Torment: Tides of Numenera Review: Transdimensional Nostalgia

I interviewed Torment: Tides of Numenera‘s Creative Lead Colin McComb from developer inXile Entertainment last June, and became an avid fan without having played its predecessor, Planescape: Torment. The way he spoke about the game conveyed a strong sense of passion and tradition. You could tell he felt honored and privileged to be at the helm of one of the most anticipated sequels of all time, and he was more concerned with disappointing the game’s many fans than making the game a fiscal success. Colin is very much the sort of person you could sit with for days talking about philosophy, theology and of course the golden age of role playing games, which still gives many of us that nostalgic, dopamine high when we speak of it. I knew 5 minutes into that interview if the game was anything like him, then it would be a game to remember, and I was not wrong.

As mentioned above I have not played the previous game Planescape: Torment (the horror!), so this article will not be in any way a comparison of the two. Those looking for that sort of vantage point should seek out another review. If you stay, however, you will get an honest look at one of the best CRPGs I have played in a long long time that, as amazing as it is, still has its flaws. Now that the disclaimers and pleasantries have been concluded, let’s talk about Torment: Tides of Numenera and how it measures up to other games in its genre and other RPGs in general.

Editors Note: The review of this game takes place on a PC version of the game. Please note that there are varied reports of framerate and load time issues on console that were not experienced on PC at all.

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Genre: CRPG
Developed by: inXile Entertainment
Published by: Techland
Release date: Febuary 28th, 2017
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Price at time of review: 44.99 USD

Torment: Tides of Numenera Features

  • A Deep, Thematically Satisfying Story. The philosophical underpinnings of Torment drive the game, both mechanically and narratively. Your words, choices, and actions are your primary weapons.
  • Reactivity, Replayability, and the Tides. Your choices matter, and morality in the Ninth World is not a simple matter of “right” and “wrong”. You will decide the fates of those around you, and characters will react to your decisions and reputation.
  • A World Unlike Any Other. Journey across the Ninth World, a fantastic, original setting, with awe-inspiring visuals, offbeat and unpredictable items to use in and out of battle, and stunning feats of magic.
  • A New Take on Combat. With the Crisis system, combat is more than just bashing your enemies. Plan your way through hand-crafted set-pieces which combine battles with environmental puzzles, social interaction, stealth, and more.

Setting and Story

The story is what defines the game, so to avoid diving too deeply with spoilers, I’ll briefly explain the plot of the game. You begin the game plummeting down to the Ninth World, a world inhabited by humans, aliens and other life forms many, many years into the future. Countless civilizations have risen and fallen in that time, leaving their Numenera (technology and artifacts) behind. You play as the Last Castoff, the last body possessed by a man known as the Changing God, who has cheated death for centuries by changing bodies every decade or so. As you wake up on the planet, remembering nothing of your descent or what took place before, the game takes the player through a series of environments full of a variety of characters, all the while giving you clues about your past and the Changing God.

Not being a huge Sci-fi fan in general, my initial impressions of the game were a bit overwhelming, but as you start to read into the descriptions and listen to the various characters in the first area of the game, you begin to understand what it is all about. There is a lot of background info to the setting of the game, and you must read a LOT in order to get the full breadth of it, something that many players may be unwilling to do. If you’re up for it, however, the game will suck you in like a good novel and instead of dreading the 20 some odd paragraphs of dialogue each NPC has, you will relish ever moment, reading every detail as you start to realize how everything is and always has been connected. The game plays like a visual choose-your-own-adventure novel, and features so many different outcomes that you feel compelled to play again and again, knowing that you will never truly know all the possible options unless you investigate every nook and cranny several times over.

The Ninth World feels ancient and alive as you explore the various areas of the game. Structures talk to you, objects make you remember things from centuries gone by and with every success and failure you feel compelled to explore on. The writing is so well done that each character’s motivations and desires are easy to understand. You find yourself not making tough decisions like in other games, but instead the decisions you are prompted with seem tailored to your personality. The different zones and areas feel unique and you feel a bit like James Woods in Family Guy as you enter a new one, following the shiny objects and interacting with things as if InXile knew exactly how you would play the game.

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Audio and Visual

As with other games running on the Unity engine, you know what you are getting before you even pick up the game. The graphics, while good, are exactly what you would expect and there is nothing mind-blowing about them. The art design, however, sets Torment apart from other games like Tyranny or Pillars of Eternity. Each area feels vibrant, detailed and alive. No two feel the same and it feels like you are playing inside a work of art. The special effects of skills, abilities and others are not particularly impressive, and in fact nearly non-existent, which is somewhat disappointing.

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The voice acting in the game, the tiny bit that there is, is simply fantastic and the opening sequence feels like a AAA quality narration. The bit of dialogue and monologue that your Companions bring them to life and help you discern their personalities and motivations, making it easier to determine who to bring along with you in your party. The music in the game is subtle but does the job of setting the mood and tone of the game nicely. Often, you don’t even notice it’s there because it’s so appropriate to the scene that it blends in perfectly. I find myself wishing these sort of games had more budget and time to voice more lines. Someday.

