Torchlight III is an interesting game. After years of development down one particular path, Echtra Inc. and Perfect World brought it back in line to be much closer in structure to previous games in the series as a straight up sequel, and as sequels do, it makes some improvements and adds new features. Just not really where it matters. Eight years on from Torchlight II, many of the same niggling issues return, but they’re harder to forgive without meaningful upgrades.
The game gives a good first impression. Its bright and sharp graphics look good, there’s plenty of variation between areas and loads of fireworks to enjoy whilst you’re casting spells or otherwise dissecting enemies. There’s also a lot of detail to the audio, whether it’s the splintering of wood as you break a barrel, the whip-like crack of lightning from spells, or the chattering of goblins. Most story cutscenes are basically still images with varying degrees of zooming and panning whilst voices talk over them, but other than that, everything looks and sounds good.
The same can be said of combat. Once you pick up some items and can handle more than a few enemies at once, it feels satisfying and skills have some real punch to them. With some clever maneouvering and skill planning you can take down a lot of enemies at once whilst avoiding their attacks quite nicely.
The problem comes as you get deeper into the game and its systems, which simply aren’t deep or interesting enough. Each class has three skill trees available to them, two of which are class specific and a third that is chosen during character selection. Each trees is made of active and passive skills and each of those skills then have multiple levels to upgrade by further investing skill points. Because your skills all have multiple levels with small, incremental upgrades, they’re just dull. In other games in the genre you get a new skill or a modification and it can significantly change a skill you already have. Most of the time in Torchlight 3 you get, say, a 5% increase in duration for a skill, or a similar increase in damage. They fail to capture the imagination despite the three tiers of more significant, but still pretty benign upgrades.
That just compounds the lack of variety in the skills as well. Some are pretty interesting, such as one that summons a insanity-inducing god to stare at things, but my characters also had no less than three horizontal fan skills available to him which, again, fails to really capture the imagination. Eventually, I stopped immediately spending my skill points once I’d levelled up, because it didn’t feel that consequential. In contrast, other games in the genre have me eagerly opening the menu to see what my new skill or rune does.
The loot system falls into another familiar trap. Regular items are always expendable, while legendary items often seem like they might have a significant effect on how you play based on the description, but usually just make you deal a bit more damage or provide a mildly useful utility, such as a charge for a movement skill, or more usefully, doubling up my spell casts with another spell from a different skill tree. This basically doubles the damage of the ability, making it absolutely indispensible in a game where your damage only creeps up little by little. Thankfully you can equip effects from legendaries you’ve already found in three slots independent of any equipped items, so you can use it even once the item is past its use-by date, though I struggled to find effects that felt worth keeping to fill in these slots.
A more significant effect of this is how you build your character. Elsewhere in the genre, if you find an item or weapon that’s rolled with the right effects and stats, it can change how you develop your character and lead to interesting and novel character builds. Combat in a game like Diablo 3 is satisfying initially because of its own mechanics, but later it’s also because of how those mechanics change based on how you develop and play your character. There, four separate wizards can handle completely differently, but here variety, the incremental legendary effects are far more limited and the loot in general just feels unremarkable.
Again, the same can be said for enemies. Regular enemies and even elite or champion enemies start to blend together after a while, and though there are specific enemies in different parts of the campaign, there isn’t a lot of variety overall. Battles will often take time as well, because the game seems geared to make you grind pretty regularly to level up. Unless you really want to be kiting every elite enemy halfway around the level whilst you chip away at their health.
Boss battles are better, with bosses themselves attacking in patterns that you must avoid whilst also trying to attack back, but even these seem light on ideas, with their later phases typically just seeing the introduction of some fodder alongside. They also tend to just repeat one attack throughout the fight, saying one of two lines of dialogue every time, which quickly grows obnoxious and is not what you want in a lengthy boss fight.
Add to all this an entirely forgettable story that often feels likes it’s stringing you along to pad the length of the game, voice acting which is generally just OK, and a smattering of minor bugs and performance stutters, and it all feel lacklustre. Even the added features, don’t manage to spice things up. The fort that you can decorate that is devoid of any kind of meaningful gameplay purpose and belies the original intent for this Torchlight game to go free-to-play.