What a bizarre turn of events. While developing Torchlight 2, Perfect World Entertainment invested 8.4 million dollars into Runic Games, both for acquiring a majority control over the studio and in order to create a Torchlight MMO. This was an idea even the original developers had been tinkering with, but this led to Travis Baldree and Erich Schafer leaving Runic Games in 2014, since they wanted to work on smaller projects instead. Meanwhile, Max Schafer stayed behind and tried to rethink the plans for making a Torchlight MMO, but even he seemed to be struggling from what I can tell.
After the team at Runic Games got to release Hob, Max ended up leaving the company alongside other programmers and founded Echtra Games. Which was also under Perfect World. After this strange development, the team started working on a mobile take on the franchise called Torchlight Frontiers, before rebranding it to Torchlight 3. Schafer stated that; “Torchlight Frontiers was meant to be a true successor to Torchlight I and II”, which is why changes were made. You can tell what a messy development this turned out to be, and this perfectly summarises Torchlight 3 as well: it is a mess.
After defeating the netherlord in the previous title, a century has passed and the netherims are threatening our world once again. This is the game’s plot, and as you can tell by how quickly it is to summarise, it is not a grand one at all. However, Torchlight 3 treats its events as significantly important, despite none of them developing anything. Every single element is told through cheap presentation or repetitive flavour texts, making the story become tedious and underwhelming. This can be especially awkward, when you go from hours without anything reminding you on what you are fighting for, to suddenly having a boss fight with a villain that is somehow connected to the plot.
This title is heavily focused on telling the player about ongoing events instead of showcasing them, to the point where it can all feel forced. This comes from the problematic cliches found in general MMOs, where you have to go by written text for something meaningful instead of visual storytelling. Even then, the bunch of texts implemented could have been either severely cut down or removed for stating the obvious. There is not even any form of interesting cultures or personalities to witness anywhere, making the world itself become bleak.
Then there are the quests tied to the overall plot and the minor side activities, where neither have any interesting setups to them. You need to find materials to make soldiers prepared for fights and move further on in order to take down the threats. That is it. I hate how imposed this story is, as the game could have been without one or at least simplified what it had. It is a strange middle ground where this entry wants to be as light as a mobile game and simultaneously as massive as a MMO. It somehow accomplishes this, but without compromising for either aspects and turns into a chore to pay attention to. Not even the steampunk style saves this world from being an utter waste of space.
Story Score: 1.5/10
The worst ruleset ever
Torchlight 3 tricks the player by being very similar in both its genre and concepts to the previous instalments. You choose one of four classes to play as, each coming with unique skills, some minor customisable aspects, and a pet familiar of your choosing. There are some creativity added in this loot-based ARPG, with the most interesting class being the railmaster. This conductor utilises powerful swings of his weapon and can summon a train for support that can be expanded upon with more wagons. While the rest are rather traditional in comparison, the sharpshooter using ranged attacks and animals for help, the dusk mage casting light and dark magic, and the forged being a robotic fighter, are all intriguing too.
With your chosen class, you will have two skill trees unique to them, as well as having to choose one of five relic trees that provides an elemental effect. This could have been a neat idea for creating some diversity with ice or fire powers for example, but these relic skills are the same for each class and with how limited each is in customisation in general, this idea does not add much for experimentation. It should be noted that this concept is not implemented without a lack of trying, as the relics have their own pool that fills up as you kill enemies for using their abilities, while all of the classes have their own take on a meter that affects their use of personal skills.
For example, the dusk mage has a traditional mana pool and will go into hyper mode if you alternate enough between using dark and light magic, while the forged has an overheating meter that comes with pros and cons. This is a clever idea for making the skills more unique between the classes. Sadly, they are still just different forms of restricting overpowered use of skills and not fleshed out enough to make them interesting. Upgrading your character is just as unremarkable, as the stats are automatically increased for each class and overly simplified with attack, defence, and health. Bizarrely enough, we also have many minor stats, such as for different elemental damage and defence hidden away. Why have this strange mix of simple design and complicated overview?
You also gain skill points upon levelling up, but what you can upgrade never contributes into making an unique build. You basically have to follow the preset setups of either of the skill trees in order to compliment one of two playstyles, making the customisation severely restricted. I have been talking about class building a lot already, but that is because isometric action RPGs using mainly the mouse button and hotkeys for different attacks, live and die by this design. Here, it is outright terrible and does not please the casual crowd or the veterans with how underdeveloped it is.
This also goes for the loot hunting, as you will be showered with rare and even legendary items from the beginning. It was to the point that I had found an uncountable amount of legendary items by just reaching level eight, making me groan whenever I had to check if an equipment was barely better than the one I was wearing. It did not help the slightest that all the classes could use any weapon, since the skills does not support creative builds as mentioned. I basically stopped checking the loot I found until my backpack was full and I had to get rid of some.
Which brings me to the locations you visit, and they are just gargantuan mazes that resets every time you reload a saved game. This happens even if you have already travelled through an area before, making exploring them tedious and one of the worst uses of RNG ever. If that was not bad enough, the constructions repeat to the point where I saw the same layouts in the same dungeon three times in a row. All of this is just awful and makes looking in every nook and cranny uneventful. At the very least, the enemies do come in a nice variety, with different elements and attacks to each. However, they eventually become damage sponges with no new additions to make them memorable.
