skip to main content

Jefklaks Codex

The Best and Worst Retro Hack & Slash Games


This month, I’ve played the heck out of classic action RPGs akin to Diablo. Starting with Sacred, I worked my way through Dungeon Siege, the Torchlight games, Nox, and of course revisited Sanctuary in Diablo 2 and 3. Yet there are still more H&S games waiting for me (Dungeon Siege 2, Titan Quest, Throne of Darkness). For every game discussed below, there is also an in-depth comparison review published on the Codex. This article attempts to summarize these, to be able to compare all games at once.

The games

First, let us take a look at each game in the list.

Diablo 2

Diablo II on PC.
Diablo II on PC.

Read the retrospective. There, we concluded:

Twenty years later, breezing through the game together with a friend feels as invigorating as it felt back in 2000. I might have become a bit less immune to the repetitive nature of the game, but in multiplayer mode, it hardly mattered. Is there any game that matches the greatness of the grandfather of H&S dungeon crawling? I doubt it, unless you are looking for comfort (Diablo III), color (Torchlight), charm (Nox), or a more unique take on the class and skill system (Sacred).

This is the benchmark of H&S games, the undisputed king, the one everybody tries to imitate, the Monkey Island of the adventure games, the Mario of the platformers. And yes, it is still relevant and fun with a partner to breeze through the multiple difficulties!

The question is, does any other game come close to matching its greatness?

Play Diablo 2 if…

  • You know it and you love it. Nothing will replace the nostalgic and authentic feeling.
  • You’re looking for the best balance of items/character builds
  • You found a few buddies willing to join the EuropeBattle.net servers.

Do not play Diablo 2 if…

  • You’re scared of 2D pixels or low resolutions.
  • You can’t stand randomly-generated pitch black dungeons with a lot of dead ends.

Diablo 3

Diablo III on Nintendo Switch.
Diablo III on Nintendo Switch.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Blizzard North is no more, Blizzard entertainment made this third Diablo installment instead. And that is exactly how I would summarize this game: entertaining enough to keep you in. Still, that term does not equal grand, nor does it equal engrossing. Entertainment is for when I’m tired but still want to kill a few mobs. Entertainment is for when I don’t care for skill points and just want to play. This perfectly summarizes what Diablo 3 is all about: loot - kill - entertainment.

The skill choice instead of tree greatly reduces the complexity, and the added seasonal extras with a strong focus on loot emphasizes its arcade-like gameplay. This is a good game in its own right, but should not be called Diablo.

Play Diablo 3 if…

  • You enjoy fiddling with lots of different character builds.
  • You’re looking for end-game content.
  • You don’t mind the comfy/easy/cheesy-ness.

Do not play Diablo 3 if…

  • You’re expecting a successor to Diablo 2.
  • You like complexity and strategic thinking.

Nox

Nox on PC.
Nox on PC.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Let’s be clear on one thing: Nox deserves more attention. It’s a bit of a shame that it got overlooked thanks to Diablo 2. Both games could work complementary - why choose one when you can play both? To me, they both serve a different purpose. And to me, Nox has far more charm than Diablo. It is what one could call a hidden gem, and it’s perfectly re-playable because all character paths are partially unique.

Westwood knows how to put the charm and unique atmosphere in a game: it is visible in Red Alert 2 and also in Nox, although calling this a full-fledged loot-centered H&S game would be stretching it a bit too far.

Play Nox if…

  • You value a charming world before an item-littered world.
  • You like replaying a game with different classes.

Do not play Nox if…

  • You want to invest heavily in multiplayer.
  • You’re a loot addict.

Dungeon Siege

Dungeon Siege on PC.
Dungeon Siege on PC.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Dungeon Siege is not quite a typical hack and slash game: you control a party, there are few attributes/skills, and they’re all automatically accumulated. Furthermore, your party by default automatically attacks enemies on sight, so when things go well, there’s little for you to do but press a hotkey or two to grab the uesless gear. To put it bluntly, it feels like you’re watching a marathon of Lord of the Rings extended edition movies instead of playing a game where thought must be put into correctly building and equipping your character.

Being still an impressive looking game with a seamless world that does not involve any load times, it will get very tedious faster than you think. If you have a soft spot for Gas Powered Games, I’d suggest to save it for Dungeon Siege II.

Play Dungeon Siege if…

  • You value 3D above 2D.
  • You like donkeys.
  • You dislike clicking - or making decisions.
  • You absolutely want a party.

Do not play Dungeon Siege if…

  • You prefer playing games over watching movies.
  • You expect to mess around with spells and items.

Titan Quest

Titan Quest on Switch.
Titan Quest on Switch.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Is it worth it to play Titan Quest? No. My conclusion is in stark contrast to Justin’s over at his Random Battles Blog, but for the reasons mentioned above, I’d rather replay other H&S games than trying to slog through the expansion(s) content(s). Even Dungeon Siege, the H&S game I found to be most boring, is a better alternative. The setting is unique but does not have enough to offer to to justify the other shortcomings.

