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Torment: Tides Of Numenera [2017 -- inXile]

Started by Starfox, May 18, 2023, 08:23 PM

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Originally published on March 23, 2017

According to its developers, Torment: Tides Of Numenera (TToN hereafter) is the "thematic" successor of Planescape Torment the incredibly atmospheric isometric cRPG of old (1999). And to be frank, the game excels in this role making of it a real treat for Planescape Torment fans. However, the final appreciation for the game directly derives from the category of gamer you place yourself in and even maybe the generation.

Because TToN features a modern engine but a quite ancient gameplay.

However, before going into that, a bit of the story... The setting of the universe is the Ninth World, a world built on the cinders of countless civilizations that came before it. Each of these civilizations left little and big pieces of themselves called "numenera". Most of these numenera are only useful to make money by selling them, they're called "oddities" but other are more powerful and can be used to protect or even heal oneself or attack others. These are called "cyphers". More importantly though because the story evolved around that, the Ninth world has some kind of God -- for some -- named the "Changing God". He's in fact a pretty normal guy who discovered long ago a way to live eternally by transferring his consciousness from an old body to a new body. Those bodies are especially crafted by him for this shifting and each one possesses one or more special feature(s) and/or ability(ies) orienting it toward a particular purpose. Each time the Changing God switches bodies, the old body is discarded, becoming a "castoff" that is rejected into the Ninth World to live its life on its own there, bearing its own personality but also a part of the memories of its Sire.

The player's character is one of those castoffs, the very last one in fact and as one doesn't get the possibility to name it, it will be named "The Last Castoff" for the the whole game (which is not without reminding of the famous "Nameless One" from Planescape Torment). The Changing God having switched a lot during times immemorial, the number of castoffs in the Ninth World, though unknown possibly sits in the hundreds. The first thing happening to the Last Castoff is falling from the sky at extreme velocity and crashing into a dome, dying. Thing is though, castoffs are immortal (another reminiscence of Planescape). So the first player action in the game (after having chosen male or female) is to follow the process of resurrecting their avatar. During this process, the player is allowed to choose a general class among Glaive, Nano and Jack (understand: Warrior, Wizard and Rogue). This class will later be refined by a number of in game actions adding perks and abilities to obtain something relatively unique. Shortly after that and encountering the first companions, the Last Castoff will learn of the Sorrow, a phenomenon which seems to track and eliminate all the castoffs in existence one after the other. And of course the rest of the game will be a quest to find a way to deal with the Sorrow.

Back to the immortality thing. Believe it or not this is a gameplay feature. Sometimes in this game you'll have to die to make the story progress. Other times, dying is more rewarding than simply succeeding at a task. Anyway, the Last Castoff cannot permanently die -- unless destroyed by the Sorrow -- so it may be worth some times when you have the feeling of being stuck to die, just to see what happens. Dying generally transport the character in the "Calm", a labyrinth in the mind of the Last Castoff in which you can find and talk to interesting people (or rather psyche reflections and ghosts), even learn new tricks and resurrect. Aside from the first time you die, the resurrection process will always bring you back to your last place of death. 

Intriguing and interesting story then, well in the line of Planescape Torment. However as I said, your final appreciation of the game may very well be tied to the oddities that make this game a product right from the late 90s. First and foremost the fact there's virtually no voice over to speak of. The whole game is spent reading tons of text without any audio support. I did it in Planescape Torment and other RPG games back in the days but I still have difficulty understanding how 17 years later we can still be stuck on that kind of thing, especially because the kickstarter for TToN was apparently the most successful in the whole of Kickstarter history with more than $4 millions of pledges. Plus the game price tag is over $40  sooo... I have some difficulty to envisage that all the money was just spent on isometric graphics and a truck load of text. Come on, was there nothing left just for some voice acting, even with low key actors?

The last thing I'm going to mention is combat. There is a number of fighting situations in this game but on the whole (and since you can avoid most of them just talking your way around including the very last boss battle) these account for maybe 5% of the game and it's a good thing because combat is not really the forte here. TToN unlike Planescape features turn based combat with two steps a character can take each turn, one action (ie attack) plus one move or two moves. Why not two actions then?  No idea and that's just one of the small things that are not sitting right with me in the combat system. Point is in most cases, combat in TToN is something I had to endure... not enjoy.

Other little things that bothered me is having a party limited to four people (including the main character) and the fact that there is a no return point about a third into the game after which you'll be stuck with the companions you embark with never to see the other ones again (it also happened in Planescape but much later, giving you the occasion to get to know everyone plus there was a party of six which simplified the decision as to which companion to have with you).

So I'm a bit on the fence about this title. I loved the story and the universe possibly as much as I loved those of Planescape Torment, I loved the interaction mechanics but I wasn't impressed with the combat  and once again, despite the modern trappings, the way the game plays feels... old. The only concession to current computer gaming is the native support for a host of controllers (Xbox 360/One, PS 4, Steam). Also, but that is entirely personal taste here, I find the OST of the game much less enthralling than this of "Planescape" (that wasn't big on the voice over either, but damn, what great musical scores)

But in fine it all depends on the gamer you are... if you don't mind spending 40+ hours *reading* then the universe, the story and for some even the characters are worth it. To be honest though, this is a game I couldn't finish in one go (meaning I had to play other games on the side) because constantly reading on a screen rapidly becomes tiresome to me. Again, this is something that I did when I was younger playing the likes of Planescape Torment or Baldur's gate and even before that with very old text only games but seriously computer gaming has come a long way since then and the technical limitations of back then do not apply anymore. Not taking advantage of today technologies for the sake of some old fetish is almost a sin. I'm not talking about the choice of isometric view... fine by me, it works with that sort of game, but having near to zero voice over with the amount of dialogues in this game is a no go.

Anyway, the blue smiley I grant here is mainly motivated by the story and the universe that really bring a Planescape Torment nostalgia vibe. If it wasn't for those my appreciation would be less flattering.

If you are a die hard fan of Planescape Torment and only get your kick from playing old school games -- and love to read more than play -- I'd say you can't go wrong with Torment: Tides Of Numenera. In any other case, this game is still worth playing but I'd advise to wait for a drop in price or a sale.

Guess what it means!