PREVIEW: Torchlight III

Aug
10

PREVIEW: Torchlight III

I hate to love it.

Released: Steam Early Access
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Developer: Echtra Inc.
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Release date: 13 Jun, 2020

Overview

Torchlight is an interesting franchise, going from a well received single player experience to the “Diablo killer” with Torchlight 2 back in 2012, taking advantage of Diablo 3’s extremely messy launch and lackluster experience at the asking AAA price. Torchlight 2 had a great popularity boom due to it and is still played a lot currently – even I revisit it occasionally.

Torchlight Frontiers then comes along, announced in 2018 and it looked like a Torchlight game but most people seemed rather skeptical at the time, and rightfully so (especially after the original developer studio, Runic, was closed) due to the Free-to-Play model and a different studio at the hands of Perfect World.

“Wait, I thought this was a preview of Torchlight 3?”

Why, yes it is! Torchlight Frontiers ditched F2P and renamed itself Torchlight 3 a while ago and after the really interesting trailer during the spring gaming events, I was hooked on the concept of expanding Torchlight 2 and adding what was my favorite part – the Fort system (which I’ll discuss later).

This review will talk about the state of the game before the Relic Update wipe (the wipe will erase all progress in the game for all players), about 2 months post-release of Early Access.

Gameplay

Torchlight 3 still manages to feel like Torchlight (as it should) with significant improvements personally due to the possibility of choosing between WASD movement or through clicking/holding with the mouse, the latter being far more traditional for this genre.

After your movement system of choice is picked, you’re off! After a rather short (but well done) tutorial, you start in the first town which serves as a hub – you’ll see a lot of other online players at the same time, something that reminded me of Path of Exile. After taking the starting quests, you’re finally let loose in the level based open world that Torchlight usually does so well.

And to be fair, Torchlight 3 is no exception, from forests to swamps or even more desert or shoreline looking environments, levels are very open and expansive and also are worth exploring in order to not only get loot and kill the level specific bosses (and elites) for better gear, but also to mine ores and chop wood for resources for your Fort.

Before touching the Fort, it’s important to discuss the quality of what you’ll be doing for pretty much the entire Torchlight experience – fighting. As someone who likes ARPG’s quite a lot and has a fair experience with Torchlight 2 (played through it once) I found Torchlight 3’s combat to be really fun, even more so than Torchlight 2’s. This is a double edged sword for two reasons:

– The synergies and the visual effects of the combat are fantastic and make you feel like a badass after only a handful of hours in, which I never felt was the case with the previous game. I managed to blend my sharpshooter with a Lightning Relic that enabled me to rain lightning when hitting shocked enemies (and I was using a shock weapon), which on death would release lightning projectiles to the vicinity and shock more enemies… you can probably tell how awesome this felt, and it sure as hell did!

– On the other hand… combat was simplified to the very restrictive amount of skills, reducing the overall variety of builds for each class compared to Torchlight 2, I feel. In the previous game I was constantly on my toes reading and picking new skills and improving character stats (you can no longer do the latter in this game) so that I could try new and different things that sounded fun without breaking my character and having something doomed to death in the late game stages. In Torchlight 3 that is hardly the case as you have barely any skills to choose from – as a Sharpshooter I only had about 12 skills to choose and half just either weren’t exciting or looked too similar to other skills so the build variety for classes (generalizing here since I mostly played the Sharpshooter) seems extremely reduced in comparison.

Overall, Torchlight 3 does simplify the formula too much but what it does it does really well and it’s a really enjoyable version of Torchlight.

Sadly, that’s what it also feels like – a barebones version of a Torchlight game, and I can completely see more hardcore Torchlight fans being very disappointed with how simplified and basic TL3 feels in comparison 2 or even 1.

The game also suffers from odd design decisions in terms of environment pacing – the first act has barely any enemy variety mostly being skeletons and spiders for the entire Act, which lasted me about 7 hours. Act 2 then changed scenery and enemies a lot so it’s a great change of pace but the acts overall suffer from this “seen it once, seen it all” throughout their playthrough and may render the game far more repetitive than it should, especially due to the smaller build and gameplay variety due to reduced skills and the removal of character stats like the previous game had.

