Just to clarify, I was discussing Plus mode (+). Which means I did beat the game, twice. I found balancing very rough. I found many folks complaining the game was too easy to which I believe they either didn't finish or they found a build more efficient than others. I found act 1 to be too easy. Act 2 to be easy. And, act 3 to be much more difficult. If I had to guess its that gear stopped dropping for me in act 3. Hense the 300+ deaths to finish Plus. Torchlight doesn't do a good job of letting you know what you need to fill the holes in your build. I've never had that problem with other ARPGs. (or even RPGS). There is a message that states that if you keep dying, upgrade your armor. I would have loved to.... But, thanks for the comments. It will be a while before I go after that one again.
Oh, I got that. The second paragraph was a general comment on the difficulty. I wouldn't like anyone getting discouraged. I actually remember your first T2 post, and I completely agree - the third act is palpably more difficult than the first two, and on my first playthrough, I died there twice as many times as in the first two. But the second time, I played much more "actively", extensively using keyboard shortcuts and keeping my distance with my squishy Embermage instead of spamming damage and hoping everything dies before he does, and my death count was a lot smaller. Not that it was as small as it could have been, because T2 doesn't really punish you for dying.
As for the game letting you know what you need to do, I do agree it doesn't, but I can't really remember other such games really doing it - I'm sort of interested to know what you have in mind. The reason T2 doesn't is something that was implicit in the first paragraph - the metagame changed as time went by. But I think that also holds for, say, Diablo 2 - a very long-running ARPG which basically annoyed thousands with each new patch, making your current build completely useless for high-level gameplay. I'm not much into them, so that's the only example I can think of, but I'd expect that to be standard practice for any game that achieves similar longevity - how else will it remain challenging to the hardcore crowd playing it?
As for what I've gathered from the forums that applies to every build regardless of character: 1) use a shield, it's the best sort of protection, armor is useless later on 2) 1-h weapons are better than 2-h weapons, not only because of shields, but also due to how the game calculates damage 3) fill sockets with damage reduction and life bonuses, though the best of these you'll find much, much later on 4) use the stats enchanter for everything, which is also something that comes into play much later on.