Developer: inXile entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4 and Xbox One (Windows version tested)
Release date: February 28th 2017
Since the Kickstarted RPG Renaissance began, we’ve had three (THREE!) Shadowruns, Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin a new Wasteland, and Tyranny. Fans of clicking through dialogue and (quasi-)turn-based combat from an isometric perspective have been spoilt rotten. But oh boy, this is the big one. Planescape: Torment is a masterpiece and the thought of Torment: Tides of Numenera being even half as good as its inspiration has had us RPGeeks salivating for four years now.
I’m happy to say that it’s done Big Daddy Torment proud, and while it doesn’t quite match it’s sire, it’s a treat for fans of wordy, philosophical RPGs. Much of its appeal comes from the setting, Monte Cook’s marvellous world of Numenera. Set a billion years in the future, the Ninth World sits on the detritus of eight fallen civilisations, the secrets of which are far beyond the comprehension of the current inhabitants. In practice, this means a broadly familiar medieval fantasy setting, but one in which spells are barely-grasped technological manipulation and a powerful sword could be made of crystal, or pure energy, or even alive. It’s an all-you-can-eat weirdness buffet which combines the best aspects of swords ‘n’ sorcery, hard sci-fi and post-apocalyptica, but with none of the grimdark and a nice, bright, colour palette.
The novel setting is tempered with familiar RPG trappings. You’re marked, literally, as being a bit special, but also completely out of your depth. You wander around trying to find answers to questions the game poses you in the first half an hour, assembling a motley crew of hangers-on with their own interesting stories as you go. It works, but there’s a slight feeling of retreading well-worn pathways.
Where Torment does differentiate itself from its siblings is combat, or rather the lack of it. Most, if not all, of the fights in the game are entirely avoidable, and those that do occur always have a reason to do so. This isn’t a game that makes you wade through the local equivalent of goblins, thugs and zombies just for the hell of it. Even when you do land in a brawl, there are always alternatives to just killing everything. Environmental tricks and traps are scattered in potential fight locations, and you can even talk your way out of battles that have already started.
While the intentions are good, and I can’t overstate how glad I am to see an RPG embracing non-combat solutions so whole-heartedly, the execution of the mechanical side of things is a little lacking. You have a limited pool of points to increase your chances in skill checks, but the abundance of resting opportunities and the ability to pass on most tasks to the most capable member of your party means that there’s little reason not to throw the kitchen sink at every roll to guarantee your success. It’s easy to build a well-rounded party who can handle every task without breaking a sweat, so finding alternate solutions to quests becomes a matter of choice, rather than necessity.
This is where the game lets itself down. There is a distinct lack of difficult or interesting choices to make. In almost every situation encountered, it was easy to talk my way to a solution that seemed to provide the best outcome for everyone involved. At the same time, there was little pressure or incentive not to go for these options, other than being intentionally incompetent or going out of your way to be a douchebag. I’ve gone through the opening third or so of the game multiple times now, and while there are a few quests that can be handled in completely different ways, there are no real long-term consequences, other than a change in the epilogue screen. Compared to Tyranny or The Witcher series, it’s a genuine disappointment and makes the prospect of replaying the game considerably less appealing.
There are signs suggestive of development troubles. Asking for $900k on Kickstarter, it went on to raise over $4 million and has arrived over two years past its original intended launch date. Just last month, a whole bunch of features from Kickstarter stretch goals were announced as being cut, and character customisation is cut down vastly from the Numenera tabletop RPG, to the disappointment of many fans. While I hate to even paddle in the shallows of the game length debate, there’s a definite issue with pacing and expectations. At around 25 hours, Torment is slight in comparison to the likes of Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate, but has a similarly thoughtful pace. What feels like a starting area is actually a good third of the game and the story finishes just as you’re expecting a major revelation or change in direction.
If it had arrived a couple of years ago, my praise would have been more effusive, but the nostalgia factor is wearing off and I want more from my isometric RPGs than recollections of past glories. Despite some issues, Torment is still a damn fine RPG and certainly worth your time. The story and world are engrossing, the lack of reliance on combat is a breath of fresh air and, in a world that still seems to think Dungeons & Dragons is the be-all and end-all of tabletop gaming, it’s lovely to see a videogame based on an RPG that was released more recently than 1991. A definite buy for genre fans, but only after you’ve played Tyranny.