The colorful Torchlight series has aged gracefully amidst a deluge of Diablo clones in the traditional hack-and-slash action-RPG genre. From the ashes of the original Torchlight studio rises Echtra Games and a long-awaited Torchlight III, now on Steam Early Access.
Torchlight III began life as Torchlight Frontiers, a free-to-play MMO action RPG. Fans balked at the freemium change, and during closed beta, Frontiers was rebranded as Torchlight III, sans microtransactions. The result is an awkward layering of MMO-style zones and systems and an early access period that’s very much a work in progress. But underneath it all, it is still a really fun game with unique classes, big boss fights, and enjoyable dungeon crawls.
Torchlight III features four classes that are slightly customizable with a few hair, face, and color options. I initially chose the Dusk Mage with their neat augmented magic arm, though it turns out that’s just a weapon anyone can technically wield.
The Dusk Mage is the only class that uses a traditional mana system to power their dark and light spells, along with two meters representing their dark and light spell trees. Using dark spells, like teleportation or summoning shadowy spears, charges the light meter, and vice-versa for light spells. Fully charging one of the meters adds powerful buffs when casting an oppositely aligned spell, motivating the Dusk Mage to strategically swap between both sets of skills.
Every class in Torchlight III features similarly unique mechanics. The Railmaster is an evolution of Torchlight II‘s Engineer. Instead of building steampunk robots, however, the Railmaster lays down tracks for an adorable toy train that follows her around shooting enemies. The Railmaster can customize her train loadout with Conductor skills while building up endurance to unleash powered-up smashy skills via her signature warhammer.
The Sharpshooter is a classic ranged attacker that uses ammo instead of mana to trigger her Precision skills, backed up with ghostly summons that power her other attacks.
The Forged is the most unique of them all and destined to be a fan favorite. The charming steampunk robot can focus on ranged damage or melee assaults (or balance both) and utilizes a heat system to power up rapid-fire attacks and vent explosions. Instead of merely equipping a new set of pants, the Forged swaps body parts, such as replacing its spidery legs with minecart wheels, resulting in a highly versatile hero.
The world of Torchlight III is divided up into a linear series of zones designed for specific level ranges. Each zone contains procedurally generated areas, enemies, mini-bosses, and dungeons. In the Fields of Unrest I dodge fire-spewing traps as I wind around a mountain top, battle elite spider enemies in a large fort, and find a large wall with a mini-boss robot named Ol’ Wally. Torchlight‘s humorous enemies and brightly colored areas are a refreshing change from the typical Gothic horror trappings of most modern action RPGs, and I particularly love the attractive isometric mini-map that features its own fog of war and helpful icons.
Unfortunately the energetic combat is hamstrung by lag. Torchlight III doesn’t have an offline mode in early access, forcing everyone to play multiplayer via Echtra Games’ servers. While the worst connectivity issues from the initial launch have subsided, I’m constantly wrestling with hit detection, targeting enemies, and avoiding attacks. The lag is rarely bad enough to make the game unplayable, but it remains a constant source of frustration.
Since Torchlight III was originally designed as an online-only MMO, the hub towns are a shared space with other players running around, though there’s not a lot to do besides buying and selling equipment. All the important bits, like crafting and enchanting, are done at a player’s personal fort.
The fort is a personalized zone unique to each player account. Like the hub town (which changes each Act), I can teleport to my fort from anywhere in the game. The fort features a large area that can be decorated with different objects, including boss trophies and craftable furniture, as well as functional buildings to fully customize my personal space. Buildings provide different services and bonuses, such as enchanting gear with additional effects, swapping pets, and crafting powerful relics.
Equipped relics level alongside the player, adding an entire third skill tree with several different flavors and themes, such as poison, bleed, and electricity, allowing each character to further customize their characters. Relic skills are a welcome addition, as otherwise each character only has two skill trees and 14 skills, as well as a series of unlockable passive skills called Legendarium.
One odd holdover from the original freemium design are Contracts. At first glance, Contracts look like battle passes from free-to-play battle royale games — a series of unlockable goodies. In Torchlight III, players gain fame alongside XP, and fame goes toward unlocking new fort objects, legendary gear, unique pets, and enchantment recipes. Three different contracts are available, though only one can be active at any one time.
I’ve been a fan of the Torchlight games since the Fate precursor in the mid 2000s and felt anxious over Torchlight Frontiers. Despite some nasty latency woes and forced online multiplayer, I’m relieved that Torchlight III retains the skill and item depth, lovely art style, and satisfying hack-and-slash gameplay that series fans should expect. Since the early access launch, Echtra Games has been quick to respond to community feedback (such as changing Lifebound items), openly addressing and explaining issues, and releasing more content, including a third Act. Early access may not be the right time to jump in, but I’m confident Torchlight III will become the sequel we’ve been yearning for.