I only just recently actually picked up Torchlight II, as it came out at the same time as BL2, and BL2 took up a ridiculous amount of time, in addition to burning me out on loot games for a while, especially when it came on the heels of D3 (Here's a hint for those who haven't picked up BL2 yet- it has all the same strengths and glaring weaknesses of D3, just in FPS form). Thus, it was only now, when I actually had 100+ hours in (the same amount of time I invested in D3) that I felt qualified to discuss the games, comparatively. What follows is my review of Torchlight 2, written from the perspective of a D2 and D3 player.
Torchlight II's story is basically Diablo II's story. Exposure to intense amounts of evil and corruption from the first game drives a former protagonist to pursue actions which may ultimately lead to the destruction of the world. That being said, there are some interesting twists, like when you read the notes of the alchemist and have some dialogues which at times make him out to be a sort of anti-hero. The real gems (and why it rates higher than a 5, which is all I would give it based on a well done retread of an existing, albeit very good, story) come in the form of the side quests. I don't generally read text for side quests anymore, too many games have had too many sidequests which are too trivial for me to bother. I tend to speedread what I can while I click the button to proceed. So, when I'm speedreading through my response to the latest fetch quest and see "and you shall be the first in my empire of slaves" it makes me say "wait, what?" and I wonder what I missed when accepting the quest from that guy. Since then, I've been reading the text associated with the side quests in TL2, and it's actually quite good. Comical, often, albeit understated, twisted at times, ironic at others, it's just good writing. Perhaps the best part about the plot? It's easy to skip it. So, on your New Game + run with your 12th character, you're not being fed a bunch of drivel you've heard 20 times already.
tl;dr: The story won't win any awards, but it's well done, and won't make you hate the game. The side quests are worth paying attention to.
Between the music by Matt Uleman, the visceral and informative sounds of combat (with the amount that goes on at a time, paying attention and learning what the audible cues mean is very helpful), the background touches which are surprisingly impactful (the sounds of falling embers during a scene in which you're battling underneath a house that's burning down, for example) this game is an example of audio done right. Most of the time it will simply set the scene, which it does very well, but when you do pay attention to it, it's awesome to listen to in its own right. If there was a collector's edition to this game, I'd want it to include the soundtrack.
Not as cheesy and cartoony as the first game, it's still a low poly engine for system performance needs, and I can talk all day about how effectively it pulls off its style, but here in this forum, I can't rate it any higher, as D3 is the king of eye candy. What I can say is that its smooth, impossible to lag engine keeps churning along regardless of the absolutely ridiculous amount of particle effects you throw at it. Sure, for the disturbing scenes, it might have to go with ominous tendrils emerging from the red mist, instead of deeply detailed backgrounds of chains descending into infinity. But the environments are varied, well executed, and surprisingly immersive (my favorite area is the already mentioned battle under the burning house, blew my socks off), and the engine handles the massacre of dozens of enemies at a time with a silky smoothness. You routinely have 50+ enemies within sight, and routinely have multiple procs of different effects from one "attack", and depending on the auras and debuffs in play, are probably causing it to render several hundred visual effects at a time, yet I've never seen the game so much as stutter, and that's on a gaming laptop. So, for what it's worth, if you can get past the artistic style, the game really is very pretty, and at times, it manages to be downright spooky, which is saying something about how well constructed it is, considering the style.
tl;dr: If graphics are what you're looking for, D3 does it better. However, it's immersive and never lags, and we've all seen worse.
I have a really hard time giving out 10s, what can I say. From sets which provide meaningful bonuses actually being obtainable (was wearing Grundig's bastion for a while with a level 30 guy, the -4.5% physical damage taken for each enemy within 3 yards was Awesome), to Uniques being common enough to have rerolling them (by combining 4 in the transmuter) be viable, to having strong, effective choices in a number of areas leading to diverse and well constructed gear. The affixes are awesome, and impact gameplay beyond bonuses to your primary attribute, the enchanters (several of which enchant in specific ways) allow you to enhance gear you want to keep for a while, the transmuter allows you to trash gear you'll never use and get something (hopefully) more useful out of the deal, the gambler gives you a fun gold dump which can at times be Very useful. My Berserker had not found really a single good belt, so he gambled on a bunch of them, and got an Awesome unique belt out of the deal. Perhaps most importantly, they're generous. Good loot is not only varied, it's abundant. It's hard to go more than a level or two without finding something you're really excited about using, and the great part about the way they handle equipment restrictions (you can qualify with hitting the level requirements OR the stat requirements) means you often have a choice: do I wait until I'm the appropriate level to use this, or try to boost my stats to be able to use it early? It's all quite well balanced, too, so running around with your "OP" gear won't destroy the game.
Perhaps most importantly in this topic are the weapons. Unlike some other games, where the choice of weapons is a purely cosmetic one as you'll never actually use it anyway, the weapons in this game are deliciously varied and interesting in their behaviors. Swords, axes and maces are all generic one handed weapons, yet of those, axes tend to have fixed damage figures instead of ranges, and maces come with a 90% interrupt chance. On top of that, they tend to have different stat requirement focuses, so they lend themselves to different builds. All of them are AOE weapons, attacking everyone in an arc in front of you, with their range dependent on the weapon involved. Claws attack crazy fast and ignore 50% of armor, but are single target weapons. Pistols have a short range, wands do elemental damage, shotgonnes and cannons deal a ranged AOE attack, when dual wielding there is a chance you will "execute" attacking with both weapons, with the chance of it based upon your focus, the list goes on and on. The point is that your choice of weapon is mechanically interesting, and directly affects gameplay.
tl;dr: There is nothing TL2 does wrong in itemization. Diverse and powerful items with a variety of means of obtaining them combined with mechanically interesting weapons leads to a thoroughly engaging and meaningful item hunt with frequent rewards.
