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Torment: Tides of Numenera Review - The return of the classic RPG

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I have never played a Torment game before, so it was a bit overwhelming going into this review process for a game so out there. Right from the start, you get a sense of what is to come - so much reading, so many details to uncover, and the decisions that greatly affect your overall experience of the game. Being new to this whole genre, I dare say genre as it feels like something so different, was extremely intimidating.

Pages of dialogue filled the bottom screen, I thoughtlessly made decisions based off different choices of dialogue. I dropped out of the sky into a dark and dingy dungeon, to discover even more of these decisions awaited. I had no idea what I was doing, and who this strange figure was in front of me. All I knew was that it felt like I was playing a game that is straight out of the 90s. With its Diablo II art style, mixed with a bit Myst, Baldur's Gate, and Pillars of Eternity, as the environment bared this strange pre-rendered static feel to it. The gameplay on the other hand, was like diving into the deep end of a pool filled to the brim with literature and old English.

With no other option but to slowly embrace the overwhelming deep narrative in front of me, I took the game line by line, and choice by choice. Carefully reading through character dialogue, going over what I could say to them, and returning for more questions when I wanted to know more. The beauty was in how the game has a mammoth of information to consume, but only if you want to know more. Being an RPG, Torment’s level of character development, and sheer magnitude of detail that has gone into every conversation, environment, and path you can choose, is compelling beyond belief. 

It is all about decisions

In just an hour I made a friend, who I thought would be on my journey with me forever, and lost them because I tried to outsmart a guard. They were not happy with how I handled a situation, and we parted ways. I witnessed the most disgusting execution I have ever seen in a video game, and had a 30-minute conversation with the overseer of it while it happened. I loved every moment of it as the more I explored, the more the world pulled me into it. There was always something to discover, and when I lost patience to sit through a page of text, I then skimmed through it, decided on a outcome, and moved on. In Torment: Tides of Numenara, it seems that there are no bad decisions, and everything I chose, had an interesting outcome to it. Even most of the combat sequences can be dodged by sweet-talking your way out of things

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When I failed an opportunity to advance in a specific direction of speech, or tinker with an object, the game never once punished me for trying, rather it made way for an alternative route in narrative, and a specific quest. Combat in the game also relies on this Effort system. The turn-based movement, compliments the tactical decision making that comes into play when attacking. Choosing an enemy to target, slowly creeping towards them to unleash an attack, all relies on specific movement strategies, as well as knowing your character and sacrificing the right amount of Effort to successfully attack at target. Sure, at times I pumped all my effort into an attack to make sure that its 100% success rating would pay off, but it also meant that I would have to work around this in the next few attacks.

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A story worth paying attention to 

It was like everything in the game is optional, and there are layers upon layers of ways to go about any scenario I faced. Just when I thought I understood my companion, and knew everything about them, I clicked on them to have a conversation, and they told me more about their past. All this in Torment: Tides of Numenera would not be possible however, if it was not for the foundations in which the game has been built on.

Numenera is set in a world where the Changing God has perfected immortality by transferring his consciousness into bodies that he has designed. Over the years these vessels have become more and more powerful, and lasted longer than the last of their kind. The issue here is that every time the Changing God moves to a new vessel, the one he leaves behind become something of a free-willed spirit, able to live alone without the God’s presence. Over time the Changing God’s ability to escape death got the attention of a creature known at The Sorrow. Its main purpose is to bring a balance back to the world, and normalize life and death once again. The game starts when you, the player, is falling to the ground after being cast off by the Changing God. You are now a vessel and The Sorrow wants you dead.

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While the story sounds simple enough, it gets extremely complicated as you progress in the game, and like I said before, you can either embrace the lore behind every character, building, shrine, and creature, or just move on and follow the main quest line. There were moments where I wanted to know more about this strange creature digging in the Underbelly of the city, while I really could not care less about the fountain that spits out taking fish. Then again curiosity helps you grow your character as every new discovery grants XP which is then used towards character levels and new stats enhancements. 

The foundation of your character, and how you will get through the game all relies on your class in the start of the game. The class I chose was the Nano, and I was happy with it. The Nano unlocks more speech options to choose from, that helped me get out of some rather tough dialogue situations. At times, I escaped a few fights all because I could talk my way out of things. It would interesting to see what the other classes have in store, as I do plan on spending quite the chunk of my social life experiencing a second playthrough, and doing everything differently.

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A second take on things

While I did things my way, Wessel also played the game on his side and had a few words to share about his experience. He isn't a newcomer to the series, so his experience was a little different than mine.

I fell in love with Planescape: Torment in 2000, and 17 years later, I still remember the game fondly as one of the greatest RPGs I have ever played. Torment: Tides of Numenera is of course the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, and although I loved the first game, I somehow felt alienated and confused by Torment: Tides of Numenera. 

In the first few hours, I found it difficult to follow the story and the game’s lore; it is just so complex and somewhat alien that I couldn’t take everything in, but then it hit me. I shouldn’t understand everything, that is the whole point. The protagonist is known as the Last Castoff, someone who doesn’t know what is going on or even understand the world he or she has woken up in. Those feelings of alienation and confusion when I started playing the game make so much sense now. 

I decided to play as an “evil” character, in the sense that I would try to deceive as many of the Ninth World’s inhabitants as I possibly could. One early example is when I was tasked to fix a massive clock, which somehow shows events of the past or maybe even alternative timelines. I was asked to do this by a cult of the Changing God, one of the many religions. I tried to fix the clock, and came close to doing so, but in the end I decided to smash it instead, plunging the area into darkness. The cult still gave me a reward, helping me unlock a memory and in return, I should tell them what I see. However, I decided to lie and say I didn’t see any of their compatriots, at which point one of the cultists realized I was lying, branding me “The Deceiver” and not allowing me to rest in their area, something I desperately needed to replenish statistics. 

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Some actions permanently increase your statistics, for example, I worked for some strange construct for an hour and received a reward of Shins (the currency of the Ninth world) as well as a permanent increase of one Might. Another cool example is when I visited a bar filled with psychics. The bar seemed to be distorted in some manner, almost like it was outside of just one reality. Speaking to some of the psychics, I successfully lied to one of them, while another wanted to get a peek inside my mind. I had two options, allow him to enter my mind or not. Since I lied to many of them, I was hesitant, but allowed the psychic to enter my mind briefly and gained a permanent increase to the “Intelligence” stat. Its these choices that make Torment: Tides of Numenera so interesting. What would have happened if I didn’t let that psychic into my mind? My character could have been a little bit less powerful then, or there could have been other consequences I am not currently aware of.  

The vast array of choices and consequences, the confusing and sometimes overwhelming amount of lore as well as the personality different companions bring to your party makes the game something I believe you can play through many times without experiencing all the possibilities. I followed down the path of the Silver Tide, which is the admiration of power and seekers of fame, as described as those who actively seek to be remembered. The Silver Tide could be increased not only by good actions, but by bad actions such as lying to a child, basically convincing him that I am a certain god, thereby gaining his admiration.  I spent my time doing some side quests and just exploