I finished Torchlight 3 the other day. Rather suddenly really. It took my by surprise, to have come to the end of the campaign, but this is often the case with Early Access games. Incremental additions means the first thing you lose is your bearings - a sense of pace and of building towards something climactic. And afterwards you're left with questions: was that it? Wait, was that really it? Is there going to be more campaign to come? Is what I've played going to change beyond recognition? How much of this is fixed in place?
(This is one of the problems with Early Access games, BTW. I am not an ungrateful player by any means, I hope, but I have realised that Early Access often makes me feel like I'm acting in an ungrateful manner, like a kid rooting around in a box of cereal hoping that there's accidentally a second toy in the packet. My apologies to developers everywhere.)
Anyway, by the end of the three acts that are currently there I was much, much more in thrall to Torchlight 3. It's still buggy, but I expect that in Early Access. Almost a mark of honour, in a weird way - this is real Early Access, not some polished marketing beat version of it. By the end of the three acts my Dusk Mage was a lot of fun to play, light and dark magic meaning that I could lance people with holy arrows that gave me a proper jolt of health back, as well as conjuring a gaggle of otherworldly grubbins and toothed horrors to fight alongside me when I fancied. My ultimate, which did not feel very ultimate at the start of the adventure, was now over-compensating. Daggers fell from the sky followed by flaming boulders, a proper meteor bombardment. It was like holding Armageddon in a bottle, and then shaking it up and spraying it everywhere at three minute intervals. Concussive!
What else? Nice tile sets by the end. A really lovely level set in a library with bookcases filled with sumptuous lore and little weapon holders that sprung up from the floor. I am a sucker for libraries in games, and procedural libraries that are also filled with epics and uniques to fight? Mercy! I still worry that the game takes a little too long to get going, and is saddled with a base-building element that has yet to truly come into focus for me. But by the end of the campaign Torchlight 3 was starting to feel like Torchlight. A second run-through with a glorious punchy robot is already underway and I think I may like this class even more.
Now I'm at the end, I guess, I am faced with the end-game. Torchlight 2 had a really beautiful end-game, the gold standard until Diablo 3 got its act together by splitting its acts into pieces. The Mapworks was a bit like that library I enjoyed so much, except you could pull things down off the shelves - there weren't actual shelves, this analogy was such a bad idea - and use different maps to warp to all kinds of wonderful end-game dungeons. Level away!
The Mapworks is still present here - well, there are certainly maps, anyway. But a recent update added the real end-game. And before I get to it: jeepers, it must be daunting, right? Diablo 3's adventure mode, which allows you to dip in and out of the entire campaign in breezy chunks with rotating quests - and that's just the start of it mate: rifts! - is so astonishingly potent, so much a perfect example of everything an ARPG end-game should be that I suspect it's the reason we haven't had Diablo 4 released and downloaded yet. Adventure mode tells you that everything in a campaign is vanity. You don't need it. The right kind of less is infinitely more, a fountain of more - that's a pretty good description of Diablo 3 to be honest - all the more you could ever want. How do you move past that?
Torchlight 3 ropes in a familiar genie, who offers you a range of dungeons to tackle, each one harder than the last. Two things here. One, Torchlight 3's really leaning into the game-show stuff with the patter, and it kind of works for this. Two: you access the genie from the base you've been building, which means that after a campaign of forgetting to visit it, I now never really leave. (I still don't feel like I truly get why I have this space though.)
Each time you play you choose from a selection of cards, which each contain two modifiers. One is bad: maybe a ghost follows you around the level cursing you! One is good: maybe your ultimate recharges twice as fast. You pick a card, fight through the dungeon and then a boss and then you return to do it all again - new cards, a new level, and the whole things saves at intervals.
This is pretty fun! Or rather it is a template for something that is going to be fantastic. Playing through the early stages of this I feel like I'm seeing the same cards and the same levels and the same bosses a bit too much, but that's the kind of thing that can be fixed as the game grows and gets richer. (I say that as if it's so easy; really it's a nightmare for developers and I'm sorry!) When I go to the genie and keep getting cards I haven't seen before - and dungeon tiles and bosses I haven't seen quite so much - I think the whole thing will really sing.
Oh yes, and the bugs. Bugs in the main game don't really bother me so much - for a while portals would take you places you didn't want to go, which was actually kind of fun, and then there are creatures you've killed but who stick around, which isn't too much of a pain. But the bugs in this end-game mode can be annoying. Let's say I need to collect eight bones as I kill 60 skeletons while I wade through a dungeon. Frequently I will get to the end of the dungeon, hundreds of skeletons killed and only three or four of the eight bones! What follows is me wandering slowly back over the procedurally built landscape trying to trigger every last wave of skeletons to get those final bones. And then eventually giving up and leaving and trying the whole thing over again.
The saving grace, of course, is that you're levelling no matter what you do - levelling levelling levelling. So a dungeon scrub isn't a total scrub because you still leave with more XP than you went in with.
So yes, I am warming to Torchlight 3. And I am having a fascinating time watching it come together through Early Access. This has become that Early Access game that I check in on at least once a week to see if something new has been added or something old has been replaced. I am excited to get back to my punchy robot and do it all over again.