Planescape: Torment came out in 1999 and is recognized as one of the finest RPGs ever made. The weird fleshy Planescape world, the excellently flawed characters, the choices and consequences that rival the Deus Ex and The Witcher series for scope and variety, the fact that death was a vital gameplay mechanic… it all added up to a hugely memorable adventure that inexplicably never got a sequel. Finally in 2013 Wasteland 2 developer InXile, working closely with Fallout: New Vegas/Pillars of Eternity developer Obsidian (both of whom contain key members from the Planescape team), successfully Kickstarted a spiritual sequel.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is now here, we’ve played it, and here’s what we think of it. Are the choices as devastating? Is the world as twisted? Are any of the companions as insane as floating skull Morte? Read on to find out.
Torment Story Trailer
Introduction to the story.
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It is millennia in the future, with our world so far in the past that nothing remains of it. A powerful being called The Changing God keeps himself immortal by continually changing and shedding bodies, leaving these “castoffs” to make their own way in the world. Your character is the most recent, The Last Castoff, and you will have a part to play in the fight against the terrifying entity called The Sorrow that is hunting down castoffs and the Changing God. But what part is entirely up to you.
The writing is pretty darn excellent. There’s a lot of text but honestly we didn’t mind. The game keeps on introducing fascinating things, like the Endless Battle, the galaxy-spanning emotion-eating city-creature called the Bloom, an entire land devoted to ancient tombs, and other twisted discoveries that makes every moment of Torment interesting. The more we found out about the Ninth World, the more we wanted to know about it. Sometimes the game gave us more, sometimes it’s left to our imagination, and I’m not sure which is more satisfying. There certainly could’ve been a lot more here as Torment only scratches the surface of the Numenera universe.
Furthermore every single NPC in the game, and there are a lot of them (yes we’re going to keep italicizing “lot”), has their own distinct stories, personalities, and voices. Some of them want you to do something or buy something, others just want you to get out of their face. A surprising amount might even want to eat you.
Your companions are equally excellent with obviously a lot more detail. You meet Truth-mage Callistege and no-nonsense underdweller Alistern as soon as you start, and the rest you’ll have to discover by yourself. I believe there are a total of six, all of which are found in the opening city of Sagus Cliffs, but you can only have three with you at any one time leading to the first of a series of agonizing choices InXile puts the player through. All are useful and can be customized in various ways and all will have different and unique reactions to everything going on in Torment, but I’m going to be honest now and say that none of them are quite as good as Morte.
It’s hard to talk badly about the companions because they’re so well written, unique story events only occur when certain characters are with you, and if you so choose you can even complete their stories and give them a happy ending away from you. I even had the option to sell one to slavery or feed another to a giant Sarlacc-like worm, which is awesome. But I never really felt protective, attached or connected with any of them, not like Morte or Minsc or Mordin or any of the better companion characters from other RPGs. Barring fellow castoff Matkina none of them really have any reason to be hanging around the main character for so long as the plot doesn’t concern any of them, and only Erritis the over-heroic idiot is any fun to have around – and yet his meager plotline is a quest to make him no fun at all. Er, right.
As the start of playing Torment it’s a little overwhelming since so little of what you’d expect from an RPG appears. “Magic” is called “Esotery”, and that’s the easiest change. There are the titular Tides, which alter based on your choices (even dialogue options) and define how people see or react to the Last Castoff. All major actions cost points from three stat pools: Might, Speed, and Intellect, and there are plenty of Skills available to level up that’ll help but only a tiny few can be chosen to upgrade over the entire game. Fortunately, mostly thanks to InXile’s intelligent design you’ll quickly work out what does what and in no time at all you’ll be exploring the Ninth World as if you’d been playing RPGs with similar setups for decades (you haven’t).
When comes to the story though, like Deus Ex, The Witcher or a Telltale game it’s the choices that matter most. These can be actions or dialogue, and these choices can affect everything from whether a character will talk to the Castoff or whether an entire section of the world is massacred in a cannibal holocaust, to the entire plot of the game. I was quite astounded when my words from halfway through Torment were thrown back at me during the finale. And most agonizingly, very few of these choices are plainly good. Torment takes great delight in reminding the player that there isn’t always a happy ending. For example at one point I managed to avert war but only by sending an oppressed race to live in isolated misery. It’s depressing, but amazing none the less.
What’s even better is the combat, although not in the way you might expect. It’s turn-based, has plenty of useful skills, spells, and attacks, and there are special equippable powers called Cyphers that can be found or bought. It’s generally quite fun, and I like how there are often actions to take or even people to talk to in these “Crisis” encounters. But what actually makes it great is that the combat is completely optional. Yes, this an RPG made in 2017 where combat encounters can be completely avoided, either by talking characters down or choosing not to initiate them. Granted there will be at least two minor questlines you won’t be able to complete, but I still finished the game without needing to. The few Crises you’re forced into can be escaped without killing anyone. This is awesome, especially if you’re like me and really struggled with the likes of Pillars of Eternity.
The fun part of course is world exploration, and while cool I do have to break some bad news: Torment is not an open-world game. There is no choice about the places visited and once left there is no way to get back to any of them. The game does not make this clear, so after boarding a blimp away from Sagus Cliffs I received a dozen ‘Quest Failed’ messages and the sinking knowledge that I would never be able to recruit Matkina to our party. As long as you’re expecting it this knowledge isn’t such a downer, but it still comes as a shock.
