After a long awaited, and potentially rough development, Torchlight III has launched for consoles and that includes the Nintendo Switch. Being the sequel to the prior two games, which were fan favorites to be sure, this latest iteration has a lot to live up to. The series is known to be a great alternative to the hack and slash loot-driven action-RPG Diablo franchise. It’s been a long wait for this new entry, but can it hope to hold a candle to the prior entries?
Torchlight as a series has contended with the dark, brooding Diablo series since inception, but where this franchise has always prospered was offering a more vibrant, fantastical, and humorous approach, complete with useful pets! Torchlight III still has much of that charm that I so did enjoy in the last two games. Choosing my character was exciting, and I struggled so much with who I wanted to play with, that for this review I decided to both play an offline solo campaign with the Railmaster (who legit calls forth a semi-adorable, but devastating battle train that choo-choo’s along with me) and I an online multiplayer game with my wife, where she went with the Dusk Mage, and I got to rock the robot Forged (who looks much like my wood burning stove, but with a sweet rapid-fire cannon in Its chest).
At this point, it’s best to address the elephant in the room with the game. It’s had a bit of a sordid development past, in that previously it was headed towards a free to play “Torchlight: Frontiers” that was likely attempting to compete with the likes of Path of Exile. To us consumers, it felt last-minute that they decided to an about-face and turn it into Torchlight III, a proper premium game, and in some ways there are some lingering effects of that changeover, which I’ll cover in a bit.
As I started my early hours of the game, it felt enriched in just the right ways. The progression of the map and quests are linear, much to the same way Chapters exist in Diablo III. Here you’ll go from region to region and transition across three biomes that all feel unique in style. The majority of my quests were maybe too linear, in that they never felt unachievable and certainly didn’t promote much in the way of exploration. Each main quest built up to a boss room, where if I won I’d gain access to a big treasure chest and a new pet, if I was lucky. Hacking and slashing along the way is definitely the key aspect of the game, much as one would expect in a dungeon crawling loot game, and there was a lot of fun to be had letting my hell on a railroad track take the hits for me while dolling out mortar rounds in rapid succession. However, the chaos on the screen did take a performance hit on the Switch, even when docked, which is always disappointing because I love a buttery smooth experience.
Loot is certainly bountiful in this title, but I did find a surprising lack of gear identities that I was hopeful for. Each character has a pretty focused set of gear that they can use, and only weapons are really interchangeable to some extent. I found that even within a few hours of gameplay, I had collected six Legendary/Unique fire-based swords that all had the same design, along with three off-hand eggs that again were identical. While I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve gamed in the Torchlight universe, this felt a bit overly repetitive than what I remembered. Now that being said, the pieces of gear I would collect for my Forge campaign were pretty nifty, and it was quite cool seeing the swap of mechanical legs to tank treads for example.
Along with your physical gear, you’ll also be leveling up to spend points in your skill trees. Skills and character abilities are handled a fair bit differently than in the past games, and it doesn’t come without some frustrations. Each character is given two class-specific skill trees in the beginning of the game by default, and then you are allowed to pick your third tree from a list of Relic trees. As you level up, you’ll spend points into the skill/abilities you want, however I found some constraints that were a fair bit upsetting. The first is that many of the abilities require a load of skill points to be added to them before they ‘rank up’ and offer a more enhanced version. While this could be fine, it forced me to have to stockpile points or spend them with no outcome right away until I hit a milestone per skill. It’s just not very fun really.
The other disappointing bit is that if you want to reallocate those points it’s not easy to do. Instead of a static cost or something similar, in order to respec and play around with your skill trees and abilities you need to use respectacles that offer per-point refunds. These items that allowed respecs to happen were not easily accessible or purchasable. While the skill themselves that I did utilize were often pretty fun, I did find myself still yearning to ‘try’ temporary builds for a quest or similar, but just wasn’t able to, which certainly is a departure from their previous games as well.
With gear and abilities in hand, I continued both of my campaigns. Strangely in my single player supposedly offline campaign I ran into what felt like network performance problems. My character would bug out just walking around and even with a control stick aimed in one direction, my character would just randomly stop walking or go the opposite way, typically something seen when playing online with latency issues. What I was pleasantly surprised was that playing with my wife online worked rather well. For me this is extra important because I do live in an area with incredibly poor internet, and unlike Diablo III, Torchlight III was the first time since moving to this place we were able to both sit in our respective living rooms and play and quest together! Progress wasn’t fully shared, but we kept pace with each other to make sure it was fun.
As we quested along, I did start to realize that there wasn’t a very strong storyline or even narrative throughout the game. It’s not entirely devoid, but apart from sporadic animatics and audio logs within the world, there’s just not a lot of a thematic driving factor. In fact, at most points of my binge time with the game, we were just huffing from one linear quest to the other with no real understanding of what correlation they had to any overarching story. It’s a big miss in my opinion, but also a potential challenging point if transitioning away from a free-to-play styled narrative as well.
Unfortunately, this similar drawback lent itself to the quest diversity too. As you traverse the beautiful regions, you just find them a bit more lifeless in areas where you wouldn’t expect. Stumbling across a hideout was exciting at first, but then upon entering the same room template with no meaningful loot drops or lore, left them becoming more of a chore than an exciting interjection. Still, there are some niceties that break up the world space, including Phase portals that transport your crew into a hardened boss battle, but with nicer rewards to reap.
One new feature to the franchise is the addition of your own personal Fort. This is a fully customizable space in which you can place objects that help gain you permanent buffs, and you can build it to your liking with statues, ornaments, and other random decorative bits. Of the game’s many features, this area actually confused me the most and felt probably the most linked to an instanced hub area typically found in other games. There just wasn’t enough reason to customize this space since visitors couldn’t do anything to influence it, or reward me, etc. It became solely a small functional micro-hub to ensure I kept gaining the buffs I needed. I truly wish there could have been a more meaningful use for this feature as clearly a lot of effort was put into it, but it’s just not evident in the product released.
I find myself struggling with this review in many ways for the game. On the one hand, if I strictly compare it to its predecessors and even other competitors on the market, Torchlight III comes up safe, and falls short in areas where the series had strengths previously. On the other hand, my wife and I have had equally a lot of enjoyment so far with the game, and even just myself on my solo campaign as well. The theme and fantasy vibrancy are wholeheartedly Torchlight, and although the mindless hacking and slashing might wear on others, I’ve found myself gleefully engaged.
It’s also great to play in handheld mode on the couch right next to the missus after a long day of work, and just enjoy this genre of game without having to overthink builds too much. I know that last statement is clearly the opposite of what many crave; but for me Torchlight III has hit the right spot for an accessible action dungeon crawling RPG right now in life. Don’t mistake me though, I’d still love to see the game evolve now in post-launch to add more of the depth we have known from the series, and to further polish bugs and hiccups that were encountered. Still, this sequel feels like a solid footing for the start of a long journey to becoming something truly fantastic. Of course if you’re still yearning for more, Torchlight II is also on the eShop!
Torchlight III Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6/106/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
The much-anticipated Torchlight III has arrived on Nintendo Switch. The familiar art style and fantasy driven themes are back and as enjoyable as ever, however diehard fans of the series may be disappointed with the game’s back steps of previously deeper gameplay and strategy. This comes as a result of the game’s development changing drastically over the years. Still, the game offers all of the expected bullet points of an action-RPG styled game, and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had with hacking and slashing in multiplayer with a friend.