WASHINGTON — Just how sturdy is the U.S. job market?That’s the key question the Federal Reserve will face when it decides later this month whether to reduce its economic stimulus.The answer depends on where you look.The economy has added jobs for 35 straight months. Unemployment has reached a 41/2-year low of 7.3 percent. Layoffs are dwindling.Yet other barometers of the job market point to chronic weakness:The pace of hiring remains tepid. Job growth is concentrated in lower-paying industries. The economy is 1.9 million jobs shy of its pre-recession level — and that’s not counting the additional jobs needed to meet population growth. Nearly 4.3 million people have been unemployed at least six months.What’s more, employers have little incentive to raise pay. Many unhappy employees have nowhere else to go.Still, when it meets Sept. 17-18, the Fed is expected to reduce its $85 billion a month in bond purchases by perhaps $10 billion. Its purchases have helped keep home-loan and other borrowing rates low to try to encourage consumers and businesses to borrow and spend more.Here’s a look at the job market’s vital signs as the Fed’s decision nears:UNEMPLOYMENTThe unemployment rate slid in August to 7.3 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. Unemployment had peaked in October 2009 at 10 percent and has since fallen more or less steadily. Since then, the number of people who say they have jobs has risen by 5.7 million. And the number of those who say they’re unemployed has dropped by nearly 4.1 million.That’s the good news behind the tumbling unemployment rate.But the rate has been falling, in part, for a bad reason: People are dropping out of the labor force. Once people without a job stop looking for one, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.Some are retiring. Some are young adults who have chosen to go to college rather than brave a tough job market. Some have gone on disability. And some have given up the job search, discouraged by repeated rejections.
The dungeon crawler RPG is a type of game that has been with us long before we were staring at pixels on a screen. The boiled down essence of tabletop games with enormous stat charts and a notebook full of character details and situation goals has been pasted onto a screen where all you need is a mouse and a keyboard to slay the beasts. By far the most popular dungeon crawler franchise has been Diablo. Undoubtedly, however, there are those who believe that “most popular” hardly means the best. A more recent game series, Torchlight, has been vying for the hearts and clicks of gamers everywhere.So which is the better game, Diablo 3 or Torchlight 2?Pricing and graphicsOf the many things that are different between these two titles, the two most common questions have the least to do with the actual game. How much does it cost and which game has the better graphics won’t matter much to the dedicated fans of either franchise, but when trying to explain the game to a friend these two are the barriers to entry. At $24, Torchlight 2 is the cheap title for anyone to pick up, especially compared to the $50 you’ll pay for Diablo 3. Torchlight 2 focuses on sales on their website and game hubs like Steam, while as Diablo 3 is available from Blizzard directly or in boxed form. Being a significantly less expensive title means Torchlight 2 a great deal… if the game is actually comparable to Diablo 3.With Diablo, you get a lot more for that $50. Your character is constantly connected to the web, allowing you to play socially or alone anytime. That has not been seen as a positive by players, though personally if I am not connected to the web I am usually not playing a game anyway. All of your game data is stored online as well, so you can install Diablo 3 on a brand new computer and pick up right where you left off with no effort. Torchlight 2 does offer some basic online gameplay though, and if you bought the game on Steam you can sync your game data, but Diablo 3 has a more robust online experience due to the fact it has been built from the ground up to be always connected.The graphics and animation styles for Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 come from completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Diablo 3 focuses on hard colors and realistic-looking scenery with bursts of color where appropriate. Torchlight 2 focuses on a generally lighter color palette, and everything in the game is cartoon-like in its animation.If your goal is to become immersed in a dark, violent world where you can feel your character destroy your opponent, Diablo 3 is undoubtedly your game. However, I wouldn’t allow my children to sit over my shoulder as I played Diablo 3, but I would have no problem letting them play Torchlight 2 on their own.GameplayComparing the gameplay of Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 is like comparing a polished, single purpose tool to a Swiss Army Knife. The games themselves are incredibly similar when it comes to how you play the game. You run around and kill