Review: Torment – Tides of Numenera

You wake up plummeting towards the ground in a cocoon. It’s slowly shredded away from your body to reveal a vast crystalline dome below you and a collapsing moon above you, and you have no idea who you are or what is happening. You accelerate and black out just before impact, and reawaken on a vast platform of mirrors and obsidian, studded with glowing orbs. When you touch them, they pour forgotten memories into your mind, everything from underwater cities to ancient castles. Each new memory awakens latent skills that your body still knows even if your mind can’t make sense of them.

But something is stalking you through your own mind, a tumor made of smoke and teeth, and it’s closing in fast. Spectral figures emerge from the very landscape to try and help, but they end up as food for the creature that you only hazily remember as The Sorrow, and as it closes in on you, you manage to force yourself out of your unconscious and back into your twisted, mangled body.

You’re lying on the floor of a rotting laboratory next to a crystal sarcophagus, watched by a man covered in living tattoos and a woman surrounded by dozens of ghosts that look exactly like her. They think you might be a God.

Thus begins Torment: Tides of Numenera.

That was about five minutes. Over the next several hours it gets significantly weirder.

I love almost everything about this game. I backed it way back when the kickstarter began around 2013 and grit my teeth through almost half a decade of delays, because I played Planescape: Torment back when I was 14 and I would give anything to capture some of the awe that game inspired in me.

As the spiritual successor, with a lot of the same staff and a similar design philosophy, this game is so good. Of the recent old school RPGs to come out (Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny) this is probably my favorite.

04ad676271fd34f4cdcd4f49df31299a.jpgThe setting is to die for. It’s purestrain Monte Cook. He lists his major influences in creating it as the art of Moebius, and the writings of Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock and and Gene Wolfe. It’s a world one billion years from now where eight great civilizations have risen and fallen on the bones of their predecessors, littering the dying planet with technology so alien that it’s practically magical. The Ninth Age has just hit the feudal era, and sword-wielding knights coexist alongside “mages” who can control ancient nanomachines to cast spells, and rogues who are more like cyberpunk hackers than medieval thieves. Every area you explore oozes personality and thousands of tiny details to look through. I bought the pen and paper game ages ago but the translation to video game as a medium is perfect.

This is the first game in ages where my initial playthrough hasn’t been a warrior/fighter type. I’ve been playing as a Jack, the rogue class, a literal jack-of-all-trades and homage to Jack Vance’s influence on the genre. You learn a little bit of everything and can talk your way out of practically any conflict. In hours of playing I have had one tutorial fight and managed to manipulate or sweet talk my way past any other show of arms. It’s almost like playing through a novel, with well-written branching dialogue and a ton of replay-ability evident even in the midst of my first go.

If I have any complaints, it’s that what I did see of the combat feels incredibly clunky. I don’t know that I’d enjoy a fighter character unless a large part of that was using intimidation checks to avoid fighting people, ironically enough. But the game really does throw a lot of options at you; my Jack is often presented with the ability to turn enemies against one another, or make myself into their ally, or simply misdirect their wrath somewhere off the screen. I could easily see a nano-wizard being able to scan their minds and influence them that way, or a grizzled glaive warrior scaring a bunch of wasteland scavengers off just by unsheathing his giant blade and grimacing at them.

It’s not quite as good as Planescape: Torment, but PST is honestly one of my gold standard games when it comes to writing. Even pushing aside the heady nostalgia factor, it just has a borderline-perfect cast of characters, every single action you take has weight behind it, and it works within one of my favorite fantasy settings ever. Numenera is young compared to Planescape, and this Torment game has a lot to live up to, but absolutely an A+ for effort and something I can advocate buying at full price, because if you like good storytelling you’ll probably get at least 2-3 replays out of it and that comes out to 60, 70 hours or so.

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