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June 2021

Torchlight III

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Perfect World
Developer: Echtra Games
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2020


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PC Review - 'Torchlight III'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 5, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Set in the same universe as Torchlight I and II, Torchlight III is a shared-world action-RPG bringing back many of the franchise’s signature features and mechanics that captured the hearts of ARPG fans around the world.

The last time we looked at a Torchlight game for the PC, it was different from past entries. Instead of being on a big storefront like Steam, it had its own game launcher from Perfect World. Instead of being called Torchlight III, it was known as Torchlight Frontiers. The biggest change was that instead of being a game with a fixed cost, it was supposed to be a free-to-play title. That's all changed now, as the game is on Steam with a launch price of $39.99, though not too many may be happy with the end result.

The story takes place roughly a century after the events of Torchlight II. The peace that was won all those years ago is starting to come apart because the barriers protecting the Clockwork Heart are breaking. The land of Novastraia is being invaded by goblin hordes, while a malevolent force and her three daughters are gathering significant magical elements to raise more chaos. As a rookie adventurer, you fight against the goblins and become part of the bigger adventure.

It feels mean to say, but the effort expended on the narrative feels like it has gone to waste. Part of that is due to the cut scenes, which feel subpar from a perceived lack of effort. Voices play over static pictures, while camera pans fake animation. You might see an arm move, but it's more of a fade between poses as opposed to actual movement. The heavy lifting in the narrative is done by audio logs for characters you'll barely associate with and quest-givers that you never bond with. The approach can work if the initial premise is interesting, but the game is somewhat generic, so this narrative approach doesn't help matters.

Torchlight III starts with the player choosing between one of four classes, which is one more class than in the old alpha release. The dusk mage is a typical and familiar magic user that uses both light and dark magic, and the trick is to use both together for balance. The forged is a robot melee class that can wield any weapon but has a built-in gun in their chest. Unlike in the alpha, there's no need to vent built-up heat, so you can save heat-based attacks for more opportune times. The railmaster is only responsible for building tracks to determine the path of your automatically firing cart cannon. If you're fond of kiting enemies and trying something different, this is likely your initial choice. Finally, the sharpshooter is the previously unknown fourth class and is essentially a ranger that needs to cool down occasionally to refill their ammo stash.

Choosing a relic is next, and you select one of five elements that govern supplemental moves. Most are based on elements, so using fire- or electricity-based attacks will be instantly familiar. The one that's different deals with blood, as all of your attacks are made with bleeding in mind since that helps you to recover health.

This is where the problems begin, as the game assumes that you're intimately familiar with Torchlight's inner mechanics. For starters, you never see the relic abilities until you're at the confirmation screen. The descriptions are vague for many abilities, with an emphasis on stats versus abilities on the field. You might think that the abilities are a small sample of what you can do, but that's actually the entirety of your abilities, so the skill tree feels small compared to Torchlight III's contemporaries — as well as the earlier entries in the series. Finally, you can't unlock some of the early powers until you've made a decent amount of progress, and there's no easy way to change your chosen relic. Re-specing the characters requires an item that's extremely rare in the world, so your best bet is to start over and experiment until you find the right combo. It can be a daunting task, considering the time sink needed.

Get through all of that, and you'll find a familiar action/RPG formula at work. Take your chosen character and go out into the field, hacking and slashing and blasting away at every foe from an isometric viewpoint. Killing enemies gets you some XP and gold, but the payouts can feel small. The real rewards come from the dropped loot. From magic staffs to two-handed weapons and armor, there's a bevy of loot popping up at a constant cadence. The loot is tailored, so you won't obtain stuff meant for another class. During multiplayer games, there's no opportunity to steal loot, so there's no race to find and unlock treasure chests first. Each piece of loot occupies one square, and you have a limited number of slots to carry stuff. That's where your pet comes into play, as you can offload loot to them and have them shuttle it back to town to sell without you.