Now, I hyped the Fort system for a bit so let’s discuss that – after the tutorial you’ll clear out a partially destroyed Fort and when returning the quest you’ll receive the Fort itself which you can then customize with dozens, if not hundreds of items! These go from wooden plank pathways to workshop items for crafting and so on…
It feels very much like a customize-your-own house like The Sims or Fallout 76’s C.A.M.P system but it’s also a lot more lackluster in comparison – the only way to get new items is by collecting blueprints which you can then “learn” except you’ll need an extensive amount of time (dozens of hours) before you can get remotely interesting stuff so one of the big selling points of the game (at least the trailers seemed to do that for me) is pretty much nonexistent until you grind the hell out of the game until you can even get WALLS! It’s insane how the Fort customization progression is designed and it needs a re-balance, in my opinion. Despite that, the game is really fun so grinding for those items isn’t an issue for me but the Fort should still be remotely interesting to the player from the get-go and the starter items really don’t motivate you to care. This further screws up the hubs of the game… all forts are ugly, barebones and boring to look at so why should you? As such, forts are usually lifeless and without players visiting and they just stroll through to the next level for the fun part – the gameplay and the grind.

The game also commits the sin of being always online (yes, no single player during the EARLY ACCESS phase – it will be playable offline ON RELEASE) during the early access period, further causing frustration due to noticeable lag occasionally and server disconnects even when playing alone: this happens far too frequently in order to not be noticeable and more than just an occasional annoyance. Enemies standing still doing nothing, damage numbers not popping and going from unresponsive controls to dead in a nanosecond – it’s really not a fun experience when this happens which happened far more than I’d like to admit. If you’re going to release it in an online-only state, the servers should be working and responding properly at nearly all times and that isn’t the case with Torchlight 3 – if this issue isn’t fixed, TL3 will be an inconsistent experience on release when played in co-op.

Torchlight 3 is in Early Access and bugs aren’t shy to pop up and annoy you, from visual to functional – the Fort suffering from this. Enemies will get stuck, adding new Fort items works but previewing sometimes makes them invisible so you can’t preview until you place them and you have to quit and open the Fort menu multiple times since this bug occurs almost every new item added to the Fort.

Overall, Torchlight 3 is buggy, has unreliable server stability, simplifies too much the Torchlight formula and has odd design choices concerning not only build variety but also enemy and environment variety. The gameplay is, however, phenomenal and I still really adore playing it despite having frequent frustration outbursts at the bugs or the server hiccups, not to mention the Fort and gameplay bugs. This is a very hard game to recommend due to all the issues around it but I can still vouch for the fun experience it is, definitely worth keeping an eye on its progression and release state.

Graphics and Audio

Torchlight 3 looks barely improved compared to Torchlight 2 and is far more demanding, with really odd performance tanks during mildly heavy combat sections so it definitely needs some stability and performance optimizations. The art style looks as good as it always did, pulling off the “cartoony” yet detailed style spectacularly and the effects during combat look better than ever for the franchise, making the combat feel really good as well.

Graphical options are extensive so you can tweak the game to run on lower end PC’s at a fluid 60+ FPS without trouble, despite the performance issues. Quest and UI design are the same as the previous game, but with odd changes – you can only bind 6 skills so if you decide you want to run more than that amount of skills, your experience will be very poor since you’ll have to switch between skills in the hotbar frequently, to the point that you’ll likely quit soon enough and focus on 6 skills only, like I did. A very unfortunate design decision, in my opinion. The Fort menu is also lackluster, splitting itself in a few category with no search option so players with lots of buildable items will suffer a bit trying to find the objects they want to place.

As far as audio, it is really well done – all sound effects are great and enhance the feel of the combat further which is something the previous games already did really well. The little voice acting there is is solid and fits the medieval/fantasy setting of Torchlight and the music and ambient sounds are as great as ever, I still prefer Torchlight 2’s soundtrack though. Overall the audio component of TL3 is the one with little to no problems but the rest of the technical department could use a couple patches to iron out a few issues.

Conclusion and Final Note

I think it it important to mention again that this review was written based on my experience before the Relic Update Wipe. My saves, characters and general progression are being wiped and all players will have to start the game all over as the Relic re-work fundamentally will change how you start your game so the wipe is an extreme yet understandable decision. If you want to buy the game and play it right away, do so after August 11th which is when the patch/wipe will be applied to the game. UPDATE INFO

As for the game in its current state, it is massively flawed in pretty much all components but it is still an extremely fun game to play. Despite being a lot of fun, I cannot recommend it at the current 29,99€ price tag as it still feels to be in a very Early Access stage due to amount of bugs, poor design decisions and performance issues paired with some disappointing features and (overly) streamlined gameplay design for veterans of the franchise.

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