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Torment: Tides of Numenera Review

Launched on Kickstarter back in 2013 and funded in just 6 hours, it’s been a long time coming but Torment: Tides of Numenera is finally here! A spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed 1999 Planescape: Torment, it brings the cult classic CRPG style back into our lives. But how does it stand up against the modern day RPGs we have come to know? Read on to find out!

Game: Torment: Tides of Numenera
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)

I’ll be honest, this is my first experience with this style of RPG, but it’s certainly been an eye opener and changed my perspective! It’s one of the most confusing I have ever tried to understand, and despite having poured over 30 hours of my life into it, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of my story. You may wonder how I can possibly review a game I have yet to complete; trust me, this is a campaign that will easily consume 100+ hours of your time!

When you hear the term RPG, you may think of recent titles in series such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Kingdom Hearts, Persona; the list could go on. To save you the initial shock, don’t come into this expecting a similar experience, it’s in a whole other league. I previously mentioned cult ‘classic CRPG’, well any of you who have played Dungeons & Dragons or titles such as Baldur’s Gate will know exactly what to expect from this game. Torment: Tides of Numenera utilises an adapted tabletop ruleset of D&D designer Monte Cook’s Numenera for the game’s rule mechanics, in its Ninth World setting. Suffice to say that this is predominantly a narrative-intensive game, where the combative action plays second fiddle to vast passages of text. It’s a story so rich in history, lore and personal character development that it’s as complex as asking what’s the meaning of life?

The reading can be very laborious, like reading a tome. If you seek story to be equalled by action, this is not for you. If I have made this sound a little off-putting please don’t rule it out just yet! Let me say this, Torment: Tides of Numenera is a testament to how a strong narrative alone can drive a game.

Set one billion years in the future, one man has found a way to cheat death in order to create a legacy that will last throughout the ages. Using ancient relics from the past, known as the numenera, he found a way to transfer his consciousness to living vessels of his own creation. His first was far from perfect, but it gave him time to improve and make each new one stronger, healthier and more resilient; living through multiple lives, fleeing these castoff bodies when they sustained too much damage or had experienced their stories for long enough, gaining him the title of “the Changing God.” Throughout these forms, he watched his friends and family die, and the world change around him. Despite his genius, he did not anticipate these hollow vessels to give birth to a new consciousness, sentient and intelligent, capable of living on their own with only the faintest memory of his time in their bodies. At first, he embraced the castoffs like a father, but his immortality corrupted him. He became distant, inhuman, treating his “children” as mere tools to his end. By escaping death, the Changing God has awakened an ancient guardian of balance known as The Sorrow – a grim creature set to eradicate him and the castoffs and bring a long-awaited judgment upon them.

This is where your story starts. As the Last Castoff, you know that the Sorrow is coming for you, and you are not yet powerful enough to stop it. The key to stopping the Sorrow has been destroyed, and you must find a way to restore the chamber or find some other means before you, your sire, and all the rest of your siblings are eradicated.

The core message of this story is legacy, and poses one deep question; what does one life matter? This is a conflicting question that will test your morality and haunt you throughout your story. You will ask yourself, what does your life matter? What do your companions’ lives matter? What does any single life matter? The world changes based on your judgements and no playthrough will be the same.

You are thrown right into the deep end, and the game was as confusing for me as my characters own mind was to them. I was instantly thrown back by the graphics. Modern day RPG’s flaunt 3D graphics, 360° views, stunning cinematic cutscenes, in-depth character customisation and vibrant worlds. T:TON uses an isometric projection method to represent 3D in a 2.5D, top-down perspective. It may not be as glamorous as Final Fantasy, and there are no cinematics, but there is an incredible amount depth and detail to take in. The musical score certainly adds to the atmosphere, with dark, eerie and sorrowful tones as you traverse through the many lands and dimensions. Even the most insignificant background details are made known. There is some vocal work at crucial and often random points as your companion converse, but the voice acting is regrettably sparse.

You start off your story falling from the sky, waking in a chamber and struck with memories not entirely your own. Your first choice is to select a male or female role. From the start, you are faced with what seems an endless stream of text, presenting multiple conversation branches that will ultimately define who you are. The choices you make here will set up your character with a Descriptor, Type and later a Focus. You can choose to accept the character build created from these choices, or, you can recreate from scratch. There is a total of 17 descriptors, personalities that have varying skills, bonuses and penalties. There are 3 types (your class) in total. Glaive’s are warriors, utilising weapons and armour to fight on the front lines, heavy hitters able to withstand hits. Nano’s are what you would otherwise call mages, but magic here holds a different meaning. These are not wielders of fire, but masters of ancient technology, the numenera, that can cause devastating effects using esotories (spells) or cyphers from afar. Jack’s are, well a jack of all trades, your essential rogue. They combine the use of weapons, esotories and cyphers to gain the advantage. Each type and descriptor will determine the skills and abilities available to you as you advance.