Gameplay

In a game that is all about the Story and Setting, you may think that the gameplay would take a backseat, but in this case you would be wrong. The gameplay is the vehicle driving the story forward, compelling you to explore and dig deeper into the mysteries of the Ninth World, and it’s what makes doing it so much fun. In Torment: Tides of Numenera players will have opportunities to complete quests in a variety of different ways: Combat, Intimidation, Deception, stealing, bribery and in some cases all of the above as you maximize the expertise of your chosen class. Have you ever played a game where you were in the middle of a combat sequence, tapped your opponent on the shoulder and said “How about we just go get a beer and talk about this some more instead of kill each other?” and the guy replied, “Um, yeah sure, ok.”? How many of you thought to even try? Have you ever played a game where you resolved a quest by letting someone kill you? Yes kill you. I didn’t think so. Torment: Tides of Numenera expands the possibilities for even the most hardcore RPG players and makes you rethink every decision you make.

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Players will use skills to make “Skill Checks” during conversations and dialogue to attempt to influence outcomes. The higher your skill, the higher chance you have for success. Players can also expend Stats, known as using Effort, to help further influence these outcomes. Many Skill Checks are only available to you if you have met certain requirements, and what all of those are is anyone’s best guess. The game also has interesting outcomes, in some cases, if you fail to complete quests “correctly”. Again and again you will wonder what would have happened if you did things differently, as decisions made early in the game can affect the course of things much later on.

The combat is somewhat similar to Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity, with its own wrinkles. Each character gets one attack and move per turn and they can use Stats from their Stat pools (Effort) to increase their damage and hit chance with attacks. Once a character runs out of that Stat Pool you will need to use a consumable or rest to replenish it, making some tactical advantages to not using as much Effort as you can all the time, similar to real combat. Players can find better and better gear as the game goes on, making your character more and more powerful and this was definitely one of the most fun parts of the game for me. However, combat is rather boring compared with other games of the same genre, as most combat scenarios are not created to be difficult but rather you are meant to “find” some other way to resolve it. In short, don’t play the game just for the combat or you will be sorely disappointed. There are also numerous bugs related to combat and I had to reload my save several during various Crisis because the game just hung and the enemies decided they were on lunch break.

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Final Thoughts

In a gaming market increasingly over saturated with Triple AAA titles releasing on a seemingly weekly basis, it’s easy to overlook Torment: Tides of Numenera. It doesn’t have a blockbuster budget with 100 hours + of gameplay, huge environments you lose hours exploring or the most modern engine with cutting edge graphics. Neither does it reinvent the wheel. What it does do however, is takes the torch that was rekindled by games like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny and does them justice. Torment: Tides of Numenera takes you back in time to the golden age of games gone by, the ones that made you the gamer you are today, and the ones that will never be replaced in your heart. If you revel in that feeling whenever you think about games like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Fallout and Knights of the Old Republic, then clear off the nostalgic dust and make a little room for Torment: Tides of Numenera, because it will be joining them shortly.

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8.5
Summary: Be prepared to take a voyage in time and space, not only to the Ninth World countless years into the future, but also 20 years into the past, into your bedroom as a young gamer just finding your way. If you still know how to read the Numenera known as a "book", Torment: Tides of Numenera will take you places no other game has in a decade. Although the game is not overly long (about 30 hours), it is easily justified for the modest price of 44.99$.
Setting and Story (9.5)
Audio and Visual (8)
Gameplay (8.3)
Pricepoint (8.9)
Replayability (7)
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12 comments on “Torment: Tides of Numenera Review: Transdimensional Nostalgia”

  1. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    I’ve been interested in this game recently. Not because of the game itself (not my kind of RPG), but because of the controversy. There’s a certain schadenfreude to watching the more haughty fans of these kinds of cRPGs who boast about how these are "true RPG experiences" who can’t find any new games to meet their standards, and bicker about how older games were far better, and that is how it should be, and all modern RPGs are bad, etc, etc.

    Looking at your review, and looking at this review conveys the sharp contrast in opinion.
    http://www.rpgcodex.net/content.php?id=10572

    Then again, the people on that forum aren’t the most reasonable kind of gamers.

  2. Avatar Fexelea says:

    I believe in reviews from people I know / follow / generally agree with, but in the end they are all just opinions.

    For the people using the forum here, it is more likely they will agree with Cas than with people browsing something like rpg codex that focuses on the old-school thing alone. I am kinda happy I do not have that strong push of nostalgia that makes me feel no modern game satisfies me. It must be a very frustrating way to game.

  3. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    I couldn’t imagine feeling that way. To me it’s like having one favorite video game. THERE’S JUST SO MANY THAT ARE MY FAVORITE! I figure the people who complain about this probably don’t play anything made in the 21st century.

