Runic Games Died for This
I won't lie to you, I was excited for Torchlight Frontiers. It was supposed to be a free-to-play ARPG title to followup 2012's Torchlight 2. Free-to-play rings alarm bells for some, but it works very well for Path of Exile, which is arguably the biggest game of its genre on the market right now. So, when Torchlight Frontiers rebranded to the premium title Torchlight 3, I was a little concerned. Was developer Echtra Games going to simply rebrand it with minimal changes, or actually reconstruct the way the game played? As it turns out, the Early Access of Torchlight 3 feels like a low budget version of its predecessor, and it's filled with all kinds of bugs and issues.
It's worth noting that in its Early Access state, Torchlight 3 is a multiplayer-only title. As such, the first few days of my time playing was riddled with terrible server issues, causing frequent disconnects. This issue originally plummeted the game's user review score on Steam. Things seem to be better now, as I haven't had any trouble playing the past few days. But truthfully, server problems are the least of my concerns with this ARPG.
Torchlight 3's Unique Classes and Buggy Gameplay
When players begin playing Torchlight 3, you can choose between four different, unique classes. These aren't your typical "warrior" and "mage" classes - this is Torchlight, and if this series does anything right, it's creating unique classes. Despite this, I was very disappointed with the initial customization options. It's 2020, not 2012. There should be more options. One of the new classes, called the Forge, is a robot. You could have some really cool choices to customize these steampunk-like automatons; instead, there's a total of five different heads. You can't customize the paint color, eye color, or anything else.
The rest of the classes have similarly disappointing options. The hairstyle variety for each character is also minuscule, so you really can't look that unique in this game. Truthfully, while the cosmetic options lack any sort of variety, I do appreciate the effort Echtra Games went into creating four original classes with compelling ideas behind the combat mechanics. The Railmaster, for example, is a bruiser-type class that thwacks foes with huge slamming attacks and builds tracks for his gun-toting train to follow. The Dusk Mage, which I played the most of, uses magical light and dark attacks. The quirk with the Dusk Mage is that using a light-based attack fills up your dark gauge, and vice versa. Once either gauge fills up, you get a buff. The proper way to play this class is to time your attacks and manage resources appropriately to take full advantage of said buffs.
There is not, unfortunately, a great deal of variance in skills. You have two skill trees for each character, but they only have a few abilities each. There's not nearly enough spells and skills. What I enjoy about games like Diablo 3 is that you can build your characters in so many different ways, since each class has dozens of spells. This is not the case here. While the Dusk Mage is different and not your conventional "mage" character, the spells aren't all that exciting, either. I only hope that more spells become available once Torchlight 3 releases because right now it's quite sad to see that there's a handful of abilities.
To make matters worse, my Dusk Mage felt really weak. The beginning of Torchlight 3 is easy since you're just fighting standard, low-level enemies. As I progressed, it felt like my spells were dealing less and less damage over time. I still got new gear and upgraded my existing skills, but the enemies started to feel like sponges just there to soak up damage. There seem to be several factors contributing to this dilemma. To begin with, basic attacks deal pitifully low damage. Exacerbating that is my spells consumed a great deal of mana, and the mana regeneration rate was slow, too.
So, the classes are unique but not that fun to play. With what little amusement I did have from playing them, the buggy state of Torchlight 3 really diminished any remaining enjoyment. I was going to mainly play the Railmaster, but I noticed that every time I used my special ability that hammered the ground, the game's framerate would plummet. Otherwise, my FPS would be relatively consistent throughout (although, when there are more enemies on the screen, it would decrease a bit). Other bugs include hits not registering on enemies. After defeating a pack of bad guys, sometimes the corpses would remain standing and very slowly sink into the ground after half a minute of standing in place. It's just one issue after another.
Torchlight 3's Forts and Repetition
If there's one mechanic I was excited about, it was forts. The whole idea behind this is that you can build your own fort in Torchlight 3, and you encounter other players' encampments are you explore. This idea is implemented, but what I had in mind wasn't what we got. The base building mechanics are just another disappointing feature. It feels lifeless and tacked on. Player forts were all ugly, just like mine. They did not look unique.
There are certain amenities you can build in your fort. One building allows you to enchant and disenchant items. This isn't so bad, but it would be more useful if you weren't constantly cycling through loot. Another building allows you to sacrifice loot in order to grow a tree. As this tree grows, you'll get an increased chance to have rarer loot drops. It seems rather useful, and indeed they are. However, I want my fort to look as cool as it is useful, and the cosmetic options are also lacking and lifeless as the gameplay.
Another issue is how repetitive the environments are. Diablo 3 and Path of Exile are games with plenty of diverse dungeons and environments to explore. So far, Torchlight 3 is one forest after another, filled with the same looking enemies. Enemies don't even have any unique attacks. They're mere fodder for your character to hack and slash through. While on the topic of enemies, there was only one boss that felt somewhat interesting, which was at the end of an entire Act. The other bosses are, like the enemies, bullet sponges. At least Torchlight 3 looks good. You can immediately recognize the style it's famous for, but it's a shame the visuals aren't taken advantage of, due to the lack of variety in enemies and environments.
Torchlight 3 Preview | Final Thoughts
Ultimately, Torchlight 3 has a long way to go if it's to hold a candle to the most popular ARPGs today. It is decisively lacking in polish and the gameplay feels sluggish and slow. The giddy feeling of getting a new piece of loot only goes so far when every other mechanic in the game bogs it all down. I'm willing to give Torchlight 3 some leeway since it's an Early Access title, but there are too many bugs that take away any joy I have for the gameplay. There is a long, bumpy road ahead, but hopefully, with more fixes and content revisions, we'll have a worth successor to the excellent Torchlight 2.
TechRaptor reviewed Torchlight 3 on PC in Early Access with a copy purchased by the reviewer.