Last week we saw Torchlight 2 come out (which you should buy ASAP) and the comparisons to Diablo 3 are inevitable. Torchlight has most of the minds behind Diablo 2 pushing it along while Diablo 3 is more along WoW’s mentality. I wanted to take a better look at the core mechanic differences.
Diablo 3 bases all damage on the weapon slot and boils it down to melee or ranged attacks. A bow is the exact same attack as a crossbow, if the stats were the same. In the end, the weapon is no more than a set of stats. In Torchlight 2, each weapon is distinctly different than others. Some are AE, some are close range, some are single shots. Changing weapons is more than changing stats, it’s changing playstyles. I won’t argue which is best but the latter, by it’s very nature, adds more choice the the game.
Torchlight 2 uses an old talent tree model, where you assign points to skills – both passive and active. All have a near linear increase in power. The active ones have 3 tiers, where an additional bonus is acquired, making a 5 point investment significantly better than a 4 points. This in fact gives 4 tiers of talents (1pt, 5pts, 10pts, 15pts). Your skill choices are static and cannot be changed (unless you have a mod). There are no limits to the amount of skills you can use, only in the amount you can purchase. Nearly all builds are valid at end game. You have quite a lot of choice but once you make it, you can’t go back.
Diablo 3 limits you to 6 active skills and 3 passive ones. Every single character has the exact same skills available to be picked, so each character is unique based on the 6 choices made. Some builds are more defensive, some offensive and pretty much everything is an option until Inferno difficulty. Once there, you basically have 2-3 build per character as an option due to the mechanics.
Here we have an issue. Diablo 3 is built around an auction house while Torchlight 2 is has no system to encourage trade. I’ve written at length why that is a poor decision by Blizzard – if you use the RMAH, you’re essentially giving money to Blizzard – but the real issue here is that the core game mechanics of Inferno’s gear wall mean that you need to buy items to succeed. Even now, the odds of getting the gear necessary to progress in Inferno from drops is along the 1 per 8 hour session. Trade is required.
I wanted to close with this section as it’s the most complex. Torchlight 2 has a mix of mechanics that provide balance with the skills. Some skills are based on weapon DPS, some not at all and others are a mix. The increase in power for weapons is pretty linear. You have an auto-attack. Some enemies hunt in packs, some are ranged, some slow. None have a cheap mechanic that is simply meant to kill you. The difficulties are not related to character level but on player skill. This means you can play the hardest difficulty off the bat. You can also restart the game with a new game+.
Diablo 3 is a numbers game. Either you have the numbers to beat the enemy or you do not. The game before Inferno is fairly well balanced with bosses using unique attacks and strategy. Once in Inferno, the power increase is exponential between tiers. To reliably beat Act 3/4, you need gear that is 75% optimized in terms of stats, otherwise progress is next to impossible. Damage is based nearly entirely on weapon DPS and an weapon with a slot for gems is overpowered (600 lifesteal or 100% crit damage). This means the difference between an average top-tier weapon (say 600 dps, no slots, decent stats) and a good one (say 1000, 1 slot, above average stats) is the difference between 20,000DPS and 40,0000.
The more I play any game, the more I get a more complete idea of what makes great games. Diablo 3, like SWTOR, was launched early without any endgame plan. Games that want to stay on the radar need something like this thought out. Torchlight has an infinite dungeon at the end, for better and better gear. Diablo 3 is about to implement something like that in the future – well over 6 months after launch.
It’s really saying something that Blizzard’s ‘release when it’s ready’ system failed so much here. I remember in the fall during D3 beta where they essentially re-wrote the entire combat system. Then launched 5 months later. Beta is for refinement, not re-writing.
I’m sure looking back people will enjoy both games for what they were. I think everyone should give both a try to see how developers that understand mechanics make a game with different approaches. With two widely differing opinions, people are guaranteed to find something they like.