The Torchlight 2 beta started yesterday, and thus far I've had time to play one Embermage through the full content. It took me about 5 hours of play time, spread over 2 play sessions, on normal (the 2nd of 4) difficulty, and I was not screwing around or doing a full clears. There's a HUGE amount more content in it than in the D3 beta. (I think D3 has more total content though, as it should costing 3x as much with like 50x the dev hours.)
Very fun and much faster and more intense play than anything in the D3 beta.
I love the huge, complicated maps and all the use of elevation and switchback paths. You're constantly encountering high hills with monsters up on them, shooting down or leaping down to fight you, but you can always wind around and eventually reach that height yourself. And other areas you go down long twisting paths and get to wreck enemies from above with ranged attacks.
The item soup of TL1 is much improved, though gear lacks the clear, continual improvement you get in D2 or D3. I found various rares and sets at level 6 or 8 that were still my best items 3 hours later at lvl 21.
The lack of any kind of item crafting feels like a void. I like storing up materials or gems or other such things to craft and improve upon.
The merchants sell a nice mix of gear, but they desperately need to sort it by type. 5x10 block of completely jumbled weapon tooltip hover shopping sucks.
Great scenery and level design. The outdoor areas feel huge and expansive, with all the views from up high. Kind of like the Arreat Summit in D2, except you actually proceed down paths and gradually explore the areas you first see from the summit. D3 feels very flat and played on a pool table, in contrast.
Nice monster design and I like the huge bosses, but they need more varied AI. Some properties like waller, vortex, teleporting, etc, to use D3 examples. My mage was almost always able to just retreat or run in circles, D2 style, to avoid getting into melee trouble.
It's too early in my play to make any sweeping conclusions, so I'll just focus on a couple of points here.
As has been noted before, including by me after I played it at Runic's offices last year, TL2 is much more like D2 than D3 is like D2. I'm talking about play mechanics, and there's really no arguing this point: TL 2's got custom attribute points, skill points, skill trees, very limited respecs, a much faster pace and character movement, health/mana potions, etc. (For better or worse.)
I felt more attachment to my one TL2 char than I ever did to any D3 beta char, since the choices I made actually mattered. I was very aware that I could screw up the char or make her stronger, and that my skill and attribute choices made a big difference. Leveling up was very noticed and important, and not just for the, "new rune effect!" way they are in D3. I'm stuck (mostly) with the skills I pick, and the much greater potential danger/difficulty of the game makes equipment choices feel much more important.
On the other hand, all those permanent choices feel like pressure. I've been corrupted by D3's freespecs and malleable char formation, and it's hard to go back to the D2 style of permanent skill choices, character-defining bricks that are mortared into place by the application of skill points. The D3 system of instant hot swapping and zero character permanence is enjoyable, especially in a beta, since it allows you to try out every type of class build with a single char. If I had 8 hours a day to play TL2, I'd have no trouble filling that time by repeatedly rerolling and playing different skill choices. I don't have that time, so while I enjoyed building one specific char, I was felt a constant sort of nagging curiosity about what other options I was missing out on by making the choices I did. I never felt that anything like that with D3, and again, this is a "for better or worse" thing. YMMV, etc.
I'm far from an expert at this point, but the TL2 skill system seems to be a combo of D3 and D2 style. Your skills are scaled to your Clvl and gear, including weapon damage to spells with the mage, but you also have a skill point every level to invest as you wish. I don't know how it's meant to be balanced long term, but at level 21 my mage had 7 or 8 points in her main skill, which had become available at lvl 3. The skill was set to max out at 15 points, but the frequency at which you can place points decreases as you level up. So I was able to add a point to it at something like 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 19, 24, etc. Not at all the D2 system of a point a level. Thus you can't max out a low level skill and make it overpowered (as in D2) and this also allows them to scale up the skills with clvl to keep them useful late game, or at least mid game.)
Was that skill as powerful with 8 points at level 21 as a higher level skill would have been with 5 points at level 21? I have no idea, and lacking freespecs it would take me about 4 hours to find out.
Over the recent weeks, I've been on and off debating the skill system of D3 with Azzure. He's a huge fan of the freespecs, clvl scaling up, and removal of skill points in D3, and seems to think it's nearly an ideal system. I'm less sold on it, and I think the D3 system could be improved by some kind of skill permanence and by some kind of skill points. Not the original D2 system certainly, where virtually every skill is either maxed out or a one point wonder, nor do I approve of the current D2X synergy-tastic straightjacket... but I think D3 could be improved with some mechanism that allowed players to specialize or improve some (but not all) of their skills, with trade offs and different weightings. So every single char with the same skill/rune/clvl wasn't exactly identical, as is now the case.
We'll have +skill equipment of some type in the late game, and perhaps that will provide all the benefits of skill points with none of the drawbacks, but we can only speculate on that at this point. I can say (from admittedly limited experimentation) that the TL2 hybrid skill point/scaling system seems a big improvement over how skills are handled in D2, and that further research is needed.
I've watched a TL2 stream last night. I'm sure it's a good game, but I just don't have any interest in other games than D3 right now.
What I didn't like was the inventory, merchant window, character windows....pretty much every menu he opened looked kinda bad in terms of readability. The tooltips, menus, icons and such look too bloated.
Combat did indeed look faster paced than D3, but also a bit boring and less explosive.
Interesting post. I myself feel after playing the D3 beta that the skill rune system is THE way to go. You shouldn't be penalized for playing the game. I don't agree with every single character being the same with skills and runes+passives+choice of gear. I can make 2 characters with the exact same skills, and all the same runes, but 1, 2 of the same passives but 1, and entirely different gear affix choices and have 2 characters that are quite abit different. Right now I feel Blizzard has accomplished a VERY impressive customization system for D3 and that's just off experiencing the first 13 levels on noob mode.I miss all 5 of the characters I made from D3, but cannot wait to level them up when the game goes live. I don't doubt Torchlight 2 will be a good game and well worth playing. I just don't think it'll hold a candle to D3 nor have the lasting appeal of it that I see happening.
I was never a fan of the original TL, to be honest.
I felt that it got repetitive really fast since a lot of the skills you put points in aren't necessarily active skills, so combat ends up being very repetitive, using only a couple of skills.
Monster design in the original TL was also a big letdown for me. I didn't feel much change from level to level - it was almost like I was fighting re-modeled versions of the same monsters from earlier levels. Everything kinda just came at you. Sure there were the few more interesting monsters here and there, but by far I didn't find monster behaviour as interesting as even D2.
But D3's monsters are so fun even in the beta, I think. Stuff like Grotesques go a long way to showing you how Blizzard wants to make monster encounters a much more tactical experience.
You mentioned monster affixes - do TL2 monsters actually do stuff like Waller, Vortex and Teleporter? I'd love to see mechanics like that in TL2.
I have to say though, I definitely like freespecs. I was surprised at how attached I was to my beta characters even with freespecs, as I was very 'for' the idea of some degree of build permanence. But yeah, since I still felt quite attached to my particular characters, I concluded that Bashiok was right and that build-permanence always equating to character attachment isn't necessarily true. I think it may be the case for some games, but I didn't feel that way for D3.
Good read flux and I have actually been on the runic forums today reading many of the beta testers feedback. The key thing everyone keeps saying is the game is a lot of fun to play and in the end that is all that matters. Also I expect the modding community to change every aspect of TL2 and then some so in the end you can always make it the exact game you want it to be.
I really hope they fixed loot in TL2 since that was the worst thing about TL especially when you got past max level and had to use mods to even be competitive.
I preordered TL2 and I will play it but not entirely sure when that will happen.
I have to admit that even if yours and every other game site's critique of the game was mind blowingly positive, declaring the game the next great thing, I wouldn't really be any more enticed to check out the game than I am now. I truly do believe that despite what the guys at Runic are saying, their choice for release-timeframe is absolutely disastrous, and it's really hard to believe the game with gather any sort of heavy-following. Had this been May 2011, I would be dying to try it out, but only as temporary placeholder until "the real deal" is here.
With that said, I do start agreeing more and more with z00t's point about the fun in freespecing. I have always complained that freespecs are the devil's work and are going to remove any sort of attachment to your char (which is now 90% nameless in D3). What do you know, with my demanding family life, I absolutely LOVE freespecs, and would have a tough time trying out enough skills and builds any other way. Funny how things work, eh?
Watched the stream for 2 full hours. Not bad. Only reason it felt faster paced, is because there is more content. And D3 beta is just a tutorial section. Also I didnt like the art style at all. Which is ofcourse personal. But its a great alternative for offline and mod reasons. Something I'll play when the D3 servers are down for whatever reason. You cant really compare them because of the budget difference. D3 just oozes quality all over. But some people will judge games based on betas/demos. So that might work in T2's favor.
I think that the appeal of freespecs is, ultimately, that they don't remove skill on your part. You still need to plan your builds - just because there are trillions of rune/skill combinations doesn't mean that most combinations will be effective.
Also, as you go later into the game, you will start to consider your skill/rune build in relation to stats from armour/weapons. That requires a degree of the 'planning' you had to do with a D2 char. For instance, you may make a mana-intensive WD build, without any mana-saving runes/passives, relying instead on items to plug that gap. But even when gearing up with the appropriate mana-regen + max mana gear you must consider - do you have enough intelligence? What about stun-reduction? Elemental resistances? +minimum weapon damage? Vitality? Magic Find? As Diablonut's hero planner shows, there is still SO MUCH choice involved in terms of tradeoff between damage/survivability/utility.
It really looks as though a lot of the planning you get in D2 is still in D3, just shifted to being later in the game. You don't need to do your planning BEFORE you make your character because its only really relevant at later difficulties (just like D2), except that unlike D2, your planning can come when it needs to. Or you can do it as early as you'd like.