Fortunately all the locations are incredibly detailed, have an astonishing amount to see, do, and discover, and are all completely unique. The two major locations, Sagus Cliffs and the Bloom, are so vastly differently from each other it’s difficult to wrap your head around. One’s a dilapidated city with friendly rock monsters, weird robot visitors, cannibal cults that are actually quite charming really, and a psychic bar where one of the patrons is a figment of another’s imagination. The other’s a giant worm that could eat you at any time. Just exploring this world is an utter joy, so it’s a shame there’s no way to go back and check on people.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7/8/8.1/10 (64-bit versions)
Processor: Intel Core i3 or equivalent
Memory: 4 Gb RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 460 or equivalent
Storage: 20 GB available space
Processor: Intel Core i5 series or equivalent
Memory: 8 Gb RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 560 or equivalent
Torment: Tides of Numenera is not a system-intensive game. That’ll run it for sure. The only problems we faced were the opening logo movies being choppy (who cares?) and the occasional bit of freezing during Crisis encounters – although these were intermittent and probably had more to do with our own PC rather than the game itself.
Graphically though by going old-school in design Torment has ended up looking gorgeous. Every single area in the game is bristling with insane amounts of detail, and the hi-res backgrounds look great even massively zoomed in. It looks like a work of disgusting art (particularly in the sweaty, pulsating fleshy mass of the Bloom), and most of the backgrounds are packed with various animations to keep everywhere looking alive. The design of everything is generally great, and sometimes there’s even a breathtaking moment – the first proper appearance of the Sorrow did that for us, as well as the shadowy Endless Gate occasionally sprouting a giant mouth out of nowhere to eat us and the enemies we were fighting. We even saw the shadow of a dragon flying over at one point, which was neat.
Torment was a huge pleasure to play for most of the 30 hours it took to finish. A few things disappointed me but I still was hooked for the entire time and desperate to know the ending and find out the truth behind the Changing God and the Sorrow. I scoured every nook and cranny and tried to find and finish every possible quest in the game, only missing out on a few combat-focused missions, and I’ll probably go for another playthrough to try different choices alongside the three companions we missed out on. Torment is smart, well-written, compelling, and is definitely more my personal kind of RPG where choices matter and combat isn’t the focus.
That said, now that I’ve finished it there are some things I didn’t like. I’ve mentioned the companions already, and how they don’t really have a reason to be with the Castoff so I never really got attached to anyone. The overall plot wasn’t quite as satisfying as I’d hoped, mostly because I never really felt there was anything at stake: the fate of a bunch of amoral immortals isn’t something I wanted to fight for, especially when none of my companions gave a shit. Most of the side stories were far more interesting, such as the disturbing Children of the Endless Gate or the civil war brewing in the Bloom.
My biggest disappointment though is at least for a good reason: I wanted more. The Ninth World is so packed with fascinating characters and places you only get a snippet of in Torment, so not being able to properly journey across it or at least see far more of it felt like a shame. Furthermore the idea that the Last Castoff has an entire location in their mind is a cool one but it’s never really developed. It’s called a “Labyrinth” but it’s usually only a couple of rooms, so that was a bit disappointing too. Torment may be a game that keeps you wanting more, but that’s only because I loved my time with it.
Price & Where To Buy
Torment: Tides of Numenera is priced £34.99/$44.99 on GMG and it seems to be that price in most places. It’s out today, February 28th 2017. Which is today. February 28th. This year. Today. Now.
TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA VERDICT
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a weird little oddity in RPGs, and we think InXile totally meant it to be. It may share an engine with Pillars of Eternity but it couldn’t be more different. Every line is incredibly well written, every NPC feels like a real person, the locations are packed with detail, and the whole thing is incredibly fun to poke and explore. The ability to almost completely avoid combat is a welcome one, and showed me just how much InXile wants gamers to tailor Torment to their own playstyle. Then there are the choices, which rival Deus Ex and The Witcher 3 for sheer breadth of consequence and satisfaction even when making a “wrong” decision.
There are problems for sure. The story is epic but doesn’t really have any stakes, it’s hard to get attached to the companion characters especially when they don’t have anything to do with that story, and the locations and inability to travel directly around the world make the game feel less epic than such a hugely imaginative universe deserves.
Nevertheless I cannot say at any point that I was not having fun playing. I wanted to explore every corner, talk to every character, solve every puzzle and complete every quest, and to the best of my ability I did just that. With a deadline looming as a reviewer it’s easy to skip all the side bits and focus on the main story in a huge RPG like this, and it’s only because the world was so compelling that I chose not to do so. 30 hours of RPG gaming later and I don’t regret a moment of it, and I’m sure when I play it again I’ll create a totally different experience for myself. Torment has flaws but none that will stop me from considering it a great RPG. Now if only it had Morte…
TOP GAME MOMENT
The moment the Sorrow first properly shows itself. Wow.
Choice and consequence system rivals The Witcher for breadth and range
Utterly gorgeous and highly detailed artwork
A lot to see and do with tons of well-written detail in every moment
Combat can be entirely skipped if you want to play non-violently!
Story doesn’t really grip and companions don’t have anything at stake
Leaves you wanting more, particularly in terms of locations