In 1999, an unusual RPG was released to critical acclaim that unfortunately didn’t do quite so well commercially. Its name was Planescape: Torment, and with it still firmly in the minds of players across the globe, a spiritual sequel is now upon us that hopes to provide fans with an equally unique experience: Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Plummeting to earth at an alarming speed, Torment: Tides of Numenera puts you in the shoes of the Last Castoff – the newest discarded shell of the Changing God. For aeons the Changing God has essentially been immortal – a consciousness moving from one surrogate physical construction to the next, each more advanced than the last. Upon leaving each surrogate body however, a spark of life has been ignited, leaving them with their own thoughts and sense of being. Whilst that in itself doesn’t pose much of a problem, it now transpires that, just like their sire, they’re being hunted down by The Sorrow, a malevolent entity which you seek to escape at all costs.
With a premise like that, you should already have an inkling that Torment: Tides of Numenera is a batshit crazy game. The truth is, it’s even more absurd than you could ever imagine. Each and every area you explore is full of contraptions and curiosities that are likely to hurt you if you go tinkering with reckless abandon, and the inhabitants of said areas can prove to be even more prickly to deal with. Mutants, aliens, mechanoids – Torment: Tides of Numenera has a whole cacophony of sci-fi lifeforms for you to interact with, each with their own stories and motivations. Just over a handful of those you encounter on your quest can be recruited to accompany you on your journey too – three at any one time – rounding out your pool of personalities and abilities so that you can better deal with any tasks or situations you are faced with. Unfortunately though, Torment: Tides of Numenera’s visuals just aren’t up the job of wholly bringing its world and its residents to life. Instead, it relies on its rather exceptional writing.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game extremely light on action. It’s more of a cerebral experience; one in which your main task is reading and comprehending huge volumes of text before selecting what you believe to be the most appropriate response. Little details like the expressions on the faces of those you are talking to are relayed in great detail, and investigating a mysterious nook or cranny is its own mini text adventure. The writing gives you a more detailed and nuanced insight into the world than you could ever hope for, bringing characters and locations to life. It’s quite understandable then, that voice acting is kept to a minimum. In fact, there’s so little of it that it seems out of place in the instances where it’s used. Make no mistake about it, if you’re not the type of gamer who can sit comfortably and enjoy a good book, Torment: Tides of Numenera is probably not for you.
Quests are multi-threaded – weaving in and out of each other without you even realising – and can be completed in a wide variety of ways. What’s nice is that violence is rarely the answer. The powers of persuasion, intimidation and deception make for much better weapons than your fists, enabling you to resolve a myriad of situations without anyone having to lose any blood. Such feats require various amounts of might, speed and intellect to be expended to succeed though, and your pools of each are rather limited. It makes for an adventure where every action needs to be considered; the standard chance to deceive someone may be 30% for example, but by spending three points of intellect it may raise to 60%. Do you choose to spend those three points to improve your chance of success at your immediate task, or could they prove to be more useful further down the line? You’re given some slack by being able to restore your attribute pools by sleeping or using consumable items, but it’s tricky when you’re often given little opportunity to do so and the cost is usually prohibitive.
Of course, by completing quests and levelling up your characters’ capabilities can be enhanced rather extensively, though it takes some time to get your head around the plethora of options available to you. You can increase your attribute pools, learn new skills and gain the ability to exert more effort on tasks to name just a few of the improvements available. Then there’s all sorts of equipment to consider should you be able to find or afford it. There are some character development systems that feel under-developed and relatively inconsequential though, such as the Tides, which act as Torment: Tides of Numenera‘s measure of morality, and Cyphers, which offer a range of usable effects and benefits. Never at any point did I feel that either of these systems were having a profound effect on gameplay. In fact, I never even felt the need to use the Cyphers I had acquired – I eventually just used them out of curiosity, and the results were underwhelming.
On the rare occasions where hostilities do turn into more than just harsh exchanges of words, a Crisis will occur and exchanges play out in a turn-based affair. Again, violence isn’t the only resolution to such situations; sometimes you can still manage to talk your way out of a sticky predicament, and failing that, the environment itself can often be used to distract or pacify your foes. To be honest, it’s usually the best course of action too, as actively engaging in combat quickly drains your attribute pools. If you do choose to fight however, you’ll find that you’ve got access to a decent range of skills and abilities, the use of which are often pivotal to your survival.
These Crises are perhaps the least enjoyable aspect of Torment: Tides of Numenera no matter how you choose to tackle them though, mainly because of their slow pace and braindead enemy A.I. Often finding yourself vastly outnumbered, you’ll have to sit there and watch as each enemy painstakingly ponders their next move – sometimes moving backwards and forwards aimlessly. Trust me; it can quickly become extremely tedious. There’s also quite an inconsistency to the Last Castoff’s supposed immortality. One time in combat I died and was simply taken back to a mysterious place within my own mind, ready to resume my adventure with no real loss of progress. Other times I was just presented with a game over screen and asked to load a save.
Whilst Torment: Tides of Numenera’s Crises are plain dull and inconsistent however, on Xbox One, there are other issues of more of a technical nature. The framerate, for example, struggles in many areas despite the game not really being a looker and there’s the occasional hiccup too, where the game will freeze for a second or so before catching up with itself. Graphical glitches in the HUD, buggy menus and frequent long loading times can also detract from the experience, though more troublesome are the infrequent crashes that you may encounter. Many of these problems will more than likely be ironed out after launch, but until they are they’re bound to cause some frustration.
Even with all of its troublesome issues however, there’s something rather alluring about Torment: Tides of Numenera. Whilst its central story is somewhat linear, it’s truly impressive just how personal your adventure can be thanks to the wealth of side quests that surround it and the multiple ways you can deal with each of them. The fact that combat isn’t at the centre of it all is even more impressive, leading to an adventure that feels more organic. Many console gamers will undoubtedly be left bewildered by its intricacies and focus on written narrative, but there’s a solid game here for those looking for something unique and with a slower pace.