Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
October 13, 2020
Perfect World Entertainment
Looting dungeons is one of my favourite pastimes, and Torchlight as a franchise has always provided a healthy dose of colourful dungeon crawling with piles and piles of gear to be collected. Back in 2009, Torchlight was a success story because it was well made, incredibly simple and very satisfying. While some of that still rings true for Torchlight 3, the gaming landscape in 2020 is quite different, and while it still manages to be an enjoyable romp best played with pals, it feels toothless a lot of the time, with so much loot and special ability effects flooding the screen that it leaves you in button-mashy autopilot mode through most of its forgettable story.
On paper, Torchlight 3 sounds like a great time, and honestly if you’re talking purely about gameplay mechanics it feels solid throughout. Four different character classes provide a variety of abilities, along with an additional rune they can equip, all in order to tear through near-endless waves of disposable enemies before moving on to the next area. The Railmaster class is one of the more unique that I’ve seen in the genre, with a little train as a sort of pet that follows you around, leaving train-tracks on its path. It can be upgraded with different abilities, such as mortars and a shield, and makes for a useful companion, alongside the actual pet companion that you also have on your journey (which, as cute as they are, mostly amount to being loot pack-mules).
The Forged class is a robot tank using heat abilities with decent AOE damage, the Dusk Mage specialises in dark and light magic while the Sharpshooter is more of a ranged specialist with physical weapons like a bow. They’re all unique enough, although Railmaster is a solid choice if you’re looking at solo play. With four of us exploring together, it often felt like abilities didn’t matter that much overall, though. While in theory it is handy to provide a shield or buff for multiple party members to take advantage of, most battles are such a flurry of visual effects and chaos that you barely have time to strategise or coordinate to use any sort of real advantage. It really is a matter of hacking and slashing, spamming whichever abilities you have assigned and watching those enemy health bars disappear until your foes explode into a pile of coins and loot. It doesn’t take long before you fall into a sort of rhythm, going through the motions of clearing each area, picking the best gear on hand and sending the rest back to town on the back of your pet to be sold.
“Gear is so quickly and easily replaced by the next good piece of loot you collect that there were no hard decisions to be made.”
The relatively small inventory size means that stopping to sift through items is a regular buzz-kill, slowing the pace entirely as you dabble in menu screens and highlighted boxes that all start to look the same. For some players, the regular pause of checking what goodies you’ve acquired could be enticing enough, but for me I found it to be mostly just quickly comparing which had the higher damage or defense number, quickly turfing the rest and moving on. Gear is so quickly and easily replaced by the next good piece of loot you collect that there were no hard decisions to be made. Even if I accidentally sold something I liked, I wasn’t that devastated as I knew it would be replaced shortly regardless.
Part of the dangling threads that make Torchlight 3 feel so hollow is the desperate lack of story to tie everything together. You go to town, talk to whoever, they give you a quest that is “go find this dungeon” or whatever, you go there and kill the boss and then come back to town to start it all over again. If you’re going to present so many different areas that mostly amount to “kill enemies loot and find the exit” I’d rather just keep doing that instead of having to interact with a nothing NPC. I tried to be invested in the lore but eventually I grew bored of that, plus my party were already smashing through the next wave of goblins so it didn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things anyway.
I don’t necessarily expect a complex narrative in an action RPG, but give me some reason to smash through the three acts presented. To be fair, I have to praise Torchlight 3 on its art style and overall vibe. It’s colourful and eye-catching, genuinely pretty and the pets in particular are packed with personality, especially the Golden Retriever. Each of the core three areas have their own distinct look and feel, but the dungeons and locations within those areas all start to blend however. There isn’t a whole lot of enemy variety either. More often than not, my party of four would be chatting about our days, sharing news from our lives and catching up, while mindlessly hacking away in the background. We’d clear entire dungeons without ever talking about anything happening on-screen. It’s kind of cathartic, but also forgettable and kind of plain.
One of the ways Torchlight 3 attempts to inject some more personality into proceedings is that you have your own personal fort that you can return to at anytime. Not only is it relatively customisable with objects that you find throughout your playthrough, but it acts as storage and a place you can eventually use to upgrade materials you’ve collected. Others can come across your fort or visit it, and I spent a bit of time cleaning it up and making it feel like my own with various statues and structures. Your mileage on this will vary but it adds a personal touch and small moments of respite to a game that mostly feels like it has been designed to be plowed through at a blistering pace.
There are some other positives in terms of quality-of-life, such as the ability to warp from wherever you are to town with ease, and the fact that you can load up your pets with gear to sell while you keep searching for more does keep things focused. But then other staples of the genre are missing from Torchlight 3 that kept me scratching my head with annoying questions. Why can’t I clearly see where my team-mates are, with no indicators on the mini-map? How come I don’t know which direction I’m meant to go to find the next area? Did the game just try and load me into an area, but fail, and spit me right back out where I started? I wanted to like this dungeon crawler, but kept finding roadblocks that prevented me from whole-heartedly relishing its fast-paced looting sensibilities.
Torchlight 3 is a competently made dungeon-crawling loot fest, and mostly feels good to play. It also has some memorable and interesting character classes and a usually colourful and engaging environment that initially inspires you to sink your teeth in. While it initially entices you with its loop of ridiculous amounts of loot and monsters to smash to pieces, it quickly falls into repetitive traps and unsurprising gameplay tropes that have become synonymous with the dungeon looter genre since classics like Diablo 3 and Path of Exile revamped their end-game. It’s a shame, because there are elements of an enjoyable co-op adventure here that still kept us playing over several nights. At the end of the day, it all just felt a little bit soulless; ticking the boxes of what the genre should be, but never pushing to excel in anything in particular.