Review: Torchlight 3 is a mediocre action RPG that can’t escape its free to play origins

Set your faces to glum.

Torchlight 3

Image via Perfect World Entertainment

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I have a lot of love for the Torchlight series and have spent a ridiculous amount of time with Torchlight 2. I was initially okay with the new installment being free to play, and then I was fine with the change from that model toward a one-time price. I find it best to react to things after playing them instead of worrying too much about events that are outside of my control. When I sat down to play Torchlight 3, I wanted to like it because liking games is just what I do. Unfortunately, it simply didn’t give me much to root for. 

Ye Olde Days

Image via Perfect World Entertainment

The biggest problem I have with Torchlight 3 is a lack of real progress in design. Isometric action RPGs are my one true love when it comes to games. I love aggressively clicking on things, watching my little characters wandering about, and cycling through spells to unleash devastation on my enemies. I still need them to give me something new, however. There is a line that should be pushed, a design that should be iterated upon. A game that I am playing in 2020 should not feel like a game I played in 2010. Yet Torchlight 3 very much feels that way. 

This leads me to my second biggest problem with Torchlight 3. There is a degree of bloat, a smattering of excess systems that feel pointlessly engorged for no particular reason. For instance, there are a multitude of pets that you come across as you play through the game. They look nice, they are useful, and you can give them cute names. The problem is that they simply exist in a cage, generally near a boss, until you find them. Then you open the cage, and they can be your pet. It feels oddly tacked on, and then you realize that this is precisely the problem. Pets were, almost certainly, going to be something you bought. Then the business model changed, all the work had already been done, and pets needed to be integrated into the game in some way. It just happens to be the shallowest way possible. 

Forts occupy a similar pothole in the road of Torchlight 3 enjoyment. Forts are meant to be a space in the game to call your own, but they serve no real purpose. You can level up Contracts, which are free battle passes, to earn junk to put in your forth. Most of it is merely cosmetic, but some of it provides such a mild benefit that the idea of chasing it seems pointless. You can get a tree that increases your luck, which is fine, but nothing else really stood out to me as being beneficial. It’s just another element of the game that had the original purpose of being a place people could potentially spend money. Now it exists somewhat aimlessly in a game you have already paid for. 

It is at this point the horrible realization sets in. The innovation in Torchlight 3 was meant to be the free to play nature of it. An action RPG that got one step closer to being an MMO, even though Path of Exile has already done that, sitting neatly into a niche and doing it exceptionally well. It’s a fish that sprouted legs, crawling onto a beach somewhere in Florida only to be met by a flock of people with iPhones, laughing at how late it was to the party. 

Ye Olde Basics

Image via Perfect World Entertainment

Torchlight 3 is an action RPG, and it does do what an action RPG needs to do. You have a choice of classes and lots of potential builds. There are enemies to kill and loot to collect. You grow in power, improving your ability to give and take damage in many exciting ways. The problem is that moment to moment; something is missing. And therein lies the problem. If you have played just about any action RPG, then you have played Torchlight 3 already.

Grim Dawn forced me to think about where I was standing, reacting to strange abilities from strange enemies so I didn’t get nuked. Diablo 3, despite the rough start, eventually turned into a fine-tuned loot-giving machine. Victor Vran leaned hard into the action concept, providing fantastic gameplay that was engaging and addictive. 

Torchlight 3 just fails to do any of this, and putting my finger on exactly why is a struggle. The gameplay is fine, but fine is simply not good enough. My time with the game went from that lovely feeling of excitement when you are sitting down with a new game to the awful confusion of not quite knowing if I was having fun, to the gut crushing feeling that I simply was not having any fun at all. Exploring areas and killing things, fighting bosses, and finding loot wasn’t happening in a way that felt good. Everything felt somewhat empty, mired in an unidentifiable malaise of familiarity and sameyness. 

The verdict

Image via Perfect World Entertainment

Contrary to popular belief, it is not pleasant to sit down and write a review where you struggle to find something positive to say about a team’s efforts. You don’t start playing a game for review with a burning desire to not fall in love with it, to not feel a degree of admiration and appreciation for the hard work of the people who put it all together. It is far more fun to talk about a game positively than negatively, to tell people why you enjoyed something, and to try and give them an accurate presentation of the fun you had. 

Torchlight 3 just wasn’t much fun. It wasn’t bad either, don’t get me wrong; it merely existed in that nebulous space between the things I like and the things I don’t like, and it awkwardly, insipidly, failed to stimulate my tastes in either direction. 

There are some neat ideas here in the form of the classes. You have a guy who controls trains and a robot with a gun in their belly. These ideas just don’t have room to shine when it gets down to the fighting. Seeing your characters visible change in dramatic ways as you find new gear is always fun, but it isn’t enough to carry the experience. I think the real issue is that I wanted Torchlight 3 to be a bright light in my gaming calendar, but instead, it’s sputtering and weak. For genre fans, it’s okay; it’s an action RPG that does everything an action RPG is supposed to do. It is just that at this point in time, being okay doesn’t cut it.

Final score:

5.5 / 10

+ It is an action RPG that does action RPG things so that genre fans will feel at home.
+ Nothing about this is aggressively bad, just uninspired.
Exciting ideas for classes don’t get a chance to shine.
Awkward, free to play era mechanics bog down the experience and feel pointless.
I simply didn’t feel like I was having fun at any point.
Disclosure: This review was written with a game code provided by Perfect World Entertainment.