Titan Quest offers a titanic amount of hours in Ancient Greece, Egypt, and on The Great Wall, but ultimately failed to impress me because of the plethora of bugs and awkward usability on the Switch, coupled with boring gameplay.

Play Titan Quest if…

  • You value 3D above 2D.
  • You like ancient mythology.
  • You like a classless system.

Do not play Titan Quest if…

  • Your time is valuable.
  • You are looking for variation.

Sacred

Sacred Gold on PC.
Sacred Gold on PC.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Is Sacred better than Diablo 2? In the end, I’m glad I played it: it’s a rather unique world with a strange skill tree implementation that still puzzles me to date. It doesn’t quite come quite near the level of greatness Diablo II is, but it certainly tried well enough. I might actually prefer the huge open world, quests, visuals, and quirkiness of Sacred. Sadly, the core hack & slash mechanics, the loot and reward system, is a bit of a missed opportunity to me.

The unique world of Ancaria comes with goofy voice acting, funny but mostly mundane side-quests, and a lot of goblin killing. Will this be to your liking? That will depend:

Play Sacred if…

  • You’re bored of the standard class options and want to try something unique.
  • You like 2D art, weather effects, and a day/night system.
  • You like to have a bit of a laugh from time to time.
  • You insist on riding a horse.

Do not play Sacred if…

  • Quickly respawning monsters scare you.
  • Monster variation is something you think is necessary.
  • You value tradition and mana over strange skills and combos.

Torchlight

Torchlight I on PC.
Torchlight I on PC.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

If you were to play this in 2009, you’d thank the Lords that finally someone managed to do a proper Diablo clone. These someone guys happen to be none other than most of the original crew. At the release date, the game priced at one third of a full game, so be aware that content-wise, that’s also what you’re going to get. A ten hour thrill through randomized dungeons to kill, loot, listen to nostalgic tracks that bring back memories, while distributing skill and stat points.

The surprise hit Torchlight strikes just the right tone to the Diablo fan, especially with the sound effects and music hitting home run. That said, it is a very short game that is over all too quick. Take a look at Torchlight II if you’re serious about the Torchlight series.

Play Torchlight if…

  • You want Diablo 2.5.
  • You don’t mind a very barebones story with lots of dungeon crawling.
  • Magic find is something you drool at.
  • You like pets.

Do not play Torchlight if…

  • You’re looking for multiplayer options (it has none).
  • Colors and cartoonish graphics hurts your eyes.
  • You’re looking for a lot of content.

Torchlight 2

Torchlight II on Nintendo Switch.
Torchlight II on Nintendo Switch.

Read the full review. There, we concluded:

Anno 2020, if you’re in for a Diablo fix (or should I say replica?), take a look at Torchlight 2. There is no doubt that Torchlight 2 is better than its predecessor - on all accounts. Since both Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 were released in 2012, it comes at no surprise that both games are compared very often. Since I played both games on Switch, and both games are more colorful and easier than Diablo 2, it was difficult not to compare both. To me, Diablo 3 is the best leisurely-paced hack & slash game, well-suited on consoles. If I could, I would play Torchlight II on PC.

Torchlight II is like Diablo 2.6 and better than its predecessor in every aspect, even including a multiplayer mode. You owe it to yourself to try it out if you are a real Diablo fan.

Play Torchlight II if…

  • Torchlight I was your thing but it was over too soon.
  • You like boss fights.
  • You don’t mind a little bit of steampunk mixed in for good measure.

Do not play Torchlight II if…

  • You’re a melee player and want to play it on Nintendo Switch.
  • You’re looking for original skills and cool classes.

Hack & Slash games, ranked.

Keep in mind that ranking games is actually a silly practice that does not fully represent the gameplay of each individual game. It is but a subjective opinion of one person. Since I played the original Diablo a lot when it came out, of course I am also heavily biased. That said, here’s my own list:

  1. Diablo 2
  2. Nox
  3. Diablo 3
  4. Sacred
  5. Torchlight 2
  6. Torchlight
  7. Dungeon Siege
  8. Titan Quest

The undisputed king stays at number one - obviously. Second is Nox, a game I have a soft spot for. Next in line, Diablo 3, as I honestly think it is a good game in its own right - on the couch, with a controller in hand. I had more fun playing it on Switch than I did Torchlight II, and Torchlight I isn’t as good as the second version. To me, Dungeon Siege was very boring - and Titan Quest was even worse. That leaves us with Sacred, a unique and maybe a bit of an odd game, I would put right in the middle. I’d rather replay Sacred with a cool class like the Seraphim than go through Torchlight II again.

To be continued, with more H&S fun!

Categorized under: Diablo 2 hack and slash

Me!

I'm Jefklak, a level 36 Retro Gamer, and I love the sight of experience points on old and forgotten hardware. I sometimes convince others join in on the nostalgic grind. Read more about me here.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail: say hello. Thanks!