Torment: Tides of Numenera was another Kickstarter success story, with the game raking in an impressive $4 million worth of funding. It shows that not only did the developers want to create a successor to the classic cRPG ‘Planescape: Torment’, but the gaming public eagerly wanted to see one too. I mean, it even managed to pull in more funding than ‘Yooka-Laylee’ did, which is quite impressive given that it’s a much more mainstream title and probably saw a lot more press coverage. That’s the power of crowd funding though; ‘Planescape: Torment’ came out back in 1999 and whilst it was popular, a follow up never seemed likely. Over 74,000 people wanted it though and thanks to their pledges it’s finally come to PC and console. The question remains though – is it actually any good?
The ‘Planescape’ name hasn’t just been dropped from the title this time around, but from the game as a whole. The setting from the original game has now been replaced by the Ninth World, a futuristic outlook of Earth where the times have moved on and technology reigns supreme, even if mankind hasn’t quite kept up with the movement.
You take on the role of a protagonist known only as ‘The Last Castoff’, a name which will leave you slightly baffled to begin with but makes more sense as you progress through the game. The ‘Castoffs’ are bodies that host the ‘Changing God’, a greater being that wants to earn infinite power and knowledge. Knowing the limitations of a physical form, he creates a constant stream of bodies for himself to control, with them eventually being labelled ‘Castoffs’ and disposed of when their use is over. This doesn’t mean the end for them though, but rather that they start anew with no knowledge of the role they previously held.
You begin the game in a desperate fall, not knowing who you are, where you came from, or why you’re taking this plunge down into the depths of darkness. After surviving the fall (or not – that’s an option if you make the wrong choices) you hit a tutorial that not only teaches you the basic mechanics of the game, but also helps establish what kind of person you’re going to be in it too. It’s not necessarily a case of simply questioning your morality, but rather how you react to different situations. What are you willing to do to achieve your goals and what will you put on the line to do so? Nothing is ever simply black and white in Torment: Tides of Numenera and these beginning questions are merely a taster of what’s to come.
The game’s narrative cleverly gives you a blank slate to work with – you are ‘The Last Castoff’ after all, so you have no history, lineage, or affiliation with anything other than your previous use as an instrument for the ‘Changing God’. Fortunately you’re full of questions, with the player able to communicate with all citizens of the Ninth World to find out more about the people, locations, and the events that have occurred around you. Let this be a warning for newbies to the cRPG genre though – there’s a HELL of a lot of text to read throughout your time in Torment: Tides of Numenera. It’s all incredibly well written and the world will certainly engross you, but the vast majority of your time with the game will be spent reading.
You don’t have the ability to craft your character’s appearance in Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is a shame as the character building elements of RPGs have always been one of my favourite features. Fortunately though you are able to sculpt their skills and characteristics exactly how you please.
There are three classes to choose from: the Glaive (a warrior who can use heavy weapons and armour), the Jack (a neutral class that is competent at all skills), and the Nano (the equivalent of a wizard with their focus set on magic). During my main playthrough of the game I took on the role of a Glaive, which really complimented my ruthless, aggressive approach. You get to choose a set of additional characteristics for your character, so my choice of combat-focused abilities meant I was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. What better way to solve a situation than with violence, after all?
Of course, the emphasis on strength could be used in a non-violent way too, with your character’s stats used to influence situations in other ways. It might be a case of moving a giant boulder to create a new path or smashing through a wall to make an improvised doorway – having that improved strength will certainly increase your odds of success at performing these actions. The fact you can utilise your characteristics in such different ways is great, with the game always offering more than one way to use your skills in each situation.
My second run through of the game saw me taking on the role of a Nano, but rather than simply focusing on using magic to solve each situation I opted to become a smooth talker who could use his charm instead. This led to a completely different playthrough with events unfolding in an unfamiliar way.
Whilst being able to play your own way isn’t a rare thing in video games these days, I haven’t seen any title do it in as deep a way as Torment: Tides of Numenera has. It hooks you in to the story and world in such a personal way, with the game actually allowing you to play EXACTLY how you want. It’s something that could easily lure in gamers who aren’t typically fans of the genre – especially those who love the classic ‘choose your own adventure’ books.
The sheer volume of quests to complete in Torment: Tides of Numenera is impressive; perhaps even a little overwhelming at times. It’s a completionist’s worst nightmare with new quests unlocking left, right, and centre. These aren’t simply small side quests either – some of them can last hours, sending you on treks to uncover the secrets of the Ninth World, someone’s hidden agenda, or simply just to take some villain out. Add in the fact that they’re often time-sensitive and you’ll feel a sense of urgency that can see a detour from the main story take hours to complete. I might be making it come across as a bad thing here, but it’s really not – you get to do so much in the game that you’re definitely getting plenty of bang for your buck, whilst the side quests are always entertaining too. There are just SO many to complete.