everything, completing quests as you go. Eventually you go from killing normal bad guys to a boss fight of some kind, usually at the end of a storytline based quest.Diablo 3 is a very linear game — you travel from point to point with a single large task and complete smaller tasks along the way. You don’t stop off and pick up quests, so much as walk into a new area with an obvious objective that is now additional to your primary task. The game just flows, right until you get to a boss fight. Torchlight 2 is all about picking up and completing tasks as you choose. You have a clear set of storyline quests to accomplish, but every area is saturated with side quests and additional dungeon spaces to explore. You can have anything from a single task to dozens of quests at any given time, and you have to pay attention to what quests you take.Diablo 3 is designed to put just enough baddies in between you and the next big thing that you have leveled up enough to take on. Torchlight 2 spells out a level suggestion for each quest and dungeon, forcing you to pick around in your quest manager for adventures that fit your level. You can ignore the level suggestion if you feel your character is strong enough, or your can run around until you have reached the next level.Torchlight 2 has enough game for you to go all the way to your level cap and still be completing quests. Diablo 3 is obnoxiously designed to force you into completing the same game three or four times in order to meet your level cap. The added difficulties offer a few extra side things that you can do, but not nearly enough to make up for having to play through the same storyline multiple times to max out your character.When just considering the first play through, I found Diablo 3 to be a much more enjoyable game than Torchlight 2 because it had a fantastic flow. Torchlight 2 is fun to play, but the constant stopping to fiddle with your quest manager interrupts the experience. There are options for every little thing in Torchlight 2, including three different choices for what happens when you die. Fortunately, once you get used to the Torchlight 2 system, there’s a whole lot more game than with Diablo 3.Character managementThe whole point of a dungeon crawler is to evolve your character from the lowly level you start off with and develop him or her into the undefeated champion of the realms. This includes choosing what weapons and armor combinations are best suited for your character as well as what skills will best suit your style of gameplay. Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 have the same basic system, but they both approach it from vastly different perspectives.Equipment in both games is usually acquired through random drops, either when you kill an enemy or inside of the chests that are scattered throughout each game. Blizzard manipulated Diablo 3 to make it desirable to take advantage of a live auction house in order to get the best gear for your character. This auction house later evolved to allow purchases either with in-game currency or real money. Torchlight 2 does not have an auction house, and instead focuses exclusively on equipment being found in game, either through drops or purchases from in game characters.Each character in Diablo 3 offers a specific focus for their weapons and armor choices, which acts a guideline for most of your decisions — you want the monk character to focus on dexterity so they can dodge more attacks than anyone else, while the barbarian should focus on strength to deal the most damage with a single blow. Your skill trees offer some creative combinations that allow for control over how you play your character, but ultimately most people settle in to one of a handful of builds. By the time you have reached level 60, there are probably hundreds of other characters built almost exactly like yours.Torchlight 2’s character building is significantly more granular that Diablo 3. When you gain a new level, you are given points to spend on skills and character attributes. You can create an Embermage that could cover the world in death, but dies if he trips over a log, or you can make a beserker that is seemingly incapable of dying, but struggles to lift his weapons. You have complete control over your characters abilities and can carefully create a unique tool for killing.SummaryI would say that Diablo 3 is the better of the two titles. The gameplay is smooth and immediate, multiplayer is outstanding, and Diablo 3 has the benefit of being the third in a series that consumed more of my teenage years than I am willing to admit.However, there’s a huge difference between a game with replay value and a game that forces you to play the same game multiple times. If you’re looking for a game that will keep you busy for a while and still offer a great dungeon crawler experience, Torchlight 2 is a pretty clear winner. What the game lacks in out of the box appeal, as it takes a while to really learn how to play, it more than makes up for in enjoyable gameplay once you get started.