Torment: Tides of Numenera review

Discussion in 'General Gaming and Hardware Forum' started by Eumesmopo, Mar 23, 2017.

  1. Eumesmopo

    Eumesmopo Learned to love the bomb

    Dec 6, 2012
    It is impossible to review Torment Tides of Numenera without comparing it to it's spiritual predecessor, Planescape Torment, since the game was promised to be the 'thematic sequel' to it, after all. TToN has very big shoes to fill because PST was an exceptional video game: Released almost 20 years ago, it was one of the first video games to explore in depth themes that where of a philosophical nature, it had an intriguing and thoughtful storyline filled with memorable characters with compelling backstories, and it used of lengthy and pleasant texts in order to immerse the player into it's enthralling narrative. Through every step of the way, PST would make you question and ponder, rethink old concepts you thought you knew well and refine them so they adapt to respond to the questions the game throws at you, generally it would lead you into thinking in ways that are slightly more sophisticated than you probably used to think before you played the game. Experiencing such a game for the first time was a very new and refreshing escapade, it provided intellectual sensations that are incredibly rare to have in video games, that is the reason it remains to this day one of the most venerable and respectable enterprises in storytelling that this medium has to offer.

    With that in mind, I'll say this right away: TToN does not hold up to the same quality standards as PST did, it is a pale and diminished imitation. It's more gaping flaw being the quality of the writing and the quality of the narrative.

    After finishing the game, one thing lies clear to me: The creators of this game wanted to make it as similar to PST as they possibly could without being accused of plagiarism or sued for copyright infringement. They clearly knew that PST was a great game and if they could make something that was like it they would have achieved success. The problem is that they did not seem to fully understand what it was about PST that made it so good, but wanted to imitate it anyway, in so doing they repeated flaws that the original game had committed and failed at distilling it's qualities, failed at substantially improving it's formula and failed at providing significant innovations over it's predecessor. The result is a mixture of stagnation and decay.

    Planescape Torment was far from a perfect game, it's combat in particular was atrociously boring, an annoying chore that you had to tolerate if you wanted to continue on with the story (thankfully most of it could be skipped by playing with a thief character with high charisma and intelligence), it's narrative falls into some tired old clichés at times (the most obvious one being the amnesiac main character), the dialogue doesn't always feel natural and verisimilar (which is particularly frustrating because that is a flaw that Black Isle had already solved with other games it made at the time like Fallout, for example).

    I have a friend who once rewrote the whole main story of PST in his blog, with only one difference being that it doesn't take place in Sigil, it takes place in modern day São Paulo and, with few exceptions, the fantasy elements where largely diminished: The Dustman Mortuary is turned into a regular morgue headed by a man that follows a buddhist-like philosophy, the Thieves Guild is turned into a gang of drug dealers, Pharod is turned into a regular landfill dweller, Ravel is just an old woman with limited magical powers, etc... And it worked, the story was still there, intact. The point I want to make with that is this: One of the biggest flaws in PST was a side effect of it being a licensed game set in the D&D universe: It's setting was just needlessly weird and queer. There is no reason why you had to make that story take place in some distant imaginary land of dwarves and elves, all it would take would be a bit of magical realism and the whole narrative could taken place right here in the world we know, where it would have been so much more verisimile and relatable.

    And guess what: All of these flaws that I have mentioned, TToN repeated; apparently unaware that they were never qualities to begin with.

    The combat, while it does make some rather creative improvements over what PST had, is still a chore that just makes the player miserable; enemy turns take forever to end (sometimes over a minute, which is another problem that Black Isle had already overcome previously with the Fallout games, it is baffling that we are now dealing with this 20 years later), there is very little in the way of tactics; you are always either just moving your character up to enemy positions and clicking to attack or casting some spell. And while it is interesting that Inxile had the creativity to allow us to do tasks other than fighting, such as talking to enemies or interacting with useful environmental objects during the combat phase itself, and while it is also good that they had the common sense to avoid including too many battles that where not necessary for the sake of the story: It is still very frustrating that they made so much of the combat not be skippable by skillchecks and even more frustrating that the combat itself doesn't hold up to par to games that many of these developers had worked on before, namely; Fallout 1 and 2. It is the same error of PST being repeated again; implement a bad combat system and force the player into it, rather than implementing more ways to circumvent it.

    TToN also repeats the 'amnesiac protagonist' cliché, if the intention was to give a nod to PST or if they truly believed it made for a good story I don't know, but the end result is that the player is locked into playing a dense and clueless character that only asks the same intrusive and dull questions to every other NPC he or she meets: "Who are you?","What is this Place?","Tell me more about [insert faction or character name here]". There is no naturality or verisimilitude to the conversations whatsoever, every question the player makes is shaped into something generic and repetitive that only a person who's both very clueless and very prying would ask to a random passerby they saw on the streets, the cause of this is self-evident: The writers didn't want to bother themselves shaping the conversations into something that doesn't facilitate direct exposition of plot and lore elements.

