If you’ve spent any time on Steam, or the internet for that matter, over the last week I’m sure you’ve heard lots of opinions around the Early Access launch of Torchlight 3 from Echtra Inc. To say that TL3 has had a bit of a rough go of it would be a gross understatement. It has endured some pretty rough criticism.
Having played both the Alpha and now a week’s worth of Early Access I think it’s fair to say that some of the concern is valid. However, I would caution against simply jumping on the rage train and writing the title off. The game has some solid mechanics and some fun ideas that, given some time and work, could help to shape it into a fun, engaging ARPG. So in true internet fashion, I’m going to send the next several sentences highlighting the things I love and the things I think I’m concerned about with Echtra’s new ARPG. Grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy this early look at Torchlight 3.
Like: Unique Classes
One of my favourite features from Torchlight 2 that has made a return for the third installment is the unique class system. The Torchlight series likes to take the traditional concept of mage, warrior and rogue and throw it all out. Choosing to reinvent these concepts in fun and unique ways. In the case of Torchlight 3, classes like the Railmaster and Forge offer some interesting new mechanics for players to master. In the case of the former players can spec out their own personalized rail cars that will follow them around through the world. Essentially a pet class, the Railmaster offers a fun take on an otherwise standard class archetype.
In the case of the Forge, players essentially kit out a steampunk style robot allowing you to play multiple roles. If you're looking for a tank-style of play simply swapping out your torso equips you with literal tank treads (and the stats to match). Feeling like a ranged approach to combat? No problem; simply swap out your chest piece for a freakin cannon. It’s a unique approach that feels right at home in the world of Torchlight.
Concern: Skill Trees
One of the major concerns I’ve been reading around the internet is that the skill trees are a step backwards from Torchlight 2. I would agree that we have seen the traditional three tree system reduced to two and thus does raise a bit of a yellow flag for long time fans of the series. That said, I’ve found that the skill trees currently available offer some fun options for play, allowing you to focus in and build the type of character you want to play.
In addition, TL3 offers a secondary skill system that is unlocked at level 5, 20 and 40. These skills seem to transcend class and offer an additional level of progression and class building. For example, I’ve been focusing in on a pretty intense auto-attack minion build for my sharpshooter. Why? Mostly because I can... and its a game… and I want to. So aside from my normal skill points I can also slot in the Frenzi’s Blade ability that increases my attack speed with basic attacks by 5% for 5 seconds and stacks up to 10 times. This turns my slow-firing sharpshooter into a mobile chain gun and is so much fun to play.
I would like to see the skill trees refined a little more as we get closer to a full launch. There is still some room for synergy builds with abilities and it would be nice to see the current secondary skills have a little more weight to them, seeing as you can only slot three. Hopefully, the team can make some adjustments to help quell the raging masses, and by raging masses, I mean the internet.
Like: Forts and Crafting
For anyone that knows me, this is a pretty big deal. I typically hate player housing and crafting. Generally crafting is way too much work and I just don’t care to be bothered. It’s a me thing; I’m lazy. In the case of housing, I’ve only seen a couple of good examples of player housing (RIP WildStar). For the most part, they feel like a waste of time.
TL3, however, has created a great space for you as a player to relax (and craft) when not out hacking and slashing. It comes in the form of Player Forts. These personalized spaces are completely customizable. When I say completely I mean it in the full sense of the word. Every piece of foliage, every little rock and every structure can be moved, rotated and placed within your fort.
There is a wide range of items to be crafted and placed. Momentos from your travels can be hung on the wall or stuck in the ground as a testament to your mouse clicking prowess. Mechanically it works exceptionally well, is easy to learn and fun to play with.
Thankfully though the fort is more than just a pretty face. All of your crafting, storage and some of your progression is handled here. Tools and workbenches can be constructed and placed allowing you to quickly access anything you are currently working on.
Speaking of crafting, as someone who just hates crafting, I really like the crafting here. It’s streamlined and simple to use, focuses more on complimenting your gear as opposed to replacing it and once again is easy to learn. Material gathering is a straightforward affair and doesn’t require you to spend hours out of combat trying to farm that last piece of wood or stone.
Concern: Combat...well sort of
Combat in TL3 is a mixed bag, to be honest. On the one hand, skills feel unique and are visually appealing (special shout out to whoever designed the animations for staff combat, seriously well done). When you engage in combat there are times where it feels engaging and works hard to find a balance between pure hacking mayhem and skill. On the other hand, activating skills can feel delayed or even non-responsive, movement feels a bit slow and boss encounters feel very one dimensional. As combat is the backbone of ARPG genre it’s a bit disconcerting that combat isn’t as responsive as the earlier titles in the franchise.
This is one area I really hope the team gets sorted. Combat in Torchlight 2 felt great; it had, for lack of a better word, perfect pacing. This pacing seems to be lacking in TL3. It feels like the foundation for great combat is there but as of the time of writing hasn’t quite hit its stride.
Like: Player Hubs
One of the critiques that almost set the collective internet on fire was that the Early Access version of Torchlight 3 didn’t have a single-player mode. When I have more time I would love to explore the reasons why a game being multiplayer-only during Early Access testing causes rage-induced twitter rants. I’m fascinated by this mystery, but I digress.
More on point, I’ve really enjoyed the centralized player hubs that come in the form of each Act’s town. Its actually great to be able to chat with others, team up for random quests and, heaven forbid, develop some friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without a shared space to converse. My snarking typing aside, the player hubs has been a great addition to the franchise.
Pets are a lot like player housing for me. Perhaps its because I grew up before pokemon was a thing but I just don’t see the need to catch them all or to use them in general. That is unless they serve some real functional purpose. At present TL3’s pet system is little more than a glorified on-demand shopbot and mobile buff. In a game where I can instantly teleport to a shop and be back in the action faster than it takes for my pet to do the same exercise, pets feel underutilized.
For instance, I would love to see them take a more active roll in combat. Sure they add a little buff to me and my party but why couldn’t they have their own dedicated skill trees. Why couldn’t my trusty hound named Pig be spec’d to taunt, drop and roll over the enemies? Or better yet, why couldn’t they have skills that work in tandem with some of my own class (or secondary) skills. The possibilities really are there but I’m concerned I’ll be stuck with nothing but my shop-bot come launch.
Honourable Mention: Fishing
I had no idea where to put this in my impressions piece but it needs to be said; bring back fishing #bringbackfishing #whynofishing #torchlightforlife. Arguably one of the most iconic and unique features of early Torchlight games, the fishing minigame brought hours of joy to a much younger, less crotchety, me. It was actually fun, offered some great temporary buffs for you and your pet, and was actually fun. I repeated that first one for dramatic emphasis.
Is Torchlight 3 the dumpster fire that the Steam reviews tell me it is? No, not at all. Has it reached its final form? No, not at all. Torchlight 3 is an early access title that is attempting to transition both its genre and pay model all while trying to hold to the things that make the series great. The game has some great core mechanics that need refinement. My hope is that with actual constructive feedback from players, the team at Echtra Inc will be able to refine the rough edges, smooth out the bumps and create the Torchlight experience we have all come to love.