Torment: Tides of Numenera has landed on PC/Steam, PS4 and Xbox One, completing a long journey and delivering us with a rather unique (and good) gaming experience. That’s no small feat – especially on the PC platform, where RPGs are relatively common. We’re looking at the Xbox One version, where the game is truly in a league of its own.
Tides of Numenera is of course a follow-up to Planescape: Torment. It was backed with a very successful kickstarter campaign four years ago, and we’ve seen it pop up a few times on our radar since there. Back in 2015 it was still a PC exclusive, but when we saw it at Gamescom last summer it had been announced for consoles as well. Designer/writer Colin McComb talked us through a demo of the game and his passion and enthusiasm made sure that Torment stayed high on our watch list.
As with many classic games, my memories of Planescape: Torment have eroded somewhat. Over time I have started to consider it part of a classic group of isometric PC RPGs from a certain era, along with Icewind Dale, Baldur’s Gate and Diablo 2 – lumping them together. What Tides of Numenera immediately reminded me of is the fact that, especially when compared to Diablo, Torment is not exactly an action RPG. It’s in fact more narrative-driven than any of the other games on that list, and I’d say its focus on the R in RPG is strong – developer inXile has proven great at painting a detailed picture for you, no matter how you play the game and what you focus on.
Despite this diversity and freedom, there is of course also a main story in Tides of Numenera. Set on earth in a post-apocalyptic kind of future, the world you play in is a mix of sci-fi and medieval influences. You’ll find references and relics from times long forgotten in the “Ninth World” that you inhabit – a period in time that signifies that eight ‘great ages’ came before it. You play the role of the “Last Castoff”, which signifies that your body was previously inhabited by an ancient entity referred to as the “Changing God”, who leaps from vessel to vessel in order to live forever. The Changing God is opposed by The Sorrow, who hunts both the Changing God and his former vessels – including you.
You’re not alone in your quest to stay alive. You’ll encounter other vessels – former “Last Castoffs” if you will – but also a wide array of other cyborgs, mutants and even aliens. Most of the characters you encounter are richly detailed, with backstories, quests and dialogue – and it’s this narrative component that is Torment’s strongest suit. There are so many little details that add color to the world and story that it really stands out when you compare it to other games in the genre – the downside of this of course being that not everything received a voiceover.
Quest completion doesn’t hinge on the usual hack and slash method – and leveling up strength and dexterity don’t play as big a role either. Instead, you’ll try to persuade characters to do your bidding using the power of intellect or might to deceive or intimidate them. This makes skill tree development a very different experience as well, because the choices you make there really impact the ways in which you can interact with the world around you – and the options you have for completing a quest, as there is rarely only one way of doing so.
Aside from ‘regular’ leveling up, you can also grow your character by picking up or buying items, or by using Tides or Cypers – gameplay mechanics that I never fully (or consciously) explored during my first playthrough. The way Tides work, roughly speaking, is that they’re a reflection of your social standing based on the reactions characters have to your actions. This shapes your legacy, which in turn can affect your skills, abilities and powers. The reason I didn’t pay too much attention to this during my playthrough is that there are of course a number of ways in which you can reach similar results – and although that can make these elements seem superfluous I think they’re a good thing. If the Tides system resonates better with a different player, then it’s great to know that the option is there – and it increases the replayability of the game as well.
When you choose confrontation in the physical sense, hack and slash still isn’t the answer. Instead, gameplay switches to a turn-based minigame called a Crisis – but one that is marred by mediocre AI and not up to the level of tactical depth of the turn-based titans of that genre. I ended up consciously trying to steer away from them… not by my own free will, but because I didn’t want to bother. This is a shame, because well thought-out choices are so crucial everywhere else in the game.
Very much a PC game at heart, Torment: Tides of Numenera does have a few issues on Xbox One. Despite the somewhat dated visuals, the game struggles to keep up at times, and a few visual glitches occurred as well. A big day one patch was released to fix a number of issues so it’s likely that more of these shortcomings will vanish further down the line, but it can be a source of mild frustration for those who jump on board early.
Nevertheless, Torment: Tides of Numenera is an adventure well worth exploring. It’s definitely not your typical kind of console experience and not without its faults, but if you were ever drawn to the likes of Planescape: Torment then you can be more than happy that a worthy choice has finally appeared on consoles.