The inclusion of pets is certainly welcome, but some may find that their involvement makes the game too easy. You can't change the behavior of your pet, so no matter which animal you pick, it'll always attack aggressively and fires off abilities whenever possible. That might seem problematic, except that pets rarely get hit and you don't have to worry about healing or reviving them. Their damage output is significant, so they're invaluable in taking down mobs and bosses. The minute you get group healing, you'll fill up your potion reserves rather quickly, as healing comes in quite often. Provided you're always aware of your health and not playing carelessly, you'll rarely be caught in a situation where you need to run away and buy yourself some time before attacking again. Due to the effectiveness of the pets, you'd have to bump up the game difficulty to at least "Hard" if you want a more challenging experience.

The campaign lasts about 15 hours across three major realms. While the environments change within those realms, there's little enemy variety, so expect to fight hordes of goblins, rats and skeletons for a good chunk of the campaign before it changes to insects. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the enemies rushing at you without regard for their well-being or not moving out of the way then you approach them. Few enemies do something different, but those encounters are infrequent, while boss fights also feel repetitive because they cycle through similar attacks and have minions to soak up the damage. As for the endgame, there's Fazeer's Dun'djinn. After picking out a set of parameters like monster type and other modifiers, you go through a seemingly endless set of procedural dungeons to grab better loot. It works well enough given the randomness at play, and it's a decent alternative to replaying the campaign.

The developers have made some big changes since the game was still known as Torchlight Frontiers, and the results vary. Gone are the side-quests, so you can't get more XP without repeating mob kills. The game abandons the idea of jumping into any map from the get-go, opting instead for a traditional linear approach. The linearity means that you aren't resetting levels between maps, and you don't need to hoard the gear unless you intend to start another character with the same class.

There are a few holdovers from the free-to-play blueprint that backfire with this classic approach. The randomness of the level layouts only occurs when you reboot the game, and the gradual reveal of the map, the need to re-defeat monsters and bosses, and hearing the same audio logs is only beneficial for those who want to grind for XP and not those who want to reach the next area. The fort is perhaps the most noticeable thing, since it serves little purpose. The only useful things are the ability to change out pets, customize your hero's look once your gear is set, and feed useless items to a tree that'll permanently increase your luck. Otherwise, the idea of decorating the place is only appealing late in the game. Likewise, the fact that a good chunk of your loot consists of customization pieces with some fort decorations feels like a waste, especially in the single-player mode because no one will ever see your place. The harvesting of materials also feels like a time waste. At least all of those things don't take up precious equipment slots, so the feature isn't detrimental to the overall game.

The multiplayer is an online-only affair, so those who were hoping for local co-op are going to be disappointed. That may not be a deal-breaker for PC-only players, but a bigger problem lies in the fact that after agonizing over your character build, they can't cross over. Make a character in single-player, and you'll have to restart the process when playing multiplayer. Progress doesn't carry over, either, and neither does your fort progress and storage. It's archaic if you're the type of player who likes playing both modes, since other games have already figured out the benefit of having characters accessible throughout the whole game. It becomes yet another obstacle in the game.

Unlike previous entries, the PC version was released alongside the console versions, and one of the benefits is the PC version now has controller support. That's great for those using their PC on the TV, but it would've been nice if the UI sizing feature worked because the interface's text is practically unreadable. Also, the controls can't be customized whether you're using a gamepad or keyboard and mouse. There are a few options to fine-tune some actions with the mouse, such as behavior when targeting enemies, but it's odd to lack the ability to replace some keyboard functionality, since that's expected from games in the genre.

Presentation-wise, it's good enough. The music and sound effects are nice, which is great since you'll get used to hearing lots of enemy cries and deaths. The voice acting is also good, but you'll dislike the talking bosses because they repeat the same lines to telegraph every attack. Graphically, the game exhibits a style that's only a little more refined than in the second installment, but that works to its benefit since it means that it'll look fine even on lower-powered machines.

Torchlight III is fine but only if you don't have too many expectations. Ignoring the many elements of the old free-to-play formula that still remain, the game is relatively unchanged from the first and second entries, which can disappoint those looking for improvements. It's a simpler action/RPG, and it's good for those who might want to get their feet wet with the genre but don't want to do so with an older game. Genre veterans, on the other hand, might not be too impressed with what they see.

Score: 6.5/10

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