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Torchlight III

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Perfect World
Developer: Echtra Games
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2020


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Torchlight Frontiers'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 12, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Set in the same universe as Torchlight I and II, Torchlight III is a shared-world action-RPG bringing back many of the franchise’s signature features and mechanics that captured the hearts of ARPG fans around the world.

The Torchlight series has been trying to challenge the king of the ARPG scene, Diablo. Whether it's a return to the classic mechanics of that legendary series or just a cheerier aesthetic as opposed to a dark one, the duo of games has always been an alternative trying to appeal to those who have grown disenchanted with Blizzard's ARPG experience. In the years that have passed since the release of Torchlight II, the original team at Runic has disbanded, only for some of them to come back together under a new company named Echtra Games. The new company's first title, Torchlight Frontiers, looks to evolve their own interpretation of the ARPG. Instead of going after Diablo, the team set its sights on one of the more influential titles in the genre: Path of Exile.

As expected, the game starts off with you selecting your class, and in this version of the alpha build, you have three classes to choose from; each class is familiar but has unique traits. The dusk mage is a typical mage class, but it uses both dark- and light-inspired magic. The twist is that you need to balance yourself, so using exclusively dark magic means you'll drain more of its mana reserves but have a ton left over for light magic until you use more and reverse the process. The forge is a standard warrior class but in robotic form, giving you the chance to use all types of melee weaponry as well as the cannon embedded in your chest. You have no mana reserves, but you have a heat meter, and when filled, it prevents you from using anything but primary attacks until you cool down. You can vent out all of the heat as an area-of-effect stun move, so you can almost use your special effects infinitely if you take the time to add a vent move to the chain. Finally, the railmaster is a new class, and it's a typical engineer except for the fact that you're constantly laying down tracks, so your turret can tag along with you. This is a class that can make you more mindful about your movements; you can create crazy patterns for your turret to follow, but if you aren't paying attention, you can get it stuck in an endless loop.

From here, Torchlight Frontiers follows a typical ARPG flow. You grab a mission from a person in town along with a few side missions in case you want to be more efficient. From there, you go to the designated area and get to work killing everything in your path and looting everything you see. That means plenty of mouse-clicking for movement, attacking, and picking up things, but now the game supports gamepads to facilitate a more direct approach to movement and attacks. You still have your pet in tow, which is great for both getting in some extra attacks and having someone who can ferry out unwanted items to sell in town — a bigger deal since you have minimal pack space and will often be juggling items. You fight and level up and unlock more skills for your arsenal as you find the boss you need to kill, and then you head back to town to reap your rewards and start the cycle anew.

There are a few things that make Torchlight Frontiers different from other ARPGs. The first is the fact that this isn't just a free-to-play title but something of an MMO as well. At the very least, there are plenty of areas marked as public, where you can run into complete strangers who are willing to help you take out a mob or two before they go on their merry way. There's no PvP present at this time, and the closed alpha nature of the game means that we aren't seeing a ton of people roaming around the public areas right now, but the feeling is similar to Destiny in that there are areas where you'll be constantly reminded that you're not playing alone, even if there isn't anyone else in your party.

The second is the presence of your own campsite. As in some MMOs, you'll be able to craft both useful and decorative items in your own campsite, and that's done by gathering up materials in the world that, thankfully, don't take up any space that can be used for more valuable equipment. Some of those useful items include places where you can craft powerful relic weapons and spots where you can set up equipment loadouts for quick swapping before going out on your adventures.

Finally, the game handles campaign flow and leveling in a unique way. While there are only two lands open in the alpha at the moment, there are no restrictions about which land you visit first, so you can decide to go after the goblin lands before dealing with the insects of the infested lands, or vice versa. Additionally, the leveling you do is unique to each land, so while you might be a level-10 player in the infested lands, you'll roll into the goblin lands as a level-1 player, since the gear for the infested may be absolutely useless here. Since equipment is more important here, the aforementioned loadout system suddenly becomes more useful.

That last bit is probably going to be a sticking point for most players. On the one hand, it makes every bit of loot valuable if you can anticipate the weaknesses of the lands, and it also ensures that you're never so powerful that you get tired of new lands because you're breezing through them. On the other hand, the power fantasy gained from that early grinding gets wiped out, so some players may not relish having to start over anew just because they entered a new environment with new monsters in tow.

Even in its early state, the game looks to be as picturesque as the older titles. The cartoon-like colors still make the game pop, as do the less-menacing character designs. The game doesn't go too overboard with particle effects, and the frame rate holds steady no matter how big of a mob you're facing. The sound is also quite good as far as music and effects go, but be prepared to only hear the voice of your hero grunting out attacks and the game informing you in dulcet tones that you're close to death.

It may currently be scheduled for an undetermined 2020 release, but in its current alpha state, Torchlight Frontiers looks to be a fascinating experience. The classes are distinct enough that the experience will feel a little different from past games, while the familiarity of the game's core loop will be comforting to those who want a little more Torchlight. The progression system is where the game can stand out, as the flow is very different from anything else out there, and the game's status as a free-to-play title means that people won't have to risk anything to give it a shot. If you're a fan of the series or the genre, Frontiers is one to look out for once the release date gets more concrete.

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