The first Torchlight, while being an indie tribute to the original Diablo, still managed to feel like its own game. By taking place in a single stratified dungeon, it has a very arcadey feel, with an emphasis on making you feel powerful and useful right from the start. There was enough variety in the weapons and enemies to keep you interested, but with a small enough scope to allow for ever-refined runs down to the depths. The retirement system meant you could roll your own legacy, complete with an ever-improving heirloom weapon or armour, adding notch to your lineage every night if you played hard and fast. It was lonely, with no multiplayer, but user-created mods that streamlined things and an ever-faithful mutating pet could suffice.
In contrast, Torchlight II feels too self-aware of its positioning as “the alternative to Diablo III”. It’s too aware of its status of being the David to Diablo III’s Goliath, thus aiming to “beat” Diablo III directly in two areas it knows the competition has trouble: features and pricing. That said, Torchlight II may sacrifice too much of its own style in an attempt to ensure a certain laundry list of features. It feels like Runic fell into the trap of thinking that people appreciated Torchlight for being “the little Diablo”, and so focused too much on making sure Torchlight II hit all those Diablo II notes. Even so, while it may not be a unique medley, there’s no denying Runic plays the tune effortlessly.
Some elements of Runic’s own thinking on the genre does shine through, like the refined pet system. The idea of having a pet that fights with you, and is well-trained enough to handle selling your junk in town, isn’t new. You can find the system wholesale in WildTangent’s Fate, which precedes Torchlight by almost half a decade. It’s no surprise though, since Fate was designed by the same person who went on to design Torchlight. For the sequel, your pet has learned a new trick: reading a shopping list. You can specify up to four consumables, like Town Portal scrolls and Mana Potions, that the pet should bring back from town if you send it off to sell the junk you packed in its trunk. It’s a small thing, but small things add up over time.
Four new character classes replace the original three, and each has its own “system” bar that fills up when damaging enemies.. The Engineer uses heavy steampunk-themed weapons, which get powered up when your bar is full. The Berserker uses animal-themed special powers and super-punchy-fist action, and gets all-critical-hits for a while when their bar is full. The Embermage casts spells and gets 12 seconds to cast spells free of charge when their special bar is full. Lastly, the Outlander uses ranged weapons and tribal magic, getting improved dodge and critical chance when their bar fills up. All classes can use all weapon types, for the most part, though you will find some items with class-restricting affixes.
Where Torchlight took place in, well, the town of Torchlight, the sequel starts by destroying that town, not just symbolically. The cute and vapid plot (one of the three original classes from the first game goes nuts, powers up and starts sucking the life-force from very-important guardian animals) acts as barely-sufficient scaffolding to support your reason for going from place to place. Not that we need a reason: the world is made of loot. The game spans across four acts, following the overly conventional structure of grassy-mountains, desert, foresty-swamp and <removed for spoilers>. New Game Plus replaces the Retirement system, letting you restart the game with the same character and stats as when you finished, but with ever-increasing monster difficulty. You also gain access to a Mapworks vendor that lets you buy level-specific randomly-generated maps (an excellent idea that Path of Exile also implements), giving you endless replayability, in theory.