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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.