There are certain games which, from the moment you turn them on, slap you hard in the face. They show off with their flashy new tricks, high-speed antics, screaming “love me” for the whole world to hear. Then there are certain games that start slowly, taking their time because they have a lot to show you, but they need to take it slow because, well, what’s the point in rushing in and spoiling the fun when you know it’s going to be very good.
Torment: Tides of Numenera falls into the category of the slow burner, and with good things coming to those who wait, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time in this amazing RPG to get the best from it.
Torment: Tides of Numenera has been developed by inXile Entertainment and is the spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed 1999 game Planescape: Torment. After a massively successful fundraising campaign, this RPG has finally launched on the console to much fan excitement.
The world it takes place in is Numenera, a tabletop fantasy campaign setting created by Monte Cook. You play the role of the Last Castoff, who is a consciousness born into a body of an eons old entity called the Changing God. You are fleeing an ancient creature of immeasurable power called “The Sorrow”, who hunts the Castoffs of the changing god through time and space. You start the game hurtling down from space like a shooting star, unsure of how you got here or who you are. The game then pushes you through an interesting tutorial, helping you through the storytelling and some multiple choice questions to determine what type of player you will be in the game. With these choices made you enter into the world and the adventure begins.
The world that Torment creates feels very much like something from an older age of gaming, with its D&D roots, deep lore and roleplaying gameplay. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it, but you will spend most of this game reading, rather than getting involved in the thick of the action. The work the writers have done is incredible and remarkable. There seems to be about 15 large sci-fi novels embedded in this game, all with amazing detail, superb characterisation and a wonderfully complex narrative weave. There seems to be no end to the dialogue trees and sub stories as you venture across the world. Clicking on a piece of random machinery harks a deep description that is more detailed than most scripts from those end of year AAA games. This is a world of words and if you can’t stand that, then this game might prove problematic for you. As for myself, I love reading all about this sci-fi/fantasy arena and the different strands of complex lore it explores.
But how does it play?
There are basically three classes you can play as, equating to fighting, magic and stealth. I initially chose the fighting option, as I, for some unknown reason, always seem to do in any RPG. You get a complex character sheet, with abilities and stats that you can move between might, speed and intelligence. From there, Tides of Numenera puts you into a space, allowing you to move around with the left joystick and select the object you want to examine or person you want to talk to. You might then get a number of options with that object, which result in you choosing a certain path, or you might use force, magic or abilities to shape what happens next. These same techniques are applied to conversations you have with NPCs as well; you might be able to persuade them or trick them or even use your various abilities to get what you need. It’s very detailed and works very well. The big selling point the game has is that dying or failing at a task doesn’t necessary mean you have to start again, it just puts you on a different path…and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
There are a number of companions accompanying you on your journey as well. These NPCs are as complicated as you are with their own needs, anxieties and back-stories. They also provide a good solid team when going into combat by using their different skills and abilities. My personal favorite of all these characters was Erritis whose funny quips and ‘give it a go’ hero personality reminded me so much of The Princess Bride. The game sort of encourages you to find a way through the story without entering combat, instead progressing through peaceful means with guile and chat. But there are times when the odds are not in your favour and you have to flex those muscles.
The combat, which is called “crisis’ in game, is a mixed affair of multifaceted strategy and some slightly boring turn based gameplay. If you’re a fan of this type of combat, then it does it very well. If not, well…try like me to take the peaceful path. The combat is really hard to get into, with its deep tabletop gameplay and need for picking the right move/ability ideology. But when you get it and win, it feels like the best feeling in the whole world. There are some great touches also, like using environments in battle to aid your success; for instance hitting the poison gas equipment to spray your enemy. There is also the option to talk to the enemy mid battle and change the course of the outcome of the melee. As you further progress you gain more experience and more abilities and the crisis section get a lot easier.
As you first glance at Torment, you might glance away very quickly and dismiss it. It looks very much like a Baldur’s Gate or a PC title from the era when RPGs were king. But spend some time with the game and you will find the level of detail and artwork in the world is outstanding. It feels like a place set in the future, but constantly harking back to the past, and is unlike anything else you would have experienced before. It’s a brilliant, beautiful and bold world and the graphics live up to this, even through its tabletop format. In the sound department it has a great score that is dramatic and fitting for the genre. The effects are good and work brilliantly within the gameplay and the world. The voiceover work is very strong as well, with the actors bringing out the nuances of the characters effectively while still being entertaining.
Overall, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of my time with Torment: Tides of Numenera. There are many hours of gameplay to be had here and if you’re after an old fashioned, but fresh RPG, which takes its role playing roots seriously, then this is a must buy for you. If you love story and narrative, rather than action and shooting, then you should be grabbing it right now. Those who are new to this type of game and are unsure of what to expect, but want to experience a deep, immersive RPG, then turn up and give this a go too – you won’t be disappointed.
Me? I am now going back in to the world of Numenera to catch up on some quality reading.