through interaction with NPCs and mesmerizing CGI, it ultimately failed--the story was cliche, oftentimes stale. And so is TL2's. That doesn't make the games any less fun.
In the end, I find both games enjoyable with room for improvement through patches. D3 is not the game it was at launch, and that's a good thing, but its stale loot system burned me out, and I have found a new home in TL2. Whether I'll be here for months or years once the shine of a new game wears off is up in the air, especially with Marvel Heroes looming and Path of Exile, which I'm bound to try, already available for open beta. Plus, I still log onto D3 time to time and wouldn't be opposed to purchasing an expansion down the road. Even if I did crawl back to D3, I know for a fact I'd pop back on TL2 when Blizzard's servers are down, for TL2 has an offline mode. Having these choices, makes me a happy gamer.