  4. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    Having actually played several of the older RPGs, I can say quite confidently that Torment: Tides of Numenera (and the rest of the modern cRPGs) are often just as good, and in many ways better. Just as an example, the older games tend to use spinoffs of D&D 2nd edition rules, and 2nd edition is garbage, full of confusing and irrational restrictions both in and out of combat. In that way something like Pillars of Eternity is better, with clearer and clearly explained systems that offer more choice in playstyle within a class, allowing you to do something atypical of the older games and continue roleplaying your clumsy rogue or stupid muscle wizard in combat without completely gimping the character, and without sacrificing system complexity to manage it.

    If you’ll notice, there is very little actual criticism in that review, and much of that is stupid criticism. "The solution to quests are almost always near by." Well no **** sherlock you just said the map was fairly small (which fyi, is neither a good nor a bad thing on it’s own.) "The quest journal is patronizing and offers hints." Ok, don’t read it. You don’t have to use it and can reasonably figure out everything yourself, that’s what I’m doing, it’s not the end of the world that hints are there for people who need or want them, and unlike many modern games the quests are actually designed to be completed without the hand holding. "It’s loaded with descriptions of things you can see on screen." Yeah, uh, sweetie, I don’t know if you noticed but isometric cRPGs aren’t exactly the last bastion of detailed texture and animation work, they add a whole lot of detail to the mental image of the things being described. You see what I’m getting at I hope. Not that the person doesn’t have a right to their opinion or that none of their complaints are valid (edit: for example the combat is pretty mediocre for the reasons that were described in the review, among others,) but the nostalgia blinders are readily apparent.

    The quick and dirty way to tell legitimate complaints (wether you agree with them or not) from things like the main body of that review, is too look at the explainations. If it can be explained why and how thing X is a problem, (say, a voiced protagonist) and if it can’t be addressed and dismissed with 1 sentance, then the complaint is more likely to be legitimate. If it can’t be, or if said explainations say "it is X" without saying why, less likely to be legitimate.

    I really, really dislike people who do crap like that, because they make those of us with actual detailed complaints look bad and our complaints look like they’re not valid by association, it’s all just dismissed as nostalgia (even when it’s people like me making said complaints, who didn’t actually play or even know of the older games until after the newer ones because I didn’t have a PC.)

  5. Avatar Emergence says:

    The irony of that rpgcodex review is it suffers from the same meandering, verbal blathering it accuses the game of. To me, writing like that is just self serving content that is meant to show off how clever one is. Brevity is the soul of wit.

  6. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    I know. That was my whole point. Gamers so blinded by nostalgia that they can’t enjoy anything different than what was made decades ago. A lot of people saying it isn’t nearly as good as the older games, some saying it literally isn’t even an RPG, and plenty going on about how the game is a betrayal of the fans and the old games. Plenty of flame wars going on for those who fancy recreationally reading such toxic, self-destructive bickering.

  7. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    It’s ridiculous. That said, video games are near the bottom of the list of things I care to complain about and get bent out of shape over. They aren’t obligatory. It’s entertainment.

    But yeah, this game looks awesome. I would already own it if I wasn’t in the process of changing jobs and trying to be smart with my money.

  8. Avatar abraksil says:

    I put this one on the top of my pile of shame :D :D :D but seriously I have to find some time to play it

  9. Avatar Castielle says:

    Torment is a solid game. I know some people are unhappy with it as it didn’t live up to their expectations, but since I never played the original I had none and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Cas

  10. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    That’s the problem with having a "most favorite game" or a "best game ever made". When you set your expectations and standards to such a high and specific degree that no game can match it, it becomes impossible to enjoy anything else.

  11. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    My favorite game is Skies of Arcadia. My Favorite (video game) character is Chie Satonaka. The best game ever made is a pointless question that has to be broken down into numerous catagories (gameplay genre, narrative genre, technical prowess, art style, ect) to have any meaning but if I have to pick western RPGs I say Fallout New Vegas (which is amusing because it’s heavily inspired by westerns.)

    None of that detracts from my ability to enjoy other games or characters. I can enjoy games (or movies, or books, or music) for what they are while also recognizing that some other thing does either specific ideas or the entire concept better. I still enjoy Devil May Cry 1, 3 and 4 even though Bayonetta 1 and 2 are straight up better action games. I still enjoy the Ace Combat games that aren’t Ace Combat 5 even though they aren’t Ace Combat 5. I still enjoy numerous JRPGs that aren’t Skies of Arcadia. Just like I still enjoy drama/comedy shows that aren’t House, enjoy romance stories that aren’t Euraka 7 or Howls Moving Castle, and enjoy rock/metal albums that aren’t Once.

  12. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    What I meant was having it so that unless a game is as good as or better and is the same as the kind of game I like, it’s not worth playing. Of course people can enjoy games despite liking another game more, be it because of its genre, style, or just better version of another. I was talking about people who favor something to such a grand degree that any game not exactly like it is seen as bad, or at least can’t be enjoyed. Kind of like how some people who play souls end up not enjoying other games, even ones with significantly different combat mechanics because they love Souls gameplay so much. Even if a game is good, or even great, it’s no fun for someone because it’s not that particular game.

    Example being the guys in RPGcodex. Torment isn’t like Planescape (literally the best game ever made), therefore Torment is bad and no fun.


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