Torment: Tides of Numenera review

Rated: 4 / 5

I’ve tried to get through a few RPGs in the past, and failed.  Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Diablo, Diablo II, and Baldur’s Gate.  Basically amounted to just losing the will to continue in those games.  It had to do with the monotony of combat, grinding, lack of interest in the plot and characters, or if there was interest in plot/characters then the pacing of the game killed the interest (basically because of grinding and/or combat).  Plus, as much as I wanted to get into Baldur’s Gate (and I may try again sometime down the road), it does this thing with the combat system that I find very annoying (and this isn’t something unique to just this game, not by a longshot).  It’s real-time, but you usually need to pause so you can select a spell/ability to use on another character, then unpause to continue the “real-time” combat.  This mechanism also happens in games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins, and even Planescape: Torment.  Only with KOTOR and P:T did I bare with it because the story/characters were worth it, and there wasn’t THAT much grinding going on.  Torment: Tides of Numenara is a spiritual sequel to P:T (that’s kind of ironic).

My first attempt at playing through this game resulted in me giving up on it after just 1 hour.  Because it involves a lot of text reading with no visuals to aid you.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, the whole point of “video” games is to have visuals where a normal T-RPG you play in-person (like D&D, a system that Baldur’s Gate and P:T utilized, albeit under different D&D versions) would be unable to do so.  You know, unless you were playing with fanatics who are also artists or can afford products from artists.  So I left it on the shelf for a few months (purchased a PS4 copy; even though the PC version is supposed to be the best version; something I agree with after having played this port).  Took it up again a couple weeks ago, and this time put forth the effort to go along with reading what was happening, and visualizing in my head what the text was saying.  Make no mistake, a good portion of the entire game is going to be like this.

Don’t get me wrong, visuals eventually show up.  I mean, you eventually control a protagonist who has to run around various areas and meet various characters after all.  But there’s a decent amount of the game where you have to be capable of reading a novel and appreciating it in that way.  The only way this would be acceptable for me is if this was a choose-your-own adventure type of novel.  And thankfully, that’s exactly what this is.  And it succeeds at having multiple paths and outcomes, and even endings, far better than P:T does.  That is what gives it its replayability, and it’s through the roof in regards to player choices.  I haven’t seen anything this extensive since The Witcher 3, and that’s saying a lot.  I wouldn’t say it’s quite as extensive as Witcher 3 when it comes to multiple paths and endings, if only because it’s a shorter game.  But I do believe the consequences of your actions are reflected more heavily in this game than they are in the Witcher, at least in terms of everything leading up to the actual ending.  While the Witcher may have more alternate endings/epilogues, it feels more constricted in how you get there compared to this game, when you can pick and choose companions to aid you on your quest.

Regarding the companions.  First of all, I find it irritating that you can only have 3 other people in your party.  Really wish there could’ve been 4 companions.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, P:T allowed 5 companions in your party.  This cuts it down to 3 seemingly deliberately for the replay value.  At least they had a good excuse for the first two potential companions you come across.  They couldn’t stand each other, and refused to stick together before the first act is even over.  No such excuse is made for the other companions (at least as far as I can tell).  P:T had 7 companions total in the game, and allowed 5 into your party at one time.  T:ToN has 6 companions, and only allows 3 into your party at one time.  It’s artificial restrictions like these in these games that piss me off.  I’d like to see a mod similar to what modders did to Skyrim that allow for unlimited followers (even of lack of those kind of restrictions can become a detriment in a game like that, when it’s so easy for your character to just get whoever just because you’re that likable).  Just making it to 4 followers would’ve made me happy.

That aside, it’s nice that this game has a system with how they react to your character.  You have this thing called the Tides, which reflect what type of character you are.

Red Aggression, self-gratification, living for the moment
Blue Curiosity, thirst for and preservation of knowledge
Silver Fame, glory, self-worth
Gold Peace, mercifulness, concern for the individual
Indigo Law, order, the good of society as a whole

