Although Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 are their own different games and are both great in their own way, you can’t help but think how come Torchlight 2 is a lot more entertaining than Diablo 3, and why Diablo 3 should have been Torchlight 2, if you’re not already confused here are a few comparisons.
Obligatory Pokemon Analogy:
Torchlight 2 is the Multiplayer sequel of Runic Games’ Action RPG Torchlight from back in ’09. Essentially it’s a clone of Diablo 3, a fast-paced hack-and-slash dungeon crawler that uses overworld hubs filled with monsters sprawling out from safe zones to connect the dungeons where main story quests can be found.
Spending a few moments with the gameplay style and user interface will have you sighing with disappointment. “Oh, it’s a Diablo clone,” you’ll say, but despite your disappointment, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it impossible to put the game down. As one of the few game critics I know who was willing to bash that Blizzard catastrophe from moment one, I can honestly say this game is a clone of Diablo in the same sense that Mewtwo is a clone of Mew. Though they look and feel enough a like to understand the shared heritage, one is stuffed full of nonsensical awfulness and the other is an unmitigated slaying machine. Except I guess to make the analogy work, the slaying power is replaced by…fun? I guess?
So how did Runic so handily outdo a veteran powerhouse developer like Blizzard? I think a lot of it had to do with dogged attention to the bottom line in terms of what makes games like these fun, instead of a dogged determination to monetize their game via microtransactions.
The Nature of “Free”:
RIOT Games, creators of smash-hit Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) League of Legends taught the gaming industry a great deal about the concept of the free-to-play game. Releasing a persistent online experience devoid not only of a purchase cost but of any sort of subscription fee might have seemed like financial suicide a few years ago, but not anymore. Here’s what we gamers (and more importantly, game developers) learned about the idea of “free” games.
1.) Gamers hate subscription fees more than pretty much any other cost associated with gaming. For the most part we’ll open our wallets for the newest title, peripheral or hardware we need to appreciate a good game, but the idea of having to pay for it every month is just a great big sticky mess.
2.) Gamers LOVE Vanity/Booster items especially in the persistent or Massively Multiplayer-style online environment. Nobody wants to pay $15 dollars a month, but if you create a marketplace full of shiny new pets and skins and garments (totally useless to gameplay) people will fall over themselves to spend WAY more than that on your game!
The Diabolical (*rimshot!*) minds at Blizzard took this concept one step further with the Real-Money Auction House. Why simply allow players to buy vanity items when they could buy and trade real equipment with real statistics that could translate to real in-game advantages? Sure, Blizzard was clever enough to hide this money grab by setting up player-to-player transactions of which they’d only take a fraction as a service fee. Admittedly, this is a clever way to hide the fact that on top of charging a fee off the shelf to deliver a shallow game, Blizzard effectively turned its player base into money farmers for their giant greedy money machine.
Good Guy Runic
While Blizzard was busy trying to figure out how to convert your blood into reasonable fake $20s, Runic was adding the kind of depth of customization and challenge that a good Action RPG can’t thrive without. Runic was giving its character classes three distinct specialization paths that made for completely different and engaging gameplay styles depending on the choices the player made. They were creating environments that managed to be colorful and intriguing without being incredibly repetitive and boring. Then they went a step further and populated those environments with a wide array of enemies with diverse attack styles, types and strategies to keep your mind active while you’re leveling.
There’s also a distinct lack of emphasis on gear in Torchlight 2. I mean, don’t get me wrong, good gear is there and you will want to obtain it, but enough decent items are available at each stage of the game to ensure that you don’t really have to “grind” or do repetitive runs to keep yourself decked in the best possible gear. Also, gear has a tendency to stay relevant longer in Torchlight 2, which is to say you won’t find yourself needing to replace gear every 5 levels to stay competitive.
All of these differences might seem minor or trivial, and to a degree I suppose they are, but they represent a fundamental shift of focus between these two developers that says a lot about what it means to make a good game. From Blizzard we got a bloated, artificially extended shell of a demo of a game where you take essentially a premade character, find out which are the best of his 4 moves and use them over and over again against waves of identical enemies, all for the shot at earning gear those characters don’t need that we can feed back to Blizzard. From Runic, we got a true dungeon-crawler where you can take a character YOU designed through painstaking choice, guide him or her on an epic adventure to save the world and not have to pause every five minutes to worry about the cosmetics.
This is why Torchlight 2 is the game Diablo 3 should have been, and I recommend it to anyone else who was thoroughly disappointed with the latter. Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below!