• Torment: Tides of Numenera Review

    Torment: Tides of Numenera is a story-driven, isometric 2.5D turn-based RPG developed by inXile. It is a "thematic successor" to Planescape: Torment, a critically acclaimed RPG released in 1999 by Black Isle Studios published by Interplay, the creators of Wasteland, Fallout, Fallout 2, and other noteworthy RPGs. Planescape: Torment is famous for its writing prowess, having some of the deepest, most original, most satisfying writing in video game history. This has led to strong hype for this game, at least from seasoned PC gamers. We named it our most anticipated game of 2015 in our 2014 game of the year awards, yet it has just come out at the very end of February 2017. It suffered from numerous delays, making one wonder what kind of development struggles it underwent, and how much harm was done to the final product.

    Planescape: Torment is a game where every character encounter, every conversation is memorable and meaningful. In Planescape: Torment and unlike most other video games (especially larger scale ones, and it is a large scale game), every character that you can have a conversation with isn't just a quest-giving bot, it is a uniquely written, fleshed out character, written with care and utmost attention to detail. They all stand out positively. In addition, the world of Planescape: Torment is dark fantasy, weird and mysterious, and filled with strange encounters and interaction. Not just character interaction, but interacting with the world itself; objects that seem to contain some amount of sentience, portals to other worlds, phenomena of all kinds. Its setting surpasses expectations and is one of a kind. Character encounters aren't just with humans and common humanoid species, as the world of Planescape has many portals to many other worlds, bringing with them unique and at times bizarre lifeforms which the player can interact with.

    The world building, character development, story depth and originality, and overall writing quality of Planescape: Torment is above what video games are usually thought capable of. It is a philosophical story with heavy thematic elements, and it is expertly directed so that it never becomes incoherent or out of control. Planescape: Torment also contains an incredible amount of role-playing, a level of role-playing that only a few games reach.

    This is not nostalgia speaking. Personally, I played Planescape: Torment for the first time in 2014, and have played it a twice so far, and plan additional playthroughs. It is at the summit of video game excellence, and it easily claims our #1 spot for the greatest story in video game history.

    That is what Torment: Tides of Numenera strives to live up to. It calls itself a thematic successor to Planescape: Torment, and is made by many of the same developers, including original creators of the Planescape D&D setting and the Numenera setting. Thus, it has pen and paper (PnP) roots, which only raises expectations for role-playing, gameplay depth/diversity, and world building. The narrative is text heavy like Planescape: Torment, resembling novels opposed to cinema.

    Those are strong promises that Torment made. The ambition is apparent. But does it live up to its own hype? RPGs with the level of role-playing that Planescape: Torment offers are extinct, the last trace of it being Fallout: New Vegas from 2010, and the writing quality of Planescape: Torment has always been a very rare thing in gaming, to say the least. Does Torment: Tides of Numenera bring excellence back to the desolate RPG video game genre? Does its writing quality live up to its predecessor? Is it a worthy spiritual successor to one of the greatest games ever made? Continue to the next page to find out!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Such a disappointment
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Yeah... pretty much what I initially expected. I can only expect the least from games today. I am currently replaying Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, reminding myself of how a proper spiritual successor is done (both in general and as a Planescape: Torment successor).

      It is impressive how with Mask of the Betrayer, Obsidian hits a very similar tone compared to Planescape: Torment (very dark fantasy with many philosophical undertones), and utilizes a few thematic similarities and similar storytelling mechanics, while making a unique story. Something Torment: Tides of Numenera utterly fails to do. The only similarities MotB has are the following:

      • The player character has a unique power, arguably a gift or a curse depending on your point of view.

      • How you use this gift/curse helps tell the story, leaving cascading effects while also granting you unique powers (one who abuses it gains different powers). Your thematic role-playing right here, Charcharo. One of the best examples of story and gameplay working in tandem, bolstering each other, and in a role-playing context.

      • The player character has amnesia, but not total amnesia in Mask of the Betrayer. Only a short time is lost.

      • In a very different, less direct way, the player character has previous "incarnations" and your adventure through the game shows you some of the effects they had, both positive and negative.

      • All of your companions are suffering from something.

      • The Wall of the Faithless physically resembles the Pillar of Skulls. Each of them contain a countless amount of souls who suffer eternally for what they did (or didn't do in the case of MotB) in life.

      • Both use the "the key is where (or near where) the story began" trope, as in later in each game you return to a place early in the game for a very important reason.

      And these similarities all come naturally, they're not forced. And MotB actually has the most complex story of the three, yet it handles all its themes and elements so well, but not perfectly—one encounter was obviously meant to lead to some kind of side quest but was scrapped, and one companion's character development at one specific point is possibly rushed depending on which route you go (if you go another route, it doesn't seem rushed and is executed well).

      Everyone who claims to be a fan of RPGs needs to play these three games. Two are masterpieces and it is a great study of different takes from different time periods (1999, 2007, 2017) on a similar type of fantasy and similar story. With MotB (2007) we see some actual improvements (beyond just tech) and nice additions, but it is the smallest in scale of the three (25-30 hours) and still doesn't quite match Planescape's writing quality especially for character development. With Torment (2017) we see a complete absence of soul and narrative creativity. Planescape: Torment is actually the largest scale game of the three, at 40+ hours.