Of all the Diablo-like derivative works out there, Torchlight has been one of the most successful. Part of that can probably be attributed to how directly a “spiritual successor” it is, adhering to the familiar Diablo elements without getting too wacky. But it’s also because Torchlight arrived with its own vibe: a bright and deep color palette, unique class options, and an overall level of polish the competition hadn’t mustered. When the sequel hit around the same time as Diablo III, it cemented the series as a competitor rather than a “clone.” Then… some weird stuff happened, and somehow Torchlight III came out on the other side.

All things considered, Torchlight III is a pretty solid experience with a lot of personality and interesting ideas. But it’s also apparent this game was not always Torchlight III as it is now, and that previous sense of polish isn’t on the same level as the last one. I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with Torchlight III over a number of hours, and have plenty more content to explore. That said I’m also a little worn out, and don’t see myself jazzed to devour everything here.

Related: First Look at Custom Forts In Torchlight III

I’m not here to rag on the Torchlight Frontiers project; that was an idea that made sense at the time, and frankly fell in line with the Torchlight team’s ultimate goal of ending up at MMO-like territory. But it’s obvious it didn’t come together as a project, and the fanbase seemed to settle in on Torchlight being more traditional than its creators intended. Regardless of what happened, the game we have now is about as traditional as it gets. There’s no local co-op for obvious reasons, but otherwise this is a Torchlight game in as straightforward a manner as the others. You choose between single or multiplayer, create a character, and get to grinding and looting until you can’t take it anymore.

The classes are just as creative as ever, if not more so than before. Each class performs familiar functions, because you can only get so cute with mechanics in a game like this. But the look and feel remains aesthetically creative, from the steampunky robot tank Forged class to the Railmaster, which has a big hammerand literally summons trains. You can still customize your character’s look, and choose a pet to take with you from the jump. 

There are some cool systems at play, aside from the basics. You can find new pets on your travels, and each one comes with a skill of its own. If it’s a new one it gets added to the pool, which you can then equip to your favorite as it levels up and earns more slots. A battle pass-like “contract” menu is a reliable source of fancy rewards. The Fort system gives you an extra dimension of ownership and customization, along with some extra passive bonus opportunities. That’s on top of the multiple skill trees and endless loot waterfall you’ll expect.

I’m really into what’s going on with the pets in Torchlight III. It feels like the non-standard element with the most polish, or the most effective execution. There are tons of different animals and color variants you can find, and the skills all going into a universal pool is great for personalization. The pet feels like a real contributor to the adventure, and not just a pack mule for running items back to town. I wasn’t very far in the game before I had an Alpaca who dabbled in Necromancy, and that’s just a great thing to be able to say.

I’m less enthused by the whole Fort thing. It’s always nice to have a customizable space, but it doesn’t really feel like a good fit here. You can’t exactly interact with things, or manipulate the camera much. Other players can check out your Fort in multiplayer, and there are a few items you can set up to feed. That gives you passive bonuses, such as fire resistance, a percentage boost to loot quality, or extra gold drops. Otherwise you’re just dumping materials into crafting things to place around your space, and unless you just naturally gravitate to this sort of thing there isn’t much incentive to do so.

But that’s just an extra feature you can totally choose to ignore in favor of the core Torchlight III loop. It’s familiar enough if you know these games. You run through a connected series of maps to find your next dungeon, beat everything up, then equip anything good you find. Then you can hop back and forth between your hub or your Fort to sell the excess and dump resources into those passive boost thingies I mentioned earlier. Rinse and repeat forever as the story progresses, throws bigger challenges at you, and those numbers climb and occasionally change color.

My biggest issue here is that the single player balance feels… way off. You aren’t going to get slaughtered or anything, and it’s easy enough to stock up on potions. It isn’t difficulty I ran into as an issue, per se. But progress itself really feels off, specifically when it comes to your own offensive powers. Every enemy, even the little grunts, feel like massive damage sponges. Encounters often feel like they last forever, even just with the random mobs you have to get through between dungeons. And boss fights can just take forever in a way that isn’t challenging. Just… long.

It feels like, perhaps, things just didn’t scale comfortably between multiplayer and single player. I felt like my own defenses and survivability were reasonable enough, but the damage I gave out versus the enemies’ health pools were not. I would face a boss, have no problem weaving around it and landing several hits, then look at its life bar and realize how long I would have to stand there and wail on the thing to take it down. This would be fine if I had other plates tagging along and being added damage sources. But single player, which is separated from multiplayer, sometimes felt like a war of attrition against my own attention span.

Honestly if that’s something that ends up adjusted with further post-launch tweaking I can see Torchlight III being a pretty fulfilling single player ARPG. The boss fights are pretty interesting otherwise, with multiple entry points for additional mobs, phases that see them add new attacks, and really fun rewards (big ol’ treasure chests the size of a small house!). I just don’t think I’m getting anything from wailing on a boss for ages when I clearly have its number already. Even when I was a few levels over the mobs and bosses I was fighting, I would find myself discouraged from wanting to explore the maps for that reason.

Balance issues aside, the other problems I ran into were largely technical, but nothing severe. Just kind of a jerky frame rate, and some confusing UI and menu control elements. The options menu also seemed oddly slight, especially with respect to accessibility options. That’s a problem in 2020, especially for a game so heavy on text and colors. Also, not being able to use the same character between single and multiplayer feels unusually restrictive, and not having a local co-op option makes that stand out more. 

Torchlight III is a totally adequate action RPG and absolutely feels like a new Torchlight game. Anyone worried about weird, holdover free to play elements or significant jank from the project changing directions needn’t be worried. However, there are still signs of time restraints, hopefully some of them addressable with updates. Obviously my biggest problem is a pretty specific balance issue, which could be too subjective for a patch. I don’t know! But between that, and other little snags here and there, and we aren’t looking at an experience as gratifying as Torchlight II. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a good game here, but it does mean there’s a lot of room for improvement.


Pros:

  • Cool classes and creative skills
  • Pets feel like a more substantive part of the gameplay

Cons:

  • Balance feels off in single player, particularly with enemy HP pools
  • Some performance jank and rudimentary options/accessibility
  • Fort feature feels shallow

Score: 8

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.