Characters can be developed through tiers. Almost anything you do will gain XP, from completing quests to rummaging through trash. There are 4 steps to advancement: Stat Pools, Edge, Effort and Abilities/Skills. Once each has been upgraded, a new tier is reached, gaining new skills, abilities and raised stats. Skills and abilities can be individually advanced, from Inability to Specialised, gaining potency with each increase. Certain NPC’s can even raise your stat pools or teach you new abilities through conversation or tests.

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Customisation is limited to a set male/female avatar, however, purchasing new armour from merchants can alter your style. Merchants are as standard as in any other RPG. Armour, weapons and shields can be purchased and equipped, offering light to heavy and short to long range varieties. Equipping the wrong type of gear for your class can incur penalties, such as reducing damage, but the right choices can lead to bonuses unique to your build. Cyphers, single use numenera can be used to aid or attack but may come with a cost. A cypher limit represents the total you can safely carry, anything past this will cause cypher sickness, which can negatively impact your capabilities. As you traverse various lands and dimensions, you can collect cyphers or artifacts (which have multiple uses) which are stored in your backpack. Unlike some other RPGs, capacity does not seem to be an issue and quest items are kept separate, which means you don’t have to worry about accidentally selling valuable assets. Phew!

T:TON is pretty much your standard RPG. You will come across many NPC’s and discover up to 6 recruitable companions, each with their own deep, and often dark backgrounds, unique skills, abilities and opportunities. Your party can consist of 4 members at any one time, and you can remove or add to your party as you see fit. You can also go it alone if you’re brave enough. There are however a few mechanics that make it unique. The game revolves around you, a journey of self-discovery and continuous character development. Progress is made through exploration and in-depth conversations that drive the game forward through a developing main story and a plethora of secondary quests.

The way in which you present yourself in any given situation will affect one of the key components of the game, The Tides, ultimately determining your legacy. These will affect how people view you, approach you and respond to you, including your companions who may not stick with you throughout. Unlike games such as Mass Effect, there is no inherently good or bad choice, but a more nuanced system that reacts to your judgement, a reflection of your moral compass. Will you sacrifice others for your own gain? Will you put the needs of others above yourself? Will you turn a blind eye to the strife of others? Will you seek to make the world a better place or let it fall into chaos? These are all questions you will ask yourself and the path you walk is yours to choose, but it’s not always easy. Tides are represented by 5 colours: Gold can represent compassion and empathy, Indigo for justice and compromise, Silver for power and fame, Red for passion and emotion, and lastly Blue can represent wisdom and reason. Normally you will find yourself aligned with a mix of 2 tides; after all, there is no good or bad, sometimes a combination of both exist to reach a conclusion. All decisions have consequences and some must be made within a time limit as the world at times can progress around you. A simple rest to replenish my stats meant a life was lost I ultimately could have saved. The decision to fight when I was under prepared also took another life. These are all consequences that I will have to live with. The game does not hide from failure, sometimes death is encouraged for new discoveries and progression or to reach your mind’s labyrinth. As an immortal, your death is not really death, there is no “game over”.

Conflicts and combat can often be avoided altogether through careful dialogue selection. Persuasion and intimidation are some of the techniques that can be applied, using one of 3 stat pools: Might, Speed and Intelligence. All actions have a percentage chance of success, which can be increased by applying extra effort. This applies not only to conversations, but even attacks and scavenging too. When combat is initiated, this is called a Crisis, and is usually an integrated part of the narrative, not just a random encounter in a dungeon. Combat is a standard tactical and turn-based affair, controlling your own and companion’s actions through 1 action and 1 movement per turn. Movement and action is limited, and you will often need to decide if you will attack, support or skip you turn entirely for a better opportunity. Fettles (status effects) should be taken into consideration as they can easily give you the upper hand or weaken your defences through positive and negative effects. Alas, there is no need to go into much more detail here, as once again, it’s something you will rarely encounter.

VERDICT

At first, Torment: Tides of Numenera failed to excite me. The barrage of text, sparse action and utter confusion hit me like a wall, and at points the game froze or crashed on me. I thought I wouldn’t come to love it, but I was wrong. As hours sank in, I began to see the wonders the Ninth world had to offer. I have never experienced a game that gives you so much freedom of choice and genuinely makes you question your own morality. It truly is a testament to how a great narrative is all you need to immerse yourself in a game. I honestly can’t wait to see what end my decisions will lead me to. This game will last beyond 100 hours easily, and is certainly good value for money. You really should give it a try!

8.5/10

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