Since it never hurts to be honest, I should say upfront here that Echtra Games’ decision to radically retool Torchlight III from a F2P MMO to a buy-to-play multiplayer experience greatly disappointed me. I saw a lot of potential for this franchise in the massively multiplayer space, but I was also willing to give this reworked — and now, officially launched — game a try on its own merits.
At launch, Torchlight III offers four classes: the Dusk Mage, the Forged, the Railmaster, and the Sharpshooter. I went with the Railmaster because the idea of having your own pet train trailing behind seemed novel enough.
You’re not going to find the most robust character creator here, but at least there are some options like switching your gender, picking out your hairstyle, and selecting your relic skill set (which is matched with your class’ two established skill sets to make your own personal hybrid). I was slightly put out by the fact that you can’t spin your character around, but I did like how the female Railmaster is boasting a serious set of muscles on a slightly stocky frame. Coming from MMOs where all female characters have to have pin-up dimensions, this is a welcome change of pace.
There are a few other options — pets, difficulty levels — but soon enough and I was off to the races!
One very good sign of a well-designed game is that its interface and design is intuitive rather than overwhelming or obscure, and in this, Torchlight III acquits itself well. The UI is a minimalistic as it needs to be, and all of the menu pages are easy to understand and navigate. Right away, I was laying down rails for my little pet train car and smiling like any kid who used to have fond dreams of a model train paradise in their basement.
Another thing I noticed right out of the gate is that Torchlight III is brimming with that trademark Torchlight personality. If you thought Diablo III was too bright and cheery, well, play this for a while and go back to enjoy the contrast of perspective. The gobbos are adorable and goofy, the color palette popping without venturing into neon territory, and every map is chock-full of little bits of eye candy to enjoy.
Of course, the core of any ARPG is its combat, and if Torchlight III didn’t get this right, any other details would be for naught. My verdict? It’s… adequate? That’s damning it with faint praise, but that’s also all I can muster at this time. Combat works, but it’s not nearly as snappy as I found in Diablo III. There’s something slightly off and slightly awkward about fighting that kept me from feeling like I was getting into that groove — and the lackluster sound effects weren’t helping matters, either.
That said, I was happily puttering around exploring the map, attacking different camps, and being the glad recipient of any loot explosions that so happened to go off in my vicinity. It was fun to slot my Bane relic and summon a ghost spider as a bonus pet, too. And speaking of pets, by the time I had finished my tutorial, I had looted three additional pets from bosses to go with my faithful golden retriever. That was pretty neat.
I do wish that the game would fade away structures that get between the camera and your character, however. Torchlight III elects to use outlines instead, and often I lost visual track on what was going on during these moments.
It’s clear to me that the move away from an MMO has hurt the game’s changes to forge a more involved community. As of right now, there are no guilds in the game, so any connections you’re going to make with others will either be shouting in the hub chat, forming a PUG, or hooking up with a Steam friend or two.
(By the way, Echtra, I really don’t appreciate that you use my Steam name instead of my character name for chat. That’s always super-annoying and kind of defeats the purpose of character names in the first place!)
At least the game was more flexible when it came to the other hallmark of ARPGs: loot. I was delighted to discover that I could equip pretty much any weapon or piece of gear I found, so I had some fun experimenting with different loadouts. I’m sure there are incentives to staying in your class’ lane, but kudos for giving us the option, at least.
Another fun option is the choice of contracts. These are reward tracks that progress, as far as I can tell, from fighting and questing and whatever else you typically do. However, you can pick either an adventurer’s contact, a crafter’s contract, or a homesteader’s contract to earn rewards in the area of the game you most enjoy.
I continually got the nagging sense that Torchlight III isn’t fully formed quite yet. This doesn’t come from huge bugs or glaring design holes but rather smaller things that point to a lack of polish. One such example would be the lack of consistent map and minimap markers for quests. Sometimes the game shows you where you should be going, but often it simply doesn’t, leaving me to wander the map until I stumble upon whatever lair or objective I need.
At least it’s a pretty map with some fun details to discover and “clickies” (such as cannons that fire) that offer amusing interactions.
Torchlight III’s marquee feature is its fort system, which is part virtual dollhouse and part functional base. In this, at least, I’m pretty impressed. Despite it only existing on one plane due to the camera angle, the fort itself is extremely flexible in how you can design and arrange it. Everything, down to the pavement stones and individual mushrooms, can be moved, deleted, and rotated until you make the place truly yours. Add in the ability to create useful structures, such as a pet shelter or a sawmill, and now you have a reason to return here more often than not!
As I told MOP’s Bree when we were sharing our mutual experiences from the past week on the MOP Podcast, I never felt like playing Torchlight III was a burden or a responsibility for this article. I really did enjoy myself for the most part, even if I never did get sucked in as deeply as I would have hoped. Maybe after more time has gone by and Echtra has a chance to polish this up and flesh it out a bit more, Torchlight III will click-click for me in a way that it isn’t right now.