While several well-known cRPGs have been released over the preceding few years, none has bigger shoes to fill than Torment: Tides of Numenera. As the spiritual successor to the much acclaimed Planescape: Torment, fans will come flocking to the title for nostalgia’s sake. They will be rewarded with an experience that feels familiar and yet completely new in a genre that has been brought forward to a new generation of players (and platforms) while still providing a sense of familiarity to those who played the greatest cRPGs of the past. While not utterly flawless, the lovingly crafted story and mechanics of Torment will find a home in the highest strata of the genre.
Overall Torment: Tides of Numenera is a many faceted experience. There are several core components that have to be considered in order to paint a complete picture of the game. As with most cRPGs, Torment is neither completely combat-oriented nor is it solely based on interactions with NPCs and the game world. It is both of those but also further enhanced with collections and with simple, yet simultaneously complex, systems used in order to create the best experience.
A Slowly Unraveling Plot
If I had to liken TToN to something, it would be to a well-written mystery. A character begins as a blank slate, one that is filled in by speaking to others and exploring the game world – a world that recognizes and reacts to you in different ways. TToN is literally a journey of self-discovery. Every scripted conversation offers a broad array of dialog choices, behavior options and everything in between. Players work on “becoming” through these by learning more of who they are and what public face they want to present to the world.
Additionally, any of the six available companions can fill out more of the details about the world, your character, the situation and more. But each of them also has their own story and agenda to pursue so it is left to the character to travel through the world to learn who they are and what their purpose is here.
The key to all of the above is to talk to everyone, touch everything that can be touched. Each interaction offers its own piece of the puzzle, though you may not realize it at first. The story is told as if some gigantic toddler took each word in hand and flung them with joyful abandon all over the experience. Pieces of the whole are literally and liberally sprinkled throughout. It is up to you to glean them where you can and work to put them together into a whole.
This does, however, lead to one of my biggest criticisms of the game: There really is a thing as information overload. Literally everything you touch, everyone you speak to has multiple nuggets of information or a quest to give or a dialog to pursue. To say that it is overwhelming is to understate the issue dramatically. Add in that the entire game begins with such a steep learning curve and it could be off-putting to some.
Anyone with reading issues is going to have a rough time simply from the sheer amount of words presented to the player at any given time. It’s not the difficulty of what is said from the standpoint of the actual words themselves, but the astonishing amount of new vocabulary that has to be learned and sorted into what matters and what doesn’t. In this regard, Tyranny did it right with colored / clickable vocabulary that led to the codex or to something that would further explain what it meant. TToN would benefit greatly from such a system.
That said, however, Numenera will definitely appeal to those who do not want hand holding. First off, there is no “difficulty” slider. There is one difficulty and it’s a doozy. Additionally, there are no quest markers, no map indicators, no hints in the log as to where to go or to whom to return, etc. In a sense, and within the confines of a given area that is being worked through, TToN is “open world”. There is no prescribed path, though there is the overarching main quest that will ultimately lead to the next location.
HINT: Live on the TAB key. You’ll thank me later.
It’s Not ALL About Reading
Combat is quite nice and will be familiar to players who have experienced cRPGs in the past. Turn-based was the right decision to make and the level of strategy involved in each fight (if you can’t talk your way out of them!) can be very intense and adds a layer of complexity for those who like a nuanced and “micro-managed” battle system. For those who love combat, Torment is very satisfying and visually appealing, something that will definitely get the attention of so-called graphics-junkies and the new generation of players that will come to the game via consoles and current-gen PCs.
In addition, TToN brings the unique Crisis System into the game. At various times throughout the game, these situations will present themselves where specific goals need to be accomplished in order to work through the fight. There are usually at least a couple of different ways to go about it with the choice left fully up to players. In one Crisis, I went through via non-combat by utilizing individualized instructions to party members to manipulate items within the area to keep us out of combat. In another, we quickly burned through enemies on the way to finding a way to disable the fight in other rooms within the area. In still another, we fled, geared up, returned and finished the fight.
The idea that the Crisis System mirrors "real life" in many ways is very appealing. It allows the player to assess any given situation and not to feel "locked in" to a particular pathway through it. No other cRPG that I've played does this and it's going to be a big hit with players. Add in the additional lore or information about party members or the world that can be gleaned from a Crisis and it quickly becomes one of, if not THE, best features in the game.
All fights in Torment are brutal affairs. Characters draw from a limited number of points in stat pools – Might, Quickness and Intelligence. Fights can be long and demanding and, if not entered into with full (or mostly full) stat pools can end in disaster. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most conversations also utilize these stat pools necessitating rest between or the use of potions to refill them.