It's my kind of game, what can I say. It gives you all the information you need to support effective decisions- as an example, the monsters all have a thing next to their health bar telling you their primary element. Being beaten to a pulp by archers with poison next to them? Maybe up your poison armor, and/or increase your projectile reflection, and/or dodge them better. You can look up nearly any information you would want in the arcane statistics. As indicated earlier, battles are intense, with many times 50+ enemies on the field, with a good mix of "trash" monsters (those who are low threat, you just need to kill them) and "tough" monsters (those requiring specific tactics or abilities to defeat effectively). The game also does a good job of early on introducing representative examples of different types of monsters (big guys with slow, highly telegraphed attacks, archers who set the floor on fire, shielded enemies, summoners, etc) so that you can learn those effective tactics, and actually stand a fighting chance later on when they're all mixed together.
Related, and perhaps most importantly, the game is fair. It never CCs you and does damage you can't avoid, it never gives you invincible minions or impossible combinations. At times, it's tough, but every time you die, if you're like me, you say "what did I do wrong" or better yet "what can I learn from this". It makes Hardcore possible, and an interesting challenge, albeit still not my scene, I don't have enough time to redo all that work. But every character I make dies for the first time a bit later on, and has a lower death count by the time I'm done with them than the one that came before, and it's not just because they have awesome gear I've bequeathed to them through the shared stash. There are secret rooms and areas and even quests for the explorers out there, the ability to customize the crap out of your gear, stats, skills, etc for the optimizers out there, hardcore, elite, and self imposed restrictions (self found single pass being the most common) for the masochists out there. Intense combat which often causes me to pause and step away for a moment when it's done is balanced by relaxing fishing, and the ability to choose your difficulty level means if you're not into optimizing, or fishing, or using your pet really at all other than as another back pack, you can play on normal and be just fine. The game in no way attempts to be everything to everyone, but if this genre of game is your thing, it gives you enough knobs and levers to make it a game you'll enjoy pretty much 100% of the time.
Lastly, there's the mods. Some of them are purely cosmetic, some of them are obviously game breaking and infantile, some of them literally break more than they fix. However, there are some gems out there, and there's more on the way. On the small scale, they allow you to tweak the game to suit your preferences. I run with a higher max zoom out, 25% faster base move speed, and a larger draw distance for monsters. All of this leads to "shrinking" the world, which is great because I'm a completionist who has a hard time leaving nooks or crannies unexplored, while not wanting to invest a ton of time. On the large scale, there's complete replacement mods. Synergies is essentially a different game entirely, giving 16 new classes and completely altering itemization and monster balance. If you're bored of the vanilla game, it might be worth a look. The best part? They're all free, and you're given all the tools you need to make your own.
tl;dr: The gameplay is great. It's fast, it's fun, it's fair, and it has elements which appeal to a variety of gamers, while giving them the tools to tweak it further and ensure it's the kind of game they'll enjoy.
The longevity of this game doesn't come from its New Game + modes (they're not really my thing, past hitting 100). Though those exist, and the masochists among you can see how far you can go (sure, NG+ is pretty easy, but what about NG+++++?), and though there are the mapworks, offering you random challenge portals, which again gives the ability to keep playing with a single character nearly indefinitely, for me the longevity of this game comes from its replayability. Hit 100 with your Embermage? Cool. A completely different gameplay experience awaits with a different class, or build. In D3, I rolled a Barb, and then tried a Wizard, only to find much to my chagrin that the game actually still played exactly the same, so I stopped. In TL2, so far I've rolled a frost embermage, a prismatic bolt embermage, a shadowbind berserker, a shotgun outlander, and an AOE magic engineer. Still on my list of classes to play are a fire embermage, a magic outlander, a frost berserker, a cannon engineer, a summoner engineer, and a burning leap based outlander. Once I've tried all of those, if I can't think of anything else which would be significantly different and fun to my playstyle, I'll probably try synergies. The point is, I've got several hundred hours of play time in front of me, all of which will be diverse, enjoyable gameplay, and at no point will I be grinding for gear in order to advance. Again, if that's your thing, there's NG+++++, but that's not my thing. In addition, new classes and options come out all the time via mods, so I literally can't envision a situation in which I'll actually run out of things to do in this game. At some point, I might even try out a Berserker Passiveist, who uses no active skills, just passives and auto attacks. The only thing that would be better is if I could with new characters alter the order of the acts, or randomize the quests, or something, so it's not just a different gameplay experience, but a different game each time. If I had the time and cared enough, I could do that as well via a mod, but I don't. As is, though, not just the variety of builds possible, but the actual difference in how they play, is stunning, and enough to keep me coming back for more.
tl;dr: There's tons of stuff to do, and the variety of characters and builds possible make this game very replayable.
I highly recommend this game. It's not perfect, but it is like Diablo 2, but better in every way. Better graphics, better itemization, better gameplay, etc. If you liked Diablo 2, I'd highly recommend playing this game, at least through Act III. If you still don't think this is your kind of game, fair enough. But I will say, having waited to play it for 6 months and playing BL2 during that time, I regret that decision, as this game is far superior to that one, and far more fun to play. You don't know what you're missing until you try it, and of all the games released in this genre in the last 12 months, this is the only one which actually lived up to and exceeded my expectations, and it is the only one I'd recommend to a friend looking for a loot based ARPG. At $20, it's a tremendous value, and in my opinion, highly worthy of your consideration.
Thanks for your time.