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PAX West 2016 - The Tide is Rising with this CRPG

William Murphy Posted:
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We have played Torment: Tides of Numenera, and lo… it was good. During PAX Prime, we got our hands on one of Kickstarter’s most successfully funded gaming projects. It’s been a long time coming, but the inXile team is getting ever closer to releasing this long-awaited successor to Planescape Torment. As such, we sat down with Colin McComb and George Ziets from the team and played a solid 45 minutes of the opening.

For those unfamiliar, Torment: Tides of Numenera is the long-awaited sort-of sequel to Planescape: Torment, with this edition being based on Monte Cook’s new Numenera tabletop game series. Chris Avellone is writing parts of the game, so is Patrick Rothfuss, and all of it comes together into this massive single-player science fiction RPG set on earth one billion years into the future. Civilizations have risen and fallen countless times, leaving behind their technology and tools for the current inhabitants (humans who’ve returned to Earth) to try and figure out what it all means.

It’s worth noting that the far future tech of Numenera is equivalent to magic.  From the current timeline, humanity has only been back on earth for a thousand years, and as Clark’s Third Law says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Needless to say, being one billion years into the future, and with all of these aliens and their technology at your disposal… things get weird.

This story isn’t about rescuing the world, saving the princess, or even stopping some giant evil. That’s been done before, and it’s not what Torment is about. The theme of the story this go around is simply: “What does one life matter?” And the life in question is yours, the cast-off husk of a god who must find his purpose in the 9th world.

There are over 1 million words of story in Torment: Tides of Numenera, and as such you’ll see an estimated 30% of the game’s content during any one given playthrough. In other words, Tides of Numenera will be a completionist’s nightmare.  Death, as in Planescape: Torment, is not the end. While there will be some “game over” deaths, for the most part when your character dies you enter the Labyrinth – a sort of constructed space in your mind that’s been discovered over the billions of years. This applies to other characters too. You will eventually enter someone’s mind and be able to interact and alter their memories, which also alters the real past for that character. Yeah, it’s some trippy stuff, guys.

But it gets crazier: you’ll find a giant beast known as The Bloom, almost like a complete functional planet with people and societies living within it. You’ll be able to enter one of its mouths into a sort of dimensional portal across space and time. You’ll help a long-lived robot give birth to its baby robots that won’t stop dying without interference and aid. You’ll visit a planet where the beings are all beings of light… that happen to be the last flickering fragments of a giant robot’s mind which committed suicide eons prior due to loneliness. This is the world of Torment: Tides of Numenera. It is, without a doubt, some of the most creative and intelligent RPG writing I’ve seen in the space since the original game wowed us all in the 90s.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the gameplay of Torment (January, actually). And a lot has changed. The gameplay has made a jump into the future along with the lore of the Tides of Numenera. The Tides themselves refer to your sort of character-based alignment paths. But rather than follow the D&D doctrine of “lawful, evil, neutral” Torment instead represents your actions and choices with colors that correspond to the many different tides – think of them like auras based on how you interact with the world and its people. Act haughty and mighty, and you’re working down the silver path. Act benevolent and kind, you’re riding the golden tide and so on.  All of these, and the choices you make to guide your character in one direction or another, help formulate the way the world sees you.

Combat is turn-based, by way of backer vote, and that’s good because there’s a lot of strategy and planning in the way you fight. You’ll give orders to each character individually, so it’s familiar to fans of the Shadowrun reboot or Wasteland 2. But the real star of the game, while combat is well done and graphically impressive to boot is the fact that you can essentially talk your way out of all combat from moment one to end of game… if you’re good enough. You don’t ever need to fight, if you know how to work your words to get people to do what you want them to.

I only got to play through character creation, the opening Labyrinth mind space, and the first few steps into the 9th world of 1 Billion Years Older Earth, but I’m absolutely enthralled with the universe they’ve crafted here. Every new encounter and character is something interesting to interact with. Everything and everyone has a story, a mystery to solve. Torment: Tides of Numenera has been a long time coming, but when it arrives in Q1 2017, I have a suspicion it’ll have been well worth the wait.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.