Though it has fun gameplay and unique character classes, Torchlight III doesn’t do much to progress the franchise to attract a new audience.
After the closure of Runic Games, a proper third sequel to the quirky dungeon crawler series Torchlight seemed unlikely. Then from the ashes of Runic, Echtra Games rose with the help of Torchlight co-creator Max Schaefer, and Torchlight Frontiers was born. This new game would feature a setting, art style, and combat that Torchlight players would be familiar with, but would abandon single-player and traditional co-op in favor of an open-world MMO where hundreds of players could meet in a persistent shared world. After an initial closed alpha, Frontiers was scrapped in favor of a more traditional installment in the series, Torchlight III.
Whenever a game gets a complete overhaul before it releases, it’s usually a recipe for disaster. Sure, there have been exceptions like Until Dawn, but Torchlight III seemed to be doomed before it even made it to the masses. Having been a fan of the first two games, I was still hoping for the best. When I started the game, it looked like the bright cartoonish anti-Diablo art style that I fell in love with, and two of the four classes (Railmaster and Forged) obviously displayed the offbeat and imaginative spirit of Runic Games. The other two classes available are your more standard garden variety RPG classes, Sharpshooter and Dusk Mage.
I have a serious indecisive problem when it comes to picking and choosing characters and classes — what if I make the wrong choice? However, I’m a sucker for a robot, so I went with the Forged class who kills things with a sword of fire, thanks to the Flaming Destroyer relic I equipped him with. I suggest carefully choosing the relic that best suits you and your character’s playstyle, as it will complement the already intricate skill tree that Torchlight III possesses. The junkyard robot is well-versed in both melee and projectile combat thanks to his chest-mounted cannon. Having the two combat styles in one character works out really well for the solo player, or if you really like to shoot things, like me.
As I set off on my Torchlight III journey, I started with a pet llama but promptly switched to a dragon named Nugget. Each pet brings with it a helpful skill to aid you in combat. As you progress, you can unlock more pets and their skills with a total of four per companion. Your pet can also help you haul your loot when your inventory becomes full. For the sake of saving time, I started the game on Normal difficulty, but I highly recommend raising the level one above your comfort level for a good challenge. If you are new to Torchlight or dungeon crawlers in general, I’d start at Normal until you get a feel for the game, as it doesn’t hold your hand as you get to know the basics.
Torchlight III picks up nearly a century after the events of Torchlight II. Novastraia once again finds itself under attack from the Netherim, and it’s up to you to stop them and their allies. I’m not going to lie, I know there is more to the story than a one-sentence summary, but honestly, much of the lore is lost in translation. That’s meant as no disrespect to the writers, but as with all dungeon crawlers, I hack and slash first then ask questions later. Torchlight III started off strong and it felt like everything I wanted in a sequel, but the more I played of it, the more frustrated I became.
My biggest gripe with the game is that it is a nightmare traveling to and from various destinations. When you finish a quest, it will unlock the next part of the map you need to go to. But often, you must return to the home base of the area to reap rewards and get the new intel of the next mission before your next adventure. This means that you must backtrack through previously-played areas to find the newly-opened portal. In retracing your steps, you will once again face the foes you just defeated. The first thing you want to do when you get to the new area is to seek out and unlock the portals that allow fast travel. If not, should you have to quit for any reason or your character dies, it’s backtrack time once again.
Well wait, “isn’t there a mini-map to help you navigate,” you ask? Well, there sure is, but it’s as confusing and useless as the one in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Waypoints are marked, but the mini-map’s view is so claustrophobic that until you are in direct proximity of the waypoint, it doesn’t show. This, unfortunately, leads to a lot of aimless wandering and replaying of the same areas with the same enemies. I felt as if Torchlight III was trying to channel Groundhog Day.
The redundancy of getting lost in Torchlight III is even more aggravated by the fact that the enemies might take on several different forms such as goblins, skeletons, and spiders, but they all seem to pose the same challenge. Sure, there’s levels of difficulty with enemies, but they can all be defeated in almost the exact same way. Even bosses are defeated not by challenging you to tactically use all the cool perks and weapons at your disposal, but rather by avoiding and attacking for several minutes until they have absorbed enough damage. It’s often their tiny minions that rush to attack you with their various elemental abilities that are more deadly than the actual boss.
One aspect of Torchlight III that I didn’t spend much time on was the Fort feature. The Fort is a fully customizable home area where you can store pets, weapons, and gear while also utilizing the space to craft items. I’m guessing the Fort was a leftover from the Torchlight Frontiers days, but it’s a cool feature for those of you that like to personalize their in-game living quarters.
The art team and level designers did an excellent job of creating the cartoon fantasy world and characters in the Torchlight tradition with bold colors, making the game stand out from the gloom and darkness of others in its genre. With a perfectly orchestrated score, lush sound effects, and decent voice acting, the game definitely was made with care to appeal to fans of the franchise without reinventing the wheel. Unfortunately, all of this may not be enough to introduce the series to a new audience, as overall I would say that Torchlight III in some ways feels inferior to the recent console port of Torchlight II.
They say there’s a fine line between love and hate, and despite Torchlight III’s flaws, I was still oddly captivated by it. The second act seemed to be slightly more user-friendly in terms of getting from one destination to the next, or perhaps I just got better at navigating after a while. Even in my frustration, I couldn’t wait to see what the game had to offer next. Combat and enemies might be indistinctive, but I still had moments of fun playing it.
My initial thought was to compare how Torchlight III paled in comparison to the growth and development that Diablo III took that franchise in, but then I remembered that the launch iteration of Diablo III was nothing compared to the game it is now. I think Torchlight III has the foundations to be great, and hopefully, Echtra Games can bring the franchise to its full potential.