Side quests can come from absolutely nowhere too. Sometimes you might meet a character who’ll ask you to do something for them (which you can turn down too, might I add), sometimes you simply find an item that triggers a quest, whilst other times it’ll just come from a bit of hearsay that’s been the result of asking a specific question whilst in conversation with an NPC. For these reasons it’s easy to miss out on quests too – if you don’t exhaust all conversation options with a character you might miss out on some vital details that would trigger a quest line. Of course, new quests unlocking are such a common occurrence that you might not mind, but those aiming to uncover every extra endeavour will want to explore every nook and cranny of a level as well as speak to every character they come across.
The fact that the choices you make affects quests means you may not see everything in one playthrough. Torment: Tides of Numenera is all about player freedom and allowing you to mould your adventure how you please. The decisions you make can have a lasting effect though, with the choice you make in one situation possibly affecting how another event will play out down the line. It means you’ll never see everything Torment: Tides of Numenera has to offer in just one playthrough alone, and probably not in two either – if you want to get the most fulfilling, content-rich experience with the game it’s going to take multiple playthroughs. It’s far from compulsory, but I’d certainly recommend running through the game at least twice. It’s worth it.
Combat in Torment: Tides of Numenera takes a slightly unconventional approach; whilst the turn-based battling might look similar to a lot of other cRPGs on the market, it doesn’t necessarily have to play out as a combat exclusive experience. I focused on combat-based skills on my first playthrough, so I’d typically be able to bash, smash, and slice an opponent until they were no longer breathing. On my second playthrough though I didn’t have the same skills, so I had to take a different approach to each Crisis (the name of a battle situation) to achieve victory. It’s clearly displayed in the game’s tutorial Crisis against big baddie ‘The Sorrow’ that there are multiple ways to succeed – rather than hit him with all that you’ve got, you have to use an item in the environment to help take him down. These kinds of options are available throughout nearly every other Crisis in the game too, so you’re never limited to just your brawn but your wit too.
The different approaches you can take to combat makes the whole thing a lot more satisfying, especially since actual fighting is nothing more than your traditional turn-based affair. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about it, but there’s just nothing overly exciting about it either. It’s clear that the narrative and choosing how it unfolds is the priority in Torment: Tides of Numenera, so those looking for a more action-focused cRPG experience might be better off looking elsewhere. I’m not suggesting that combat was an afterthought to the narrative-driven elements of the game, but it’s certainly a whole lot less satisfying than they are.
On a visual basis, Torment: Tides of Numenera can be quite the spectacle with its incredibly detailed isometric world. Whilst it is set on Earth, it’s one billion years in the future so traditional landmarks and locales are a thing of the past, with advanced technology and the sort of things you’d expect to see in sci-fi movies the new norm. All locations are unique and well designed though, plus you never quite know what you’re going to see next – one moment you might be in a futuristic sort of temple, whilst the next it’ll be a city that seems to have some remnants of the past littered throughout it. It really a case of expecting the unexpected, with almost all locales of the game offering a unique look unlike anything I’d seen before. Most importantly though is that they all look fantastic.
I got to play Torment: Tides of Numenera on the Playstation 4 and unfortunately I did come across a few technical issues, the most obvious being the drops in frame rate. There was rarely a scene where I wouldn’t notice some small drop in performance, something which could become incredibly frustrating when there was a clear lack of smoothness to simply navigating your surroundings. You do get used to it and it never really deters from the overall gameplay experience, but it’s a shame that your opening impressions of some of the lovingly crafted environments are met with jitters. I checked the PC specs and didn’t see any reason why the game couldn’t run at a more consistent frame rate on console, so hopefully it’s an issue that’ll be rectified in a future update – I was playing a pre-release version of the game though, so some of these issues may well be ironed out by release day.
I will give Torment: Tides of Numenera credit for controlling well on the Playstation 4 though. Complicated control and gameplay mechanics in these kinds of games don’t typically work that well on a controller with the keyboard and mouse a preferred control method, but I never had a single issue with Torment: Tides of Numenera. Navigation was fine, making choices in and out of combat was fine, whilst the UI was incredibly accessible too. This hasn’t just been rushed over to Playstation 4 with minimal effort, but rather thought about carefully to cater to both PC and console gamers.
It’s taken close to eighteen years to finally see a sequel to ‘Planescape: Torment’, but I think it was worth the wait – Torment: Tides of Numenera takes everything that was great about the original release and modernises it to bring an enthralling cRPG experience to both PC and console.
Whilst the game does have its flaws with its slightly lacking combat as well as the performance issues on Playstation 4, it makes up for it by offering a narrative-driven experience that allows you dictate the adventure exactly how you please. From the choices you make in the story to how you handle each combat situation, Torment: Tides of Numenera always gives the player the freedom to craft their own grand adventure. It’s great.
It won’t be for everyone with its reading-heavy gameplay style, but those who want an enthralling cRPG experience need to look no further than Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Release Date: 28/02/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux