There’s a lot of things that can happen in a game’s life cycle. We’ve seen first-hand how subscription-based MMOs struggle to keep itself relevant and eventually switch to the more accessible free-to-play models. I was even recently reminded on one of the most controversial games of the decade that started development as an MMO only to be released as a single-player experience. And Torchlight III is just one of the more recent to follow the shift in its development.
Torchlight 3 (previously known as Torchlight Frontiers) was first announced as a free-to-play title back in August 2018 which features the MMO-like aspects that come with it. Although it eventually saw its rebranding on January 2020 where it would soon find its way on early access five months later. Fast-forward to October of the same year, and we find ourselves with the fully-fleshed out game but similar to the previous entry, it’s still barely the MMO it hopes to be.
One World, Four Heroes and a Whole Lot of Goblins!
Torchlight III follows the most generic plot of any RPG. A world in danger, a greater evil waiting to be released and four heroes to stand in its way. Now while there’s nothing wrong with this kind of setting, the detached storytelling that is often portrayed with still images and voice-overs is something that could’ve at least been handled better considering the almost decade-old gap between its previous entry.
Between the three major acts in the game, it’s often a struggle to understand the reason behind clicking on goblin heads other than clicking on goblin heads because they are in fact, goblins. Its linear and predictable progression didn’t help either in making myself engrossed with its world. From the world map that is pretty much a beeline from one area to the next to the lack of side quests to keep me distracted. There’s not enough meat to its bare-bones world that by the time I reached the final encounter, I was simply baffled that it was actually over.
But probably the biggest low blow is its character creation not to mention its eventual skill-building. From the get-go, you get to choose from four different characters. The Sharpshooter which is the stereotypical archer, the Dusk Mage which handles both light and dark magic, the Forged which is a mechanical robot with a gun mounted on its chest and the Railmaster which incorporates making train tracks for your train friend. Each one of them has two sets of abilities like the Sharpshooter that has archer-like skills on one side and summoning-type skills on the other.
However, you also get to lock in (emphasis on lock-in) your desired relic which is basically a third set of skills filled with passive and active abilities that can define how you play the character that you’ve barely met. This puts a lot of pressure into the initial phase of the game while also making it difficult to get to know the character afterwards as refunding abilities require a rare resource called respectacles that only returns one skill point peruse. Something that even after end-game can still take a while to get.
Though once you get past those initial hurdles, the game is by far an enjoyable one that really gives the game its life through the colourful and vibrant tone and the dopamine-infused gameplay and loots. While this might not have the most robust of skill-building or the amount of unique loot that other games might have, there’s a lot to love here for its casual theme that just about anyone can enjoy. Although it does suck that local co-op is not a thing here when other games like Diablo III and many other games of the genre does.
Forts… Customizable yet Forgettable
One new addition to the Torchlight formula is its customizable forts where you can fully customize to your heart’s content and as a fan of block-building and survival games, I was initially pleased to the idea. However, it didn’t go beyond as nothing more than that.
While it does have its worth for housing your crafting workshops, pet shelters, stash and other functional structures, one of the more common necessities like buying potions would still need to be done in the town which is only a portal and a loading screen away. But it still leaves me a bit confused as to why they removed the pet’s ability to buy potions for you despite still knowing how to sell pieces of gear. And by the end of the game, you’ll mostly be in your fort anyway to take part in the newly added Fazeer’s Dun’djinn so it feels a bit counter-productive to not have an easy way to restock on potions.
While on the topic of end-game, Fazeer’s Dun’djinn is Torchlight III’s endless dungeon and only end-game content so far that incorporates procedurally generated dungeons and a card system that has its own set of positive and negative effects to which you can choose one from the three available. From things like reducing your maximum view to doubling enemy health bars while positive effects can range from increasing your relic energy generation or giving you 50% more gear luck to get those sweet legendaries.
This provides an interesting way to not only grind for gear but also to keep itself fresh with different modifiers and provide a steady increase in difficulty as each challenge level is cleared. However, this also sets its own drawbacks for a game that has barely enough content to support its end-game loop. Since there’s not a lot of tile sets, enemies and bosses, after a while it becomes repetitive and uninteresting. Some tile sets even offer a very limited amount of enemies with an ever smaller map size such as fighting the mechanical robots where you’re tasked with collecting item drops to unlock the boss room but since the map size is very limited, it also meant that there are a couple of times that the challenge was not the enemy itself but getting enough of the items to unlock the portal leading to the next stage.
The game also felt rushed and unfinished for the most part. Aside from the limited amount of content, the game is littered with bugs and terrible design choices. Contracts for example which is essentially your battle pass-like progression system where you gain items through increasing your fame would often refuse to work half the time until you exit the game and back to it. The main problem I have here is after a certain amount of time, contracts refuse to be scrolled through or whenever I misclicked and go into contracts I would often need to close the menu to back out before I go back to what I originally planned on doing.
The game also stutters from time to time which is not astounding as the way I play makes it pretty much impossible to see what the hell is going on with all the particle effects and the number of monsters and summoned creatures on screen. And it doesn’t help that even the sound effects aside from being really annoyingly loud with its lightning can break apart with everything that’s going on. And that’s with just one character on screen, imagine what would happen on co-op… thankfully there’s not a lot of players playing on the multiplayer side of things and when there is, they’re either at a different difficulty level or refuse to join up.
Torchlight 3 is under a rocky start. There’s the bland and outdated storytelling from a decade-old system to the rough and confusing way to introduce new players with its commitment-heavy character creation not to mention the many remnants of its free-to-play mechanics from contracts that refuses to work to the absurdly low gold cap and detached player base. In more ways than one, it’s hard to recommend the game in its current state despite still being pretty fun in its own way. While in time it can be better, right now it’s not worth more than the free-to-play level that it was supposed to be.
Torchlight 3 is available on Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
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