This is a terrible shame, as I can see some good ideas in this game. I actually enjoyed the boss battles with clear patterns and presenting areas of danger before making an attack, forcing me to be on the move and plan when to use my healing potions, due to them having a cool down and that I could only carry a limited amount. Unfortunately, even this falters when I end up accidentally fighting the same boss five times, just with higher levels. This repetitive nature is dreadful, and a reason for why I believe a lot of the extra elements were added in for the sake of variety.
We can already see this in the return of fame, which you gain by doing quests or noticeable achievements. However, levelling it up can now provide other elements than skill points, such as constructions. This leads me to the biggest addition in Torchlight 3: building your own establishment. In one small area dedicated to you, you can create your own settlement with sawmills, smiths, and trees that feed on magical weapons to name a few examples. There are even decorative objects to place in if you so desire, but you probably will not.
That is because all of this adds to more tedious grinding, since you will have to chop down trees and mine for materials in order to upgrade your place, causing you to pause the action constantly. You could ignore this, but you gain benefits from upgrading your home, such as finding legendary weapons easier. I despise this, as it is just an arbitrary element to add some variety and lengthen the game with no interesting structure or content. It is almost to the point where I forgot I had shops to buy stuff in, since I only purchased health potions there and their equipment for sale were garbage.
The only idea I somewhat liked is that you can find new pets in the world, with each providing an unique boost worth considering. That is it, and while you can still sell stuff with them, you cannot make them purchase items or send equipment to the magical tree. These are details that frustrates me, especially when this is a sequel to the fantastic Torchlight 2. Then we have the plenty of minor annoyances. Obstacles can make it hard to click your way through, there are tutorials everywhere, you do not gain XP for killing normal enemies in boss fights, ideas like equipping legendary weapons for extra skills feel tacked on, and much more, adds to make this instalment atrocious to play through.
In the end, this is a repetitive slog that always comes close to having something interesting about itself, before turning into a bore again with little variety within its core mechanics. A nice summary of this game is the railmaster: I love the idea behind this class, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. When you start running away from the enemies just to progress faster in an action RPG where loot is important, that should speak volume.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
Beautiful, but lacks details
This is probably the only part I can praise this title for. Torchlight 3 does contain cutscenes that are incredibly cheap and stiff by using only images that are barely moving, and I cannot understand why subtitles were not including. However, the actual in-game visuals are lovely. There are tons of strong and diverse colours being used, giving this world a clear magical vibe to it. Even with generic and traditional enemies, such as the goblins, zombies, and spiders, are all still intriguing and adorable due to their various colours and endearing animations.
It is also wonderful to see your equipment being shown on your character to give a form of visualisation of you getting stronger and feel fashionable. However, there is a problem with the lack of solid variety. Because of how much the game drags, areas blend into each other and it is hard to become immersed in new locations as they come a little too late, even if caves can look like surreal forms of enchanted sewers. This also affects the enemies, as they are reused constantly, to the point that the bosses tend to use the normal fiends’ look. Even how they appear on the screen is not interesting or diverse, with some just jumping out from magical portals.
Then we have the game’s style, and nothing is unique or personal here despite it being steampunk with cartoon graphics. In fact, because of the uninteresting designs and limited character customisation, it is actually hard to recognise Torchlight 3 as a part of its series. Even the towns are forgettable and contain reused houses with nothing to them. Yet the bosses are a huge contrast and have so many details that are over the top in terms of look, especially thanks to their excessive attires that are trying too hard. At least, I cannot deny that the explosions are satisfying and colourful.
I will also say that the voice actors do a great job, even if what they had to work with is on a low bar. Marissa Lenti and Dorah Fine are some of the actors that give their characters solid performances, but even they sound like are struggling. I am not sure if this is because of the directions of their voices or if it is actually because of the mundane script, but their talents only get to barely be shown here, and it is a terrible shame. The same I can say for the sound effects; they are strong, but not highlighted due to being obstructed by other elements. In this aspect, it has to do with the music.
Matt Uelman is back composing for this title, but I honestly had no idea it was him at first. He still uses string instruments for different purposes, such as violins for creating tension, el-guitars for battles, and so on. However, the styles and instruments are mixed up more this time, and it makes the music into a mess that almost sounds like strange remixes. It is so sad to hear the low and echoed tracks that are used for unnerving and lonely setups, being forced into sounding tense and strong, doing no justice to the composer’s original scores. It is not all bad, as there are some lovely melodies whenever the atmosphere is calm or unnerving, but that is unfortunately rare.
Presentation Score: 5/10
Like cheap and expired potato chips
Even with five difficulty modes, different classes, and co-op being possible, there are no reasons to play through this title. Making the game harder simply makes the enemies take and deal more damage, the classes do not give enough variety to be engaging to experiment with, and there is no solid strategy to be made when playing with friends. Even the RNG is terrible as stated, making it hard to have any big reason to play this game multiple times. The idea behind the classes makes me wish that there was something there, but I was continually proven wrong whenever I gave a class another go.
Extra Score: 2/10
Torchlight 3 could have burned strong, but the struggles within the game’s development shows in the finished product. It truly feels like every idea is neglected due to two other setbacks or forced padding. I suppose I cannot directly call this title worthless, but it is truly uninspired and dull. With games like Victor Vran, Dungeon Siege, Grim Dawn, and even the original Torchlight, it is incredibly difficult to recommend this one. Even on its own, Torchlight 3 feels lifeless and without any spark. At least it is better than Diablo 3, but that is not saying much.