There’s nothing desperately wrong with Torchlight 3, which just came out in Early Access form a week ago. It’s a flashy, bombastic, nicely-paced action-RPG with tons of enemies to slash, blast, and explode for the tasty loot inside. The problem is that it doesn’t really do much to effectively set itself above or apart from the embarrassment of riches we have to pick from in this genre right now. When I could be playing Diablo 3 or Wolcen (now that it’s been patched a bit) or Path of Exile or even one of the older Torchlight games, I keep looking for a reason why I’d choose Torchlight 3… and so far, the early access version hasn’t really given me one.
Torchlight 3 doesn’t put its best foot forward as it tries to introduce us to a story premise that isn’t really trying to be anything more than ultra generic fantasy. Something about an ancient evil reawakening, blah blah blah… It’s not like previous Torchlight games were heavy on story either, but Torchlight 3 doesn’t even seem to be trying. Every NPC seems to be defined by a single personality archetype. You’ve got goofy goblins that lean on the comedy crutches of over-the-top voice acting and Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. It’s got a certain charm to it, but it’s all so painfully familiar, like your slacker roommate’s first attempt at running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
At least things get a little more interesting when it comes to the class design. Each of the four playable classes has a very distinct and flavorful aesthetic and identity. The weird and eerie Dusk Mage builds up dark mana by using light spells and light mana by using dark spells, and can unleash a more powerful finisher of either type once the appropriate mana gauge is filled. The hilariously over-the-top Railmaster reimagines the concept of a pet class by summoning a battle train that follows you around on rails you leave behind as you move, to which more cars with different uses can be added by investing in the skill tree.
Not all of them are quite as fun in practice as they seem in concept, though. The Sharpshooter, for instance, is a savvy hunter who can summon various companions and has a whole toolbelt of powerful ranged attacks. That sounds great, but their ammo resource gauge is basically just a fancy stamina bar that recharges quickly when not in use. There is an unlockable reload skill that refills your ammo instantly, and while it suits the fantasy the sharpshooter is trying to represent, it was far too rare that it let me feel like I was making interesting resource management decisions.
Torchlight 3 Screenshots
The options for customizing these classes are a little bit lackluster, too, especially compared to some other recent ARPGs. Each has two main skill trees with a different focus – the Sharpshooter has one focusing on direct ranged damage and one focusing on summonable creatures, while the Railmaster has one focused on melee combat and one focused on making his train bigger and nastier. But each only features a handful of abilities to invest in right now, and since they’re gated at five level intervals, the choices you have upon levelling up are usually pretty limited.
It gets a little more exciting with the introduction of Relics, which ended up being my favorite part of the progression system. You can have one Relic equipped at a time, which opens up an entirely new skill tree that includes an “ultimate” ability with a very long cooldown, similar to those you might see in a MOBA. Each relic is class agnostic, so you can mix and match them to create interesting combinations. A sniper with lightning powers? Sure. A mage with vampiric berserker abilities? Nothing is stopping you. The Relic skill trees still feel fairly limited, just like the base class ones, with most having two active and two passive abilities that can be upgraded in a couple different ways. But it encourages experimentation and helps my builds feel like they’re mine.
The enemy design is respectable, but doesn’t offer much that’s new and exciting if you’ve been around the ARPG block a few times. You’ll blast through hordes of weakling goblins, bugs, and zombies. Occasionally you’ll run into tricker enemies, like wild boars that can take you out in just a couple of hits with a charge attack. There are powerful elite creatures with randomized ability modifiers, as well as legendary and miniboss bruisers packed with rare loot for your trouble. The bigger area and act bosses are a highlight, offering substantial challenges and keeping me on my toes with deadly area attacks. Playing on Hard, the difficulty felt just about right.
The environments you’ll explore and do battle in are excellently constructed, too. Whether it’s a stalwart military outpost ringed with fireable cannons or a murky swamp brimming with poisonous beasts, the simple, colorful, readable art style pops and sizzles. Every corner is filled with destructible and interactable items, small but effective embellishments, and mood-setting lighting and effects which ensures no map ever feels too static or lifeless.
The most frustrating part of Torchlight 3’s combat, which I still haven’t stopped fuming over, is the fact that almost none of the active abilities can be triggered unless you’ve come to a complete stop. That means you have to finish any ongoing animations and wait around a second – which may as well be a decade in some of these encounters. If I’m firing my bow and need to quickly dodge roll out of an explosion, I have to stop everything I’m doing and press the button frantically until it becomes responsive. It just feels clunky and irritating.
Currently, Torchlight 3 has the first two of three planned acts available, which took me a little less than 20 hours to complete. There’s also some kind of endgame mode that’s not in yet. You can tackle what little there is with a group of four, though, and I found the network side of things to be very stable and easy to use. This version isn’t without its share of early access woes, though. Certain boss fights were missing ending cutscenes entirely. Some cutscenes that were clearly meant to be seen only once triggered multiple times, in seemingly unrelated areas. Some quests will update to a new objective without telling you why. I didn’t encounter anything that blocked my progress, but the presentation is still rough.
Probably the most distinctive and promising feature in Torchlight 3 is also a player housing system that lets you decorate a personal fort, enchant your gear, house collectable pets, and sacrifice items to various altars to unlock permanent stat bonuses. There are tons of cosmetic and functional structures to unlock and craft, and I like being able to return from a cave full of death spiders to a space that feels like my own. Decorating the courtyard is a nice change of pace from fighting for your life. This is where Torchlight 3 feels the most innovative, and I’d love to see this aspect developed further before it launches out of Early Access.