After 12 years of waiting, Diablo 3 has finally arrived. But while Blizzard was hard at work on that massive project, many gamers found themselves charmed by a small, independent action RPG called Torchlight. With no co-op play and rather limited, straightforward environments, Torchlight couldn’t offer more than a light snack to those starved for quality dungeon crawling, but it was a delicious, well made snack that left them wanting more. And more is coming — Torchlight 2, still in closed beta, appears to improve on the first game in every way.Though Torchlight was competent all around, the real highlight was that it didn’t reinvent the action RPG formula, but simply smoothed out genre’s naggingly rough edges. Inventory is important when you’re constantly collecting loot, so the developers smartly built it into a slide-out panel. Finding a town to sell off excess goodies can be a chore, so Torchlight included pets that made shop runs for you. In Torchlight 2, those systems go even further to mitigate the annoyances of adventuring: the bigger inventory panel now comes pre-divided into equipment, consumable, and spell sections, and players can send their pets off to buy potions and scrolls as well as sell spare equipment.The overworld in Torchlight 2 lets the visual style shine.Perhaps the most important feature of Torchlight 2 is co-op, the glaring oversight of its predecessor. The new game includes a free, robust matchmaking system for finding online games, but if you want to do things the old fashioned way there’s also a LAN option — something Runic Games included at fan request. In much the same way Runic cleverly employed pets to reduce the hassles of inventory, they’ve also used a couple of game systems to make multiplayer more manageable. Enemy difficulty dynamically scales by how many allies you have nearby, not by how many are in the game. So if you’ve got a large party, in other words, you can choose to split up for a while without getting crushed by overpowered enemies. When your group is together, each player gets their own loot drops, so there’s never any need to squabble over the best stuff.Graphically, Torchlight 2 is gorgeous, and far more detailed than the original game. The stylized, almost hand painted aesthetic has returned, but now it’s applied to more than just one small town and the dungeons beneath it. Torchlight 2’s vast, randomly generated overworld areas and more structured “passes” give the art direction room to breath, yielding unique environments that feel more alive and interesting. The openness also helps structurally; where Torchlight’s side quests had to be crammed into the claustrophobic town and dungeon using portals, TL2 spreads them out into its overworld area, making them seem more organic and less tacked on.Of course, gamers will inevitably judge Torchlight 2 not by its predecessor, but by the long-awaited Diablo 3. Both appear to be well made, highly polished experiences, and since TL2 can be had for a mere $20 ($60 for a Steam 4-pack) there’s little reason why action RPG fans shouldn’t buy both titles and enjoy them for what they are. It is worth noting, however, that while Diablo 3 is actively banning mods, Torchlight 2 is encouraging them with mod support in both single and multiplayer. Once the active Torchlight mod community gets ahold of the Torchlight 2 development tools, which will be released for free shortly after launch, it will be interesting to see what they make out of Runic’s second effort.If you want in on the Torchlight 2 beta, sign up for a Runic Games account and opt-in for email announcements, or just keep an eye out for beta key giveaways around the web.Torchlight 2‘s release date is still officially “when it’s done,” though the pre-orders on Steam give us hope that the wait won’t be much longer.