I myself have never played a Torchlight game before. Turns out that for me, and people like me who are new to the light-hearted dungeon-crawler video game franchise, that might be a good thing when it comes to Torchlight III. The fantasy ARPG (action role-playing game) title with easy-to-learn hack-and-slash combat and hot-keyed skills doesn’t exactly spark with ingenuity or reinvention, but it’s a solidly crafted casual game with plenty of customization and cartoonish hijinks for players to pick up and enjoy. But for the more hardcore ARPG players out there, T3 doesn’t do much to reignite an interest in the Torchlight franchise.
Originally developed by Runic Games and published by Perfect World back in 2009, the first game in the franchise hailed from creators of titles like Fate and the Diablo franchise; clearly they knew a thing or two about addictive ARPGs, including just how much players care about companion pets. A Torchlight sequel arrived in 2012, followed in part by an announcement of an MMORPG dubbed Torchlight Frontiers. Fast-forward more than a decade from the original game to the arrival of Torchlight III, an evolution of Frontiers that is now out of Early Access and available on PC, Xbox One, and the PS4 (coming to the Switch later this fall — October 22nd to be exact — with some exclusives). It hails from devs at American studio Echtra Games (comprised of some of the creative DNA of Runic) and publisher Perfect World Entertainment, but does the latest installment do enough to revitalize the franchise in a very competitive market?
For yours truly, my introduction to Torchlight III was a rushed and rowdy introduction to the franchise itself. The intro cut scene, presumably encapsulating the overall story of the previous two games, brings players up to speed in slapdash fashion. Fans of the franchise and players of existing Torchlight games will be a step ahead in this regard. The catch is this: It doesn’t really matter. The story isn’t much more than a paper-thin tropey fantasy tale of warriors vs goblins and creatures of the night, and you don’t really need to know more than that to enjoy the surface level-experience of Torchlight III. Pick a hero, pick a pet, pick up your gear (and early introductory quests) and go out and explore the world.
There’s something to be said about the simplicity and ease of access into Torchlight III. I knew I wouldn’t have time to fully explore the entire game before launch, so I opted to check out each of the hero classes (and a smattering of their subclass powers, granted by Relics) instead. That was a pretty smart decision, if I do say so myself, because it highlighted one of the standout features of this game: Torchlight III may be light on character models and cosmetic customization, but it’s deep enough on playstyle variety to make multiple playthroughs more pleasant than painful.
Want to be a steampunk-styled robot (The Forged) with fire abilities to support your coal-shooting chest gun? Awesome, do it! That’s what I did for my main playthrough. But there’s also the Sharpshooter (which I paired with ice powers), a Dusk Mage (paired with Blooddrinker) and a Railmaster (paired with Electrode); keep in mind that you can mix and match any of these Relics — including the poisonous Bane chalice — with any of the hero classes.
These last two subclasses are perhaps the most unique: The former boasts typical mage skills (and attributes; they’re best paired with the surprisingly tanky Alpaca pet companion in the early going) plus a starter “Digitus” weapon, a sort of spectral claw that reaches out to do extended-ranged melee damage. For me, I was most looking forward to playing as the Railmaster (so much so that I tried it on Ridiculous difficulty, the hardest setting; more on that in a moment). This also-steampunky character wields a giant hammer and lays a section of track behind them wherever they walk. Why? So that their increasingly long and powered-up choo-choo train can follow along and deal damage to enemies, sort of like a second companion. It sounds good in theory, is absolutely silly to watch in practice, and probably isn’t super useful until you’ve leveled it and yourself up a few times.
A note on pet companions: They’re adorable. Moving on. No, the pets are great and provide useful support bonuses, which are also customizable in their own skill tree. Thankfully, when a pet takes too much damage in combat, they simply run away and hide until their cooldown timer ticks down and they return to your side. They’re particularly helpful at the higher difficulties — though Ridiculous didn’t seem all that different or difficult in the early goings — and will likely be as important to your loadout as your main character, skill sets, and weapons / gear themselves. You can also adopt new pets along the way by freeing pets in the wild from their captivity in boss battles. That’s a nice bonus to one of the best parts of the game.
Torchlight III has a wonderfully cartoonish world and character designs. The boss battles are a highlight of these, boasting some of the biggest and boldest designs in the game while also giving you a few more minutes to enjoy them on screen than a normal hack-and-slash routing of a goblin troop. The downside is that the game’s camera setup and combat mechanics make it difficult to actually see what you’re fighting in any detail; if you zoom in or push pause to check them out, you’re going to get pummeled. That’s a shame, as is the inability to rotate the camera around your character, which is at worst a minor frustration. It’s just that Torchlight III has such a vivid and detailed world that I want to see more of it, and the game, counterintuitively, prevents that.
One area where this frustration continues is in the otherwise solid fort-building section. After progressing through a portion of the tutorial missions, you get to set up and establish your own custom fort. It’s a nice feeling that, after a hard day spent adventuring, you and your pet can return home to your cozy (or not, your choice!) confines to rest and recuperate, or gear up once more for glorious battle. It also comes with plenty of cosmetics to buy and place in your fort, along with ample storage for the many and varied loots you’ll pick up along the way. It’s a dungeon crawler, after all; you’d better make room for my loots!
Torchlight III is best made for fans of the franchise who want another round of lite dungeon crawling or for newcomers to the ARPG subgenre who want an easy foot in the door before graduating to tougher challenges. It’s a game I’ll casually pick up on a whim from time to time just to explore a new area, see if I get a legendary loot drop to complete a set, or just tool around as a burning coal-shooting steampunk robot for kicks. At $40, two-thirds of a full-priced AAA title, that should take any lingering sting out of things. It’s fun and it’s fine, even if it’s perhaps a little too friendly. (And yes, there’s a multiplayer component to the game as well as dedicated endgame content dubbed Fazeer’s Dun’ Jinn, but unfortunately that will have to wait for a follow-up review once my robot — named Panama VanHalen, if you were interested — and his trusty golden retriever make their way to the journey’s end.)