The dialogue choices you make (which can lead to various actions) determine which “tides” you will be dominant in (resulting in a primary dominant tide, and a second dominant tide).  Since these tides are physically reflected on your character via an ever-changing tattoo on your head, people will tend to know how you are (as if your demeanor didn’t give it away).  And I love how this whole system is handled.  Unlike 99% of games with similar systems that state rather bluntly whether your actions are right or wrong, this game does no such thing with these tides.  You’re never hammered with an ethics lesson for going down the path of one tide over another (especially when it’s not all that difficult to change your dominant tide with various choices).  There are various reasons for taking an action that raises your tide level of one color or another.  For instance, the red tide.  On the surface, it seems like a tide that a villain would take, for one who wants instant gratification.  But this can also be a choice for one who believes immediate action is the best choice over waiting and analyzing something for too long, which is sometimes the logical choice.  I found myself making decisions that raised each of the color tides throughout my playthrough, but ended up being dominant in Blue (with Gold as secondary) in the end.  Even though there was this one area in the game where my red tide shot up dramatically due to some decisions I made.  And everyone reacts to your dominant tides in various ways (most of the time just subtle ways), ensuring alternate dialogue on each playthrough if you make different decisions.  And even the ending is influenced on what your dominant tides are.

Take into account that the epilogue text at the end of the game shows the outcomes of the companions (and other major characters) you interacted with throughout the game, all of which can be influenced by the choices of your character, and you’ve got another layer of replayability spread over this game.

So that aside, let’s talk about the combat system.  Some people have bitched about what they did with it, but by-and-large, I consider this an improvement.  They made combat turn-based.  And it’s all the better for it in my opinion.  If you’re going to make a system where you need to pause at various points to select a special action for your characters to take (unless you’re a fancy-fuck with quick reflexes and a fast-working mind like those Korean Starcraft players), I’d rather it just go all-in on making it turn-based.  I appreciated the combat more because of this, and wish more RPGs of this type utilize it.

That being said, some chinks in the armor begin to show in the later sections of the game.  Seems to me this game needed a few more weeks of playtesting, because the game seemed like it was borderline breaking during the last few hours.  I don’t necessarily mean because combat was becoming unfair, at least not directly.  I mean things like having spells no longer taking effect (unless they deal damage/healing directly), or messages indicating an error has occurred.  Normally when a character is hit by an attack that affects his stats, you’ll get some message like, “Hit with this,” or, “Immune to this,” etc.  Except replace “this” with “error” and you see the problem.  I’m not kidding, the game was literally spelling out that there were spell errors during some segments of combat during the last few hours of the game.  Really makes me wish there were mods for this game, except as far as I can tell modding is non-existent for this game.  Shit.

Now, this didn’t break or destroy the game, but it did hinder the enjoyment somewhat.  Another thing that hinders the enjoyment in hindsight is this one segment involving combat where you have the option to save some people on the way.  Problem with this is that there seems to be no benefit/consequence of doing so.  These people don’t seem to show up later, and you don’t seem any better or worse for it.  Granted, this could be because I didn’t choose this one ending where that might come into play, but I’d like to see its affects in each ending if possible.  So that your actions don’t seem pointless here when it comes to saving lives.  Despite this, it’s just a nitpick in comparison to all the other great stuff in this game.

There wasn’t much combat in the game for me.  I fought less than 10 battles throughout the whole 30 hour runtime.  But that’s because I chose a character who tried to be a pacifist when he could.  The number of combat sequences can increase greatly if you choose to be that type of character.  But the combat isn’t the main appeal of the game (especially when it gets a little finicky at times when The Sorrow is involved in combat, with it’s continual turning 180 degrees back and forth while it’s stationary, as it can’t seem to make up it’s mind which direction it wants to face; a bug I imagine, could’ve been worked out with more development time).

Plot and characters are all solid.  Good twists, good revelations, each character memorable in their own way.  Nothing to really complain about there.  The main appeal is less the characters and plot (though they are definitely good enough) and more discovering the world, and learning more about it, yourself, and its inhabitants (which I guess coincides with having good plots and characters).  It’s a fascinating well-thought-out world.  Such fascinating concepts and visuals (when they’re, you know, clearly visible).  And the choose-your-own adventure-esque aspects are what ultimately make this a memorable experience worth playing more than once.  It succeeds in being a great game in spite of its faults (I would rate it higher if some of these were fixed, which currently can’t be done as this game currently seems unmoddable).  And if it weren’t for those faults (and if you could have 4 companions in your party rather than 3), I’d say this game stood a very good chance of being superior to Planescape: Torment.  As it is, I say it almost succeeded (which is an impressive feat in of itself).  I would suggest playing the wise pacifist on your first playthrough, just so that you’re encouraged to seek all the knowledge this world contains.  But if you’re one not to care too much about that, by all means, choose one of the other several character types in the game (three main types, and several subcategories and development paths for each, allowing for a variety of gameplay approaches both in and outside of combat).

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