Review – Torchlight III
Let me just get this out of the way first. Torchlight III is not the game we wanted it to be. It’s not a serious follow up to Torchlight II, and is behind its predecessor mechanically and design-wise in many ways. It began its life as a free-to-play spin-off called Torchlight: Frontiers, and it still retains a lot of that structure. Hardcore players looking for something to tide them over until Diablo IV and Path of Exile 2 are bound for disappointment. But in my opinion, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. To me, it seems like this game does what Minecraft Dungeons was supposed to. It delivers a casual ARPG experience with enough complexity and variety to keep things interesting, but not enough to over-complicate or bog things down.
Technically, Torchlight III has a plot and characters that aren’t merchants. Only technically though, as you’re likely to forget either exist very quickly. Set about a hundred years after Torchlight II, the story is basically comprised of: bad guys are attacking and you have to stop them. The Alchemist and Ordrak (Torchlight‘s Not-Diablo) are involved via plot elements you don’t remember from the last game. Similarly, characters are little more than quest icons, where context is largely irrelevant. I’m sure if you really, really care, there’s some kind of narrative here, but it’s probably best if you go in caring as much about it as the game does. Not that this is a bad thing, as a game like this works best when it pushes gameplay first. Intricate plots have never been this franchise’s specialty anyway.
The meat of this game is the gameplay, and it delivers mostly. It delivers on what it’s intended to deliver at least. Again, hardcore players will be disappointed by what III offers. While those looking for something lighter, a game to play in between more intense ones, will find just what they’ve been looking for. There’s always a fine line for a game like that. Too complex, and it just feels watered down. Overly simple, and it’s just boring. It’s the balance between those two that I feel Torchlight III nails, making a game that’s accessible but not brain-dead. Each of the four classes has diverse skill trees with many viable builds, yet the system itself is forgiving. Likewise, itemization is varied with plenty of stats, but they’re simple and easy to understand.
The game’s four classes fill the usual archtypes, but are not what you expect from a fantasy game. First there’s the Sharpshooter. They seem like a generic ranged attacker, until you get to their spirit summoning mechanics. Then there’s the Dusk Mage, a wielder of both light and dark magics. Playing as one is forever a balancing act, trying to maintain an equilibrium state that grants a massive damage boost. While these two classes are unique, the last two are in a whole other league. The Forged is a steam-powered robot, which can generate a massive explosion when it overheats. Then there’s the Railmaster. He leads a train across the battlefield. No, really, a freaking train. It’s just as insane as it sounds and not nearly as ridiculous as it seems.
Rounding out classes are relics. You choose one during character creation, and it grants you a third skill tree. Relic skill trees are each associated with a specific element, and give your class some flexibility. You can play with type, like giving your Forged the fire relic or your Sharpshooter the poison one. Or you can go for something more interesting, like a Railmaster with the lightning relic or an icy Dusk Mage. It’s simple, very cool, and gives you a lot of customization options that open up class replayability. You can genuinely play a class completely differently by building one with a different relic. It’s one of this game’s few unique ideas, and it absolutely delivers.
Gameplay is just what you expect from a game made by 90% of the people who created Diablo. Isometric hack and slashing, followed by some inventory management, and then back to mindless slaughter. It’s a gameplay loop that’s old as time at this point, and Echtra has it down to perfection. Compared to other console ARPGS, it’s not as smooth in the action department, but it’s a far cry from the disaster that was Torchlight II on console. I especially missed Diablo III’s action roll, and kept accidentally tilting the right stick expecting some sweet rolls. Still, it’s really fun and probably the only part of the game that’s a genuine improvement over its predecessor.
Then there’s the rest. Maps are small with little room for exploration. The game is super linear, which isn’t that different from others in the genre, but Torchlight III is just more overt about it. Diablo III masked its linearity with a world map that moved you in circles. Torchlight III’s is a straight line, and the whole game just moves from left to right. Dungeons are usually very short and can be finished in minutes. Monster and boss variety per area is pretty small, and the AI ain’t very smart. One of the highlights of Torchlight II was its organic world quests and map objectives, all of which are largely missing from III’s overworld. None of this is game breaking and I’ve played far worse offenders, but it could have been so much better.
While I understand those less than impressed, I still really enjoy Torchlight III. I feel if the game had stuck with its original title, reception would have been totally different. As it stands, it feels like this weird hybrid game, with elements of both Frontiers and a proper Torchlight III haphazardly mashed together. Most blatantly is the fort system, which is your standard mobile timegated building simulator which serves little purpose beyond decoration in the final game. Presumably in the F2P version, it would have been a much bigger feature, both gameplay and monetization wise. Likewise is the Battle Pass that’s now just tacked on and hidden behind a menu as of now. Still, as long as you know what to expect and go in with the right mindset, there’s still so much classic ARPG fun to be had.
While the art style and world design are a highlight, animations and some effects look rough.
Combat is fun, looting is alright, and the classes are inventive and different.
Matt Uelmen is one of the greatest composers in video games and anyone who disagrees is wrong. However, the voice-acting is just terrible.
Fun Factor: 8.0
In short bursts, it’s a really fun game, but overall too shallow for dedicated play. Perfect for those times when you want to play something simple and light.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Torchlight III is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Torchlight III was provided by the publisher.