If Torchlight means something to you, then I imagine you'll already have mixed feelings about Torchlight 3. Starting life as an MMO/action-RPG hybrid called Torchlight Frontiers from Echtra Games (a completely new developer after franchise creator Runic Games was shuttered), the project pivoted hard during development towards something more befitting of the series' original vision, as reflected by its name change earlier this year.
The result is, admittedly, an experience that plays like a somewhat watered down pastiche of the Torchlight you remember. But, with the game finally leaving Early Access next week, rejuvenated by all the improvements Echtra has made even over the last few months, Torchlight 3 is already on the right track to reaching its potential as a true sequel to the top-down, co-op focused, loot-centric RPG gauntlet that fans of the series know and love.
That potential for Torchlight 3 is best embodied in the creativity of its class roster, which is absolutely the biggest draw of the game so far. There are four to choose from, and none of them are quite like any class types I've seen from the genre before. My favourite (and current main) is the Railmaster, who - in hindsight - sounds absolutely ridiculous when trying to describe on paper.
Donning a giant hammer, these last remaining survivors of a collapsed locomotive kingdom (yes, really) are accompanied by a turreted train cart, which diligently follows its master along the tracks automatically laid behind them with every step. This train can be upgraded with new cars, such as one bearing mortar artillery, or even a ghost carriage that "calls forth the spirit of an ancient train" to deal massive AoE damage. A genuinely brilliant twist on the pet class stereotype, the visual novelty of its hair-brained conceit never really wears off.
Besides the Railmaster, you can also play through Torchlight 3's 25 odd hour campaign as a steam-powered robot buccaneer called Forge, a Dusk Mage characterised by a unique role-tension between light and dark magic, and a pistol-whipping Sharpshooter class who is basically the lovechild of Jack Sparrow and John Wick. Whoever you choose, there's a lot of fun to be had in both playing as, and levelling up, your character, all of which is buffeted by Torchlight 3's multi-pronged progression system of skill trees, relics, pets, and loot.
Torchlight 3's other more distinctive feature, Forts, hold less of a connection to its familiar point-and-click gameplay, but are nonetheless a welcome addition that elevates the overall package. This customisable homeworld replaces the generic town or city hubs that we're used to returning to after a hefty day in the dungeons, and allows players to create their own social spaces that offer respite beyond the mere pleasantries of digital feng shui.
Erect a Monument, for example, and it'll reward you with a status buff that you can then take into your next adventure. Or why not set up an Enchanting Station, on which to share and trade recipes with your friends and party mates? You can even set up kennels for your pets, units to store and display all your loot, and crafting stations to create both functional and cosmetic items. I enjoyed being able to come back to a space that evolved and improved alongside my own hero, and its visual and utilitarian feedback loops have been keeping me invested in its continued renovation right up until endgame.
It's worth stating that, despite its upcoming launch, Torchlight 3 is very much still a work in progress. A number of key features from Torchlight 2, such as optional areas and side quests, are sparse at best, and those aforementioned progression systems aren't quite as rich or varied as you'd hope from a game of its kind.
That said, Echtra Games has already listened carefully to fan feedback, and its slate of patches in Early Access have gone a long way in addressing some of Torchlight 3's most glaring issues ahead of its upcoming release, which will also bring the game to PS4 and Xbox One.
It may have started off on the wrong foot, but for a game that has had to shift gears heavily in a last-minute bid to avoid certain disaster (the most unappealing aspects of Torchlight 3 are almost certainly the last vestiges of what would have been Torchlight Frontiers), it's encouraging to see just how far it's already come.
Torchlight 3 is a game worth supporting for the vision it's slowly driving towards, then, even if it doesn't quite live up to its namesake just yet. I'm slowly being won around to the idea that it's going to become something special within the months and years ahead, and enjoying the journey there is - in my mind - worth the price of admission alone. That, and my hammer-wielding train whisperer.