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Torment: Tides of Numenera

Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG


Graphics & Sound:

Delivering a follow-up to Planescape: Torment is no small feat. With so many risks inherent to the project, a single misstep could have led the entire endeavor to failure. Yet, this seemingly impossible feat is one that inXile Entertainment has somehow managed to accomplish. Torment: Tides of Numenera is a masterclass in role-playing, world building, and storytelling. As a game, itís not perfect, but its priorities are so well-placed and its literary ambitions are so lofty that you simply must experience it for yourself.

Technically, Torment boasts unimpressive visuals. Unity is generally known for simply getting the job done, but in this gameís case, with some framerate problems thrown in the mix. But this is forgivable for two reasons. One: the artistic vision is mystifying, yet cohesive. Two: the visuals are mostly in service to the writing, which, as far as Iím concerned, is second to none. Bizarre is the status quo, and things only get more fantastical the further in you get. Tormentís sense of place is well-defined from the off; itís a wonderful world, rife with surprises, each designed to fully capture your imagination.

It would be asking far, far too much to have every single line of dialogue and narration spoken; the gameís size would become completely unreasonable and it would take weeks, if not months, to finish a single playthrough. Instead, Torment gives you exactly what you need; no more, no less. Most characters get a line or two in, allowing you to play the unspoken lines in your head with the gameís intended voice. Music is rich, atmospheric, and often intoxicatingly mysterious, but it stays out of your way for the most part. Most of the action in this game is intended to take place in the playerís imagination; the audio/visual presentation is merely there to set the stage.


Gameplay:

Earth. A billion years in the future. Someone has cracked the secret of immortality; turns out the human soul can live forever, as long as thereís flesh for it to inhabit. The individual in question has applied this knowledge and essentially ascended to godhood. As long as he continues to create new bodies, his soul isnít in danger of shuffling off the old mortal coil. But what happens to the bodies heís rejected? Well, Torment: Tides of Numenera begins as you, an amnesiac soul, attach yourself to the last body the Changing God has cast off. And from there, itís up to you what kind of tale you weave, and by proxy, the kind of gameplay experience you have.

Fans of old-school role-playing games might look at the state of the genre as it currently exists in video game format and despair. Most modern video game RPGs are a distillation of the "murderhobos" trope; in which the player character and a group of fellow displaced travelers solve every problem with violence. Sure, thereís always a narrative component, but when it comes down to it, obstacles are more often than not put to the sword. How soundly does Torment reject this thematic bottlenecking? Well, allow me to explain what happened during my first enemy encounter. Having been set upon by a group of murderous thugs, I simply walked up to their leader and talked him out of it.

Torment: Tides of Numeneraís gameplay is so tightly woven around its storytelling that Iím naturally averse to speaking of it in specific details. What I can say is this: if youíre not a fan of reading, this is absolutely not the game for you. Walls upon walls of text constitute the bulk of Torment, and if youíre the type of gamer whose first instinct is to balk at that, you might do yourself a disservice. You see, the writing is of such an extraordinarily high quality that I donít think I can compare it to anything thatís been out in the last fifteen years or so. Or maybe ever, if Iím feeling hyperbolic about it (and I am).


Difficulty:

Torment: Tides of Numenera forces the player to discard common elements of the modern role-playing game and take it back to its roots. Skill, reflexes, and strategy rarely play any meaningful part of Tormentís gameplay. Instead, the game works with you to tell a story that, in the end, you can call your own. The number of options on hand is simply staggering, and the game goes out of its way to be accommodating to different character builds and playstyles.

That being said, your playstyle exclusively dictates the difficulty level of your experience. Players who are imprudent with their Stat Pools may find them empty when they really need to tap them. But more often than not, that simply means certain narrative events will have to be foregone. And as far as Iím concerned, that simply boosts Tormentís replay value.


Game Mechanics:

There exists a subset of gamers out there who canít stand the talky moments in games. Sometimes, their distaste is warranted; too many modern role-playing games (Japanese, most often) are excessively talky, despite the fact that they have absolutely nothing of merit to say. Torment: Tides of Numenera aims to reclaim the essence of role-playing by making the writing the star attraction. A heavy majority of The Last Castoffís interaction with the world around him/her is relegated to observation and conversation. This results in an experience that boasts a significantly slower pace than most other games, but those willing to go with the flow will be rewarded many times over.

Unlike the monosyllabic drones who aimlessly wander their places of residence (you know the ones), most of Tormentís non-player characters actually come across as real individuals. They have names, stories, agendas. As you interact with these people, your understanding of this strange new world deepens, and the level of your investment becomes that much stronger.

Choices abound; consequences follow both closely and at a distance. While your options in conversation are often richly varied, there will come times for action. In Torment, all of your actions are governed by three main statistics: Might, Speed, and Intellect. Everything you do, save walking, draws upon those stats, and depending on how you complete the tutorial and subsequently grow your character, you may have more points in one than the other two. When the time comes to act, whether in simply dealing with the world around you or in open conflict, you must draw upon the Stat Pool in some way, shape or form. Each action has a base chance of success, but by expending Effort (at greater cost to the Stat Pool), you improve your chances of success.

I strongly suggest all first-time players avoid the temptation to reload at each failure, as the very term "failure" is treated as it applies in actual role-playing. While it might indeed mean you miss a heavy swing of your weapon or application of your Cypher in combat, the systemís applications elsewhere are, shall we say, creative. For example, one early Speed check rewards the player with a new weapon upon success; failure results in a point of damage, but a permanent expansion of the Last Castoffís health pool. Torment is full of surprises like these.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is peerless as a work of interactive fiction. Its approach to choice and consequence is a huge stride forward for the genre, and while the argument could be made that many games in the past have done the same thing, itís been far too long since one of those came along for it to hold any weight. This gameís presence makes disingenuous posers out of countless other narrative-focused releases. It is the new gold standard for the role-playing genre, and I applaud everyone involved in its development.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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