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Torchlight 3 hands-on preview: Burning brightly

The former Torchlight Frontiers retains many of the mechanics that would have gone into this almost-online action RPG, but it's a fun and engaging adventure nevertheless.

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Torchlight has long been seen as an excellent addition to the dungeon crawler genre. Runic Games created two exciting entries that were well-received by the community. They stand tall as fantastic, action-packed RPGs with plenty to do and see. However, Torchlight 3 is the black sheep of the family, by far.

The game has a bit of a tricky history. Originally, it was planned as Torchlight Frontiers, an MMORPG that would have found players grouping together to explore a variety of procedurally-generated dungeon levels that would change over time. However, earlier this year, Echtra and Perfect World Entertainment announced that the game had been rebranded completely to Torchlight 3. This means it retains some of the mechanics that were present from Frontiers, but the game has been overhauled into something different – though it's all still played online.

As such, the game has been pelted with negativity from series fans left and right. The idea of a free-to-play slant for a Torchlight game with online requirements and microtransactions has been understandably concerning. However, as a fan myself, I came away from playing the Early Access version of Torchlight 3 with a smile on my face. If the game continues in this vein, I can see it emerging from its early stages as a formidable sequel with something for everyone to enjoy. 

It's important to note that, as far as action RPGs go, Torchlight 3 is anything but hardcore. It feels geared toward a much more casual crowd, which you'll see echoed among nearly all of the players chatting amongst themselves in populated areas. They're constantly whining that "Path of Exile is better" (every single time I played), but it doesn't need to be Path of Exile to be fun. And I'm not ashamed to say its pared-down adventure was more exciting to me because it was devoid of complications.

Before you get started, you make a character. There are three classes to choose from: the Sharpshooter, Dusk Mage, and Forged. As I typically gravitate toward swords and bows, I went with the Sharpshooter. Across two playable arcs in Early Access, with an endgame that debuted after I had already spent time in-game, you'll hack and slash your way through a variety of areas, each with their own different types of terrain and environments.

Of course, there's a narrative as well, but it's ultimately unforgettable, and while I watched the rudimentary motion comic-like cut scenes, they felt far from engaging. There are far better stories out there, so if that's what you're looking for, you're not going to find it here. But what you will find are more enemies than you can shake a stick at. Or a bow. Whatever you want.

Each class has two main skill trees, with skills that can be leveled up ten times apiece. For instance, you can unlock a skill that lets your Sharpshooter fire a stream of rapid bows that land more like bullets. There isn't a wide variety in terms of skills that you can unlock, but seeing as all I really wanted was to continually get more powerful so I could take on bigger enemies, I was satisfied with the simplicity of it all.

There are also Relic Skills for some variety. Relics are crafted by way of Ember Cores, which you can collect by defeating bosses. They offer a unique set of passive skills that can grant you powerful attacks, such as a flaming sword or other similarly beefy offensive and defensive abilities.

Additionally, you can use the Legendarium to break down Legendary items you receive at your personal Fort (your home area), at an Enchanter's Altar. This will give you up to three additional passive skills to use as you see fit. They can be quite useful when it comes to customizing a play style you prefer.

You'll need every skill you have at your disposal if you want to make it far. Each level you traverse is teeming with lesser and more powerful enemies, usually culminating in a boss fight. There are no puzzles to speak of, just pathfinding and the need to totally crush anything in your path to either complete a quest or open the next area to explore. It's all very straightforward, and smacks of a game that's best played in small chunks when you just want to murderize some unfortunate goblins or skeletons.

When you aren't reducing your mouse's lifespan by constantly clicking to kill off enemies, you can customize your aforementioned Fort.  Store equipment there, show off your best armor, craft items, and hang out there or in the world hub when you need a break. You also get a pet who you bring along on your adventures.

From dogs to eagles, your pets are a boon to your dungeon crawling adventures, killing off enemies and returning to town from time to time with your loot to sell off. They can't be killed, and they can also learn new skills. Seeing my dog tear into a boss was a highlight of my time with the game, if I'm being honest.

Although the game remains in Early Access, there's still plenty to do. The optional online multiplayer, while I didn't have the opportunity to test out, was not a hindrance for me flying solo. The servers were stable, I was never kicked out of a game, and I enjoyed the fun, admittedly somewhat mindless clicking through enemies while I collected loot and leveled. Sometimes, those simple things are all you really need to make a game fun.

With that said, I'm looking forward to digging into Torchlight 3 even further to see how much more my character can evolve. I've been hankering for an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two that didn't feel like a lengthy gaming commitment, and Torchlight 3's streamlined dungeon crawling does it for me.

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

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