RPGs have always been part of my life as a gamer. Although the mechanics have changed and the games have become prettier, I still find myself becoming a drawn to them. When Torment: Tides of Numenera, the spiritual successor to Planescape Torment, was announced I knew I would be in for one wild and bizarre sci-fi/fantasy ride.
Set a billion years into the future, Torment: Tides of Numenera takes place in a world where technological objects are considered sources of magic and people live in the ruins of a once great civilisation. It tells the story of The Last Castoff (the character you play). In a nutshell, The Last Castoff is the most recently discarded shell of the Changing God.
The Changing God, inspired by his thirst for knowledge, invented a way to transfer his consciousness into a new shell/body. This process enables him to live forever and gain all the knowledge he desires. Each time the Changing God transfers his consciousness into a new vessel/body, the old one is tossed aside. This old body is referred to as a Castoff and develops an entirely new and separate consciousness.
As the most recent Castoff (one of possibly hundreds), you awaken not knowing who you are or how you came to be. All you really know is that you are being hunted by a terrible cancerous creature called The Sorrow. To prevent your demise, you need to repair a device called the Resonance Chamber.
While this might all sound confusing, Torment: Tides of Numenera revels in revealing its narrative, world, and lore to you piece by tantalising piece.
As one would expect, you won’t be adventuring alone in Torment: Tides of Numenera. The game features a fascinating group of companions that could potentially join you on your quest and high-five you when you do something awesome. These include Callistege, a nano who is continually being flanked by ghostly images of various versions of herself, or Aligern, a man covered in living tattoos which he can use as weapons to kill off enemies.
Companions not only aid you during battles or when questing, but they also help fill in the lore of the world when you take the time to dabble in conversations with them. While the various conversations with your companions, quest givers and those that inhabit the world do help you form a better understanding of the world, it can be difficult delving through the reams of text that bombards your screen. That said, even though you will be scrolling through loads of text, the writing is good enough to keep you interested. I never felt punished by all the reading. Playing Torment: Tides of Numenra is like reading a well-written and addictive book. While this might be off-putting to some, I found it refreshing being able to play a game that leans so heavily on narrative and decisions rather than brute force.
Torment: Tides of Numenera has three combat classes: the tank-like Glaive, the jack-of-all-trades Jack, and the Nano, basically a mage-like class. Each of these not only affects how you fair in combat and what skills are available to you but also plays an integral part in your conversations with the denizens of the world. For instance, the mage-like Nano is able to read minds which opens up a whole new slew of dialogue options for players.
Speaking of options, each dialogue choice not only could have lasting consequences for your character and those that inhabit the world, but it also affects the game’s new Tides system. The Tides system represents the way in which people will view and react to you based on your decisions and reactions. Each choice you make or action you take will nudge your character in one of the 5 tide directions (Gold, Blue, Indigo, Red, and Silver). These tides can be compared to the alignment system found in Dungeon & Dragons, but these are a lot more fluid and allow players to build their character based on how they play. As one would expect from a game that places so much focus on dialogue, things are rarely divided into good and bad. Torment: Tides of Numenera indulges in letting players wade into the gray areas rather than just the plain black and white ones. It can be quite difficult figuring out what dialogue choice you “should” choose, and herein lies the brilliance of the game as I found myself starting to care less about “figuring” out what I should say and decided to rather let my choices flow organically.
One of the best aspects of the game is that it makes no excuse for being utterly bizarre. Seeing a headless person strolling the streets becomes a normal occurrence. This fascinating weirdness also extends to the quests. Without spoiling too much, there was a quest where I was tasked with helping a robot give birth. Later on, I stole her babies to use as bombs. The fact that the game sets out to create an interesting amalgamation of sci-fi and fantasy not only kept me playing but made for some really interesting and compelling quests.
Although Torment: Tides of Numenera does focus heavily on dialogue (and I mean heavily) it does have moments that involve swinging a weapon around. The game refers to a moment of conflict as a ‘crisis’. Unfortunately, these moments do tend to be less of a strong point for the game (mostly due to some dodgy collision detection). It is quite clear that the game doesn’t place its main focus on combat. Once again, what the game does do well during combat is allowing players to try and deter their foes from beating them to death by giving them the ability to converse with them during these battles. There are times when these ‘crisis’ moments do not involve direct combat, which automatically made them more enjoyable and engaging to me.
For instance, one Crisis could task you with escaping from a terrible beast trying not to take it head on. This helps to bring a bit of variety to what could have been an otherwise boring combat situation. It is a strange thing to say but I enjoyed my time playing Torment: Tides of Numenera more when not being forced to wave my sword around at an enemy. The game also has an intriguing effort system which allows players to invest points from various stat pools into the task at hand (be it combat or trying to fix a machine). This then increases the player’s chance of success. However, it does not mean that players can invest these points willy-nilly as the only way to replenish them is by resting or using a curative. It becomes an interesting balancing act as players need to decide when to invest points and how many to invest or face the possibility of failing (which in Torment: Tides of Numenera isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
Just like failure doesn’t mean the end, so to can death be seen as a temporary inconvenience. When a player dies in the game their consciousness is transported to the Labyrinth, a place within their mind. Players are free to explore the Labyrinth or return directly back to their lifeless body.
My biggest qualms with Tides of Numenera has more to do with the platform I reviewed the game on rather than the game itself. As an RPG on a console (in my case the PlayStation 4), the control scheme, which usually tends to be the main culprit, actually worlds fine. The problem lies in the slow-down and seriously long loading times I experienced during my playtime. Slow-down not only occurred during battles but also while just exploring the world. While it was by no means game breaking, it did become an annoyance every now and then. I also wished that the A.I’s turn during combat was just a tad quicker. It sometimes seems to drag on for ages. Note, that inXile has released a day one patch for consoles which will hopefully solve these issues.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a worthy spiritual successor to Planescape Torment. By weaving an interesting narrative, creating a lush and bizarre world and giving players a surprising amount of freedom, inXile has created an RPG that does reward those that are willing to delve into its deep dialogue system.