    And the worst error, the most insufferable and annoying one: Vanity and nonsense. Like the internal jargon and slang of the setting and the way it is viciously shoehorned into every conversation, I don't think a single whole text exists inside this game that doesn't contain some neologism related to Monte Cook's "Numenera" universe, and the way they invent their neologisms is always the same; take a number of random phonemes, write them down and shuffle them around and you have yourself a new word. And thus we end up with countless meaningless words shoved into every text you read. This is worse than unnecessary, this actively harming the writing and making the story less relatable, more nonsensical and less enjoyable to read.

    This pulling of meaningless words out of thin air is to a large degree applied as a method to the story as well, lore elements devoid of significance or explanation constantly make appearances: Machines, places and characters without any origin or purpose are everywhere, and not even important main characters are free from this vanity; the main antagonist is a strange being of which the origin or nature are never explained, nor is his significance even alluded to. Even what's supposed to be the main aspect of the game, the Tides, are vague at best and while they are mildly explained within the narrative, they are almost entirely insignificant to the gameplay; being of one specific tide doesn't make any character react to you in a very different manner, nor do you get abilities or powers that are related to any one specific tide.

    There is also the "backer NPCs", characters that the developers had to include in the game because it was promised to kickstarters that pledged an specific amount of money, there are 50 of them in the game, according to the Kickstarter page. Those characters are, without exception, filler. They are not related to anything important in the story, they don't have anything witty, funny, insightful or pleasant to say. Most of them are highly nonsensical and it really seems like Inxile did not know how to say "No" to it's backers:

    _I want a NPC that is a goth robot from another dimension.
    _I want a NPC that is obsessed with telling strangers about it's weird reproductive system.
    _I want a NPC that's literally Ryu from Street Fighter.

    Since there are only about 100 NPCs at most in the game that you can have conversations with, they comprise most of the NPCs that you are going to talk to.

    This vanity and lack of coherence about everything results in nonsense, a tangled mess that is incoherent and that dilutes the central theme of the game almost into oblivion. It makes you stop caring about anything that is not directly related to the main story, because you know that it is going to be a waste of your time if you even pay attention to it; you stop exploring the map and you stop talking to random NPCs and just try to progress the main quest until the gameplay resolves into something minimally coherent.

    It would be, however, unfair to say that TToN doesn't provide any improvements over what was accomplished in PST, and also unfair to say that the game doesn't capture much of the essence of what comprised it's spiritual predecessor. The role-playing is not present on the same level as it was in PST, but it is still notable and there is a high level of player freedom to make important choices in the story, even if they rarely have a noticeable impact in the result of events. As diluted as it might be, the underlying philosophical themes and implications are there and while it might not blow us away, the story is decent and enjoyable enough on it's own.

    Altogether, TToN is a mediocre game that does have it's moments, it can be enjoyable at times and it does have some few philosophical insights and interesting stories to tell scattered here and there. If it didn't had to live up to the legacy of Planescape Torment, I could even call it satisfying, but when you consider what it is supposed to be the follow-up to, and how it doesn't have a tenth of the impact of it's predecessor, I really can't be anything but disappointed about it.

    In a way, playing TToN today after playing PST almost two decades ago is like meeting, two decades later, an intelligent and attractive person you knew in your youth to which time was not kind; it's still the same entity, but not as sharp, not as beautiful and rather than attenuate your longing for happy times that are gone, such meeting may very much just make you more wistful.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
  2. PlanHex

    PlanHex Useless layabout oTO Moderator Orderite

    Nov 4, 2007
    Not sure if you're aware, but they have the rights for Torment, which I think covers anything in PST that's not taken from D&D/Planescape.
    Eh? "needlessly weird and queer"? The setting being so "out there" is one of the things that make it the most interesting to me. Sets it apart from the other fare available at the time, especially the other Infinity engine games.
    As I recall, there's not a single elf or dwarf in the game, specifically to subvert (high-)fantasy RPG expectations. Tons of that stuff in the game. A lot of the subversions of typical fantasy RPG tropes would not really work if it wasn't D&D, though I guess the main plot doesn't exactly depend on it beyond the "death != game over" which is more of general gaming subversion than D&D/RPG specifically.

    You might as well say that KotOR2 should have been set in a realistic hard sci-fi setting, but without the Star Wars setting and established tropes that MCA wanted to examine and subvert, there's no impetus for the story in the first place.

    I really don't understand your complaint about verisimilitude. Please elaborate.

    (apart from that, I agree on most/all of your TToN complaints)

    Also, given what you've written, you should go take a look at No Truce With The Furies if you're not aware of it already:
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
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  3. rogerdv

    rogerdv First time out of the vault

    Dec 18, 2007
    I found TToN excessively dense, the dialogs are overburden with technobabble, and the game seems to be reduced to 4 locations (Sagus Cliff, Valley of Heroes, The bloom and Labyrinth). I expected a much better story, being Patrick Rothfuss involved (in case you dont know, he is considered one of the four greatest modern fantasy writers, together with MArtin, Joe Abercrombie and Brandon Sanderson). Definitely, I think the story Im writing for my own RPG project is not far from this one in terms of richness and quality.
    Fighting is boring, as it doesnt offers any reward other than advancing the story in some cases. Not a bad game, but as I said, I expected much more.