The second game was not that much different, only this time the plot assumed some amount of previous experience with the series. Even now, I don't really have much appreciation for the world or it's oddly named residents, as it is a little light on in-game explanations.
Mechanically though, the game is sound. It took very little time for me to happily start bashing evil dudes and getting that precious experience points and loot. I've even restarted the game entirely to swap my character class, and despite repeating the first sections of the game I enjoyed it almost as much the second time around.
The large, open environments are certainly part of the charm. The entire game is reminiscent of Diablo 2, but with it's own style running throughout. Of course this is to be expected with some common staff between the two games, but it doesn't suffer for this comparison. The music in particular I found excellent, a perfect match for the atmosphere the game creates.
It can be difficult to create a fantasy world these days, you can easily fail by either sticking too close to a Tolkien-like formula, or by straying too far away. Torchlight 2 departs from the normality of generic fantasy, and instead opts for a collection of disparate peoples. You are introduced to them as you progress through the world, but I feel like none have quite the impact that they could, beyond being different for differences sake. Perhaps had I played the first game I'd be more attuned to the lore of the game.
It's the mechanics which make the game stand out more, and the way each level and dungeon has been so lovingly crafted. Even silly side-quests have a lot of thought put into them, such as the pirate-themed, Goonies-referencing quest to defeat the ghost of One-Eyed Willy, or the occasional mazes and other puzzle sections.
While the evidence is there of things borrowed from the previous games the developers have worked on, they have also learned from past experience and looked to improve upon other games of this type. Each character class has their own unique abilities, but the level of choice allows you to tailor your character to suit your play style. I prefer ranged combat and passive abilities to boost my character, and began with an Outlander (with dual pistols), before switching to an Ember Mage (elemental magic).
To a certain extent, it's all about clicking, timing and so forth, but it's that myriad of small choices that typify this genre, and Torchlight 2 does it rather well. You can sacrifice attack speed for range or power, or perhaps rely on tailoring your attacks towards your enemies elemental weaknesses. Do you rain fire from far away, or get stuck into the thick of the action?
I found the most fitting style for myself was the magic using route, which combines ranged attacks with great visuals. The range of spells is based largely on four elemental forces, and I've chosen to stick with mainly fire and electric attacks. As with many skill trees (although this isn't exactly a tree, but certain skills unlock at certain levels), there are some skills that appear more useful than others and certainly it seems prudent to level up a small variety of skills rather than trying them all. You can respec to a certain degree, but you can't rely on that too much. I imagine on harder difficulties it would require a little planning ahead to get the best balance.
Equipment is as usual for such games, plentiful and varied. The basic stuff you find in abundance merely serves to provide a contrast for those more exotic pieces that occasionally fall into your lap. On top of that, there are a few ways to boost the usefulness of your existing equipment. Item sets give you bonuses for matching items from that set, but they generally are minor. Enchanters can be found to boost the stats on your items in a particular way for a stack of gold (for example, you might find one that will enchant items with fire three times, adding damage to weapons or resistance to armour). Finally there are the sockets. Some items come with sockets, and you can find ways to increase the amount of sockets, and they can be very useful. Socketable items range from the basic elemental types to rarer and unique ones. It's a minor variation of the Diablo II formula, but provides a similar experience. It's better in some ways due to unique weapons sometimes being able to be socketable, and I've usually tried to get at least one socket on each item I use (some have four!).
So far I've made it perhaps about half way through the game, two thirds at best. The game can get a bit repetitive at times, but I feel that's an issue I have with the genre in general rather than this game in particular. Sometimes the large maps with only a small variety of enemies can overstay their welcome. The big set-piece boss fights are very good though, and I only wish the filler content was a touch better at times.