Although I did enjoy the first Torchlight, my main complaint about that game was its rather agonizing system of leveling up. Bending my mind around mathematical equations is not really my idea of fun. At that time, my RPG experience was fairly limited, but since then, I've ventured into more games of this genre and become familiar with the complexities of various leveling systems. I used to avoid role-playing games like the plague, but having tried a few, I've discovered that I quite like the genre after all. In combination with just more RPG experience on my part, Torchlight 2 has also, to a certain extent, simplified the process of character building. I found it much easier to determine what of the thousands of items I could just ignore based on the class I'd chosen to play. For instance, there are four classes and I chose Outlander, so I could just automatically get rid of items that didn't mesh with my character. Special abilities are also somewhat geared to classes, making choosing which ones to enhance a lot less painful.
Torchlight 2 has also somewhat expanded on a story, although it's still not really story driven and just acts as a simple linear guide to the quest line. Each level has the main quest as well as side quests and various dungeons to explore. As in the first game, your constant companion remains a pet, however, there are many more types of animals to choose from. It's just one of the little extras that endears you to this series. There are no differences in their abilities other than a flying pet may be able to reach some places more easily than a ground pet. Once again, feeding your pet different types of fish will transform them into various other creatures for a select period of time. Although this is fun, I did not find doing this offered as much combat advantage as there was in Torchlight.
The graphics are also different in this sequel and have a more cartoony look to them and a distinctive visual style. Whether or not you like it will be a matter of taste. However, the gameplay remains the same basic style as in the first game, including the use of two storage chests for loot. Anything stashed in the shared chest is transferable between different characters you are playing.
For review purposes I always do my first playthroughs on normal mode and whether it was my superior leveling skills ( tongue in cheek ) or whether the game is a little too easy, I found that I didn't die very often. When I did, it was usually a result of inattention. So, I would have to conclude that on the whole this sequel is easier.
As with most loot games, there is just too much stuff, which fills up your limited inventory space way too fast. That means a lot of time spent in getting rid of it. Ember, in this game, comes in different types and grades and is used to enhance weapons and armor. You can also transmute them in various combinations, as well as other items, to make a new item. But even these ended up being rather useless later in the game as you can't install them on armor and weapons that fall below the gem level. By a certain point, I found that my lower level enhanced gear remained superior to most higher level equipment and it was hard to find good replacements for my class.
After beating the game, you retain your current items and can play again with New Game +. The story and quests remain the same, but enemies are geared to level 51 as a starting point. New game +2 starts at level 81, New game +3, level 100 and New Game + 4, 120, but character levels are capped at 100. If after the first playthrough you are above level 79, you will automatically be placed into NG +2. At New Game +5, the game will not scale any higher. Mapworks also becomes available and offers various challenges you can go into it at any time after you finish the first playthrough.
About halfway through new game +, I started to lose interest. It's really just a replay of the game and I'm not big on replays. Most of the challenge was gone. Maybe I just got lucky with the right leveling, skills and equipment or maybe the game is just too easy at this stage. It really depends on what kind of gamer your are. Some people don't mind replaying games over and over, trying different difficulties, classes and skills. However, I prefer a lengthy break before playing it again at some future date.
The developers, Runic Games, are very open to modding and have released the GUT Editor, which allows total customization of the game. This has resulted in hundreds of user mods being available, which always extends the life of any game.
Due to fan criticism of Torchlight, Runic Games added multiplayer to this sequel. You can have up to six participants. A Runic games account is required to play, but is not needed for LAN games. This account is used solely for the lobby system to connect players and does not store data such as character info or saves. Torchlight 2 uses a peer-to-peer system and has experienced connection issues, so research this first if you're main interest is multiplayer.
Many of the discussions you read on the net concerning Torchlight 2 center around its comparison to Diablo 3. However, regardless of which game people think is "better", this debate is really only relevent if you need to make a choice. Although both games may have similar features and gameplay, the fact that Torchlight 2 is cheaper, can be played offline, and is highly moddable, may give it the edge.
For all that the Torchlight games have some weaknesses, I would still highly recommended them.UPDATE: Perfect World, the now parent company of Runic, has created its own client and launcher called Arc. Both Torchlight games can also be purchased there.