You won’t normally read game reviews here; that’s because I’m not much of a gamer. I suck at most games, except for one obscure game a few years ago called Atomic Bomberman, way back in Windows 95, which for some reason I could not lose, and action RPG games like Diablo. By “like Diablo” I mean that’s the only game I normally play, be it the original years ago, or Diablo 2 or 3, and Torchlight 2 which I played for several years on PC.
The last season of Diablo 3 has not been as fun as I expected, and I’m still waiting for Diablo 4, so after hearing it was released, I bought myself Torchlight 3 for Christmas. And here is my run-down of the game for anyone else into action RPG (isometric view Diablo clones)…
The game has a lot of problems. A lot. So I’ll say upfront that I do still find it fun to play, but also annoying. Since there are so many issues, I’ll put the good stuff first.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Torchlight 3 is a dungeon trawler. You choose one of 4 classes, and go straight into it… trawling various levels, looting for better armour and weapons, and levelling up.
The AI is smart. If you have line of sight to some enemies on a map with twists and turns, and you shoot them, they will immediately approach and engage you en masse, navigating whatever passages and bridges, twists and turns necessary to reach you. It feels like the enemies are real little characters engaging with you. Unlike Diablo 3, where they’re just a bunch of sprites doing generic animations and movements depending on their class type, somewhere in your general direction, these enemies feel like they’re real, and smart. This keeps the game engaging and fun.
The look is deliberately cartoonish, but that has its charm. Each enemy has their own look and feel, and their own sound effects. Attention to detail here makes them entertaining and cool. The enemies have character. The goblins, for example, are cute little buggers. You almost feel guilty when blowing them to smithereens.
It took me just a few days to finish story mode in single player (I only play single player), and then this unlocked the more difficult levels. A genie, one of the characters from the story mode of Torchlight 2, appears, and he gives you more challenging levels. Although your level caps at 60, the items get more and more powerful in the higher difficulties. The levels get progressively more difficult, and you have to deal with some interesting buffs and debuffs, both for yourself and the enemies. Some of them are really tough, but that keeps the game interesting and engaging.
(I’ve only played normal difficulty. I’m referring to the more challenging levels here rather than game difficulty. So far I see no reason to switch to a different global difficulty setting.)
Continuing from Torchlight 2, you get a pet, now multiple pets, although only one can be active at a time. The pet is useful for fighting on your side, traveling to town to sell excess items when your inventory is full, and buying potions. (There are some problems with pets. Some are design flaws, which I’ll mention in “the bad”, and some are bugs, which I’ll mention in “the bugly”.)
The story is not properly fleshed out. It feels unfinished. Gameplay in story mode is a little weird. You get a fort but don’t really know why you need it, and only start using its features after you finish story mode, when you get access to things that improve your gear luck, allow you to enchant items and get extra affixes and bonuses, and so on.
There are no open levels. Not even one. Torchlight 2 had plenty of open levels that contained many sub-levels. All the levels in Torchlight 3 contain sections with passages and twists and turns, but none of them are open, although there are sublevels aplenty. This goes together with the unfinished story mode… in Torchlight 2 there were other interesting levels that were part of the story, for example the tower of several sublevels, with a boss fight on the roof. No such levels exist in Torchlight 3.
All boss levels are similar. You start with a short passage, then warp to the small boss area. No variety such as the boss level on top of the tower as mentioned in the previous paragraph. The difficulty of boss levels is determined by the size of the boss area, the skills of the boss, the number of minions it can summon, and whether or not there is anything to run around and use for cover on the level. Although some are smaller and more challenging, you can use the same tactic in more than 90% of all boss levels… just run around in circles and hit the boss with your main or secondary skills until it dies.
There are three acts in story mode, but it isn’t made too clear when you’re about to finish the first act, and there isn’t much of an intro to the second act. The system for navigating between waypoints is also cumbersome and scrolls left to right across the screen for all three, instead of just showing you the current act/town. Additionally it isn’t clear which waypoint is selected, and you can easily warp to the wrong one by mistake.
In story mode, sometimes your fort appears in a passage that joins 2 levels of the game, in a pseudo-level that does show on the map as well. What isn’t made clear though, is that you need to explicitly click the waypoint on that level as you walk along to the next level, or you can’t return to it in the next game. Some levels have waypoints that are hard to find, and all levels respawn all the enemies when you save and resume (and seemingly random other times too), so you really need to click that waypoint, but you won’t always remember to do so. Then after you save and exit, it can be difficult to find your way back to where you should be.
Your pet gets many skills to choose from, that you can assign to its 4 skill slots, but the way you acquire new pet skills is unexpected. When you fight bosses, sometimes you get a new pet, and they have random skills. So getting new pets will eventually get you all the pet skills, until you max out your pets at 50, at which time you can simply release some of them.
This probably isn’t a problem on PC, but on XBox One where I play it, there are too many skills and not enough key bindings. You start with a “relic” skill which is all but useless because it never has any charge, until later in the game when it is still useless because by then you avoided putting many skill points into it anyway. In any event, keys to use the skills are bound in order of left to right as they appear on the screen, when you assign the skills points and unlock skills in your skill tree, which is the same as being quite random. You have more skills than hot keys and it isn’t clear which ones to use. I ended up putting enough points into the “light skills” on my dusk mage to max them out, and they work really well, at least the ones that I actively use. I did have to stop and rearrange my skill keys completely at one stage though, and I’m always amused when I get levels with relic debuffs because I almost never use my relic skills anyway.
The potions are quite messed up. There’s only one key binding to take potions, but you get 4 different types of potions, which go into your inventory in 4 piles of 5. So you can only carry a maximum of 20 potions. Only the health potions are necessary – you can ignore the other types. But… if you accidentally pick up one of the others while playing, they lock that potion slot in your inventory to that type of potion. And thus you limit the number of health potions you can actually carry. Also if you run out and pick up, say an antidote potion, your potion hotkey will suddenly be bound to antidote instead of health. This happened to me often in story mode – because I don’t grind in story mode; I played the most recently reached level in the story and ran out of gold right the way through, so I constantly ran out of potions as I didn’t have enough gold to buy more. I’m only accumulating a lot of gold and always have 20 potions after having finished story mode with my first character. I haven’t yet checked if the gold is shared, so it might be easier for subsequent characters. (I’m not starting another class yet… still having fun making my first one overpowered and blasting my way through higher challenge levels.)
Although the pet can go to town to sell items and buy potions, it can only sell items from one slot of your inventory. Once you start getting item recipes (for enchanting) you get duplicates, but you have to go to town yourself to get rid of those, unless you’re happy to simply destroy them. There’s no reason for this – it’s just poorly designed.
As you play, you receive “fame” and get rewards, but the fame system is baffling and completely beyond my understanding. It always seems to be around 40 to 50, with 333 levels on the progress bar until the next level. Mine currently displays level 11, which is around 160 I think, which displays on the screen when I receive my rewards. That 160 level only displays in a popup window when getting rewards, and I can’t find it or make any sense of my current level displayed, which seems to always be between 40 and 50. And the progress bar is just showing how far you are between your current levels. You can also switch between different fame “contracts”. Fuck knows why, but since I’m still getting rewards in the first contract, I’m sticking to that for now.
… So yeah… My fame is 11 in the header, 49 in the box next to the progress bar, some value around 300 in the progress itself, and around level 160 when I reach the next fame level to get rewards. So what is my actual fame? No one knows.
Your pet sometimes disappears. I don’t mean it went to town or fled for two minutes due to taking damage; it just vanishes completely. You have to go to your fort and switch your active pet, then switch back again to have it reappear. (But you can only freely warp to town or your fort in story mode, which is a tiny proportion of the time you’re meant to play this game.) But there are some levels that you can’t play without your pet disappearing. No pet means that you can’t get more potions, unless you find them. Actually “potion luck” is an enchantment affix, and with over 30% for it, my character does pick up potions… but the pets’ main uses are to fight and distract the enemies from attacking you. Being without one is a major disadvantage.
In the challenge levels given by the genie, your town portal is disabled, so you can’t really play them when your pet vanishes, because you can’t leave them and return. There are also other levels, accessed via “mapworks” scrolls which you find occasionally. Your town portal is allowed in them, but once you leave, you can never return to those levels, so leaving them simply wastes the scrolls. Don’t do that because you don’t get a lot of those scrolls.
I was unsure whether to include this as a bug or bad design, but there is a major performance hit when loading your pet, for instance after it returns from town when you are in a fighting level. The game freezes completely, and this shouldn’t happen. My XBox can run far more processor intensive games without freezing, so this is just poor development. Unfortunately some of the most useful pet skills involve summoning other pets… I use one where it summons 3 ghostly pets, and another where it summons 2 owls (and one where it summons 2 skeletons to fight for me). Since they seem to just be subclasses of pets, rendered translucently, they suffer the same performance hit as when pets appear. But the skeletons don’t have the issue so this is clearly a problem limited to their pets implementation. So… since I have one pet and 5 other pet instances my pet can summon randomly, my game freezes often. It’s super annoying. They are the most powerful pet skills though… because not only do they fight for you, they also distract enemies who fight the pets and pet minions instead of you.
“Not enough spiders”, I call this one. There are levels where you are supposed to kill spiders, and as with all targets, it shows the percentage you have currently completed, but there aren’t enough spiders on the level. You clear the entire level but only finish 60 to 80% of the number of spiders. This is probably the most annoying bug… It’s quite frustrating because some of the levels further into the game are much bigger. You can take nearly half an hour to clear most of the level, and having completed 80% of the spiders, you reach the last unexplored section of the map only to be confronted by… giant fucking rats. And no spiders. It’s fucking annoying and as a developer myself, I’m amazed that they released the game like this.
A silly cosmetic bug… My first pet was a golden retriever called Billy, because my son was there when I made the character and he always names our pets Billy, since Torchlight 2. It’s a thing, OK? But when I reached the 50 pet limit, I released all the common, magic, and rare pets, including Billy. I only keep legendary pets, and even then release the duplicates. But I had assigned Billy to the “pet bed” I’d placed in my fort. And even though it was days ago, poor Billy still displays in the pet bed, and whenever I walk around in my fort, he reminds me of his absence with a friendly “Wuff wuff”, even though Billy is no more. So presumably the Torchlight developers made this “optimization” where they don’t check if the pet assigned to the bed actually exists. They could rather have optimized whatever the issue is when instantiating pets, rather than this dumb mistake. Seriously dudes… this is a stupid bug.
Torchlight 3 is fun overall, and I’m still enjoying playing it. But it does have serious bugs and performance issues, at least on console.
It’s still worth playing for me, but that’s because there are so few of this kind of game. At least, my player actually gets to interact with the enemies and it feels like I’m really engaging them… unlike my demon hunter in Diablo 3 who just runs around using Strafe/Vengeance and auto aims at the enemies who all do nothing but generic class animations. I can’t emphasize this enough… the AI of the enemies and the epic battles with them are the saving grace of this game. In that sense, and only that sense, it’s more fun than Diablo 3.
Let’s hope Torchlight 3 gets some updates and bug fixes soon. I hope it does but only time will tell. At the very least, fix the vanishing pet, those constant freezes, and the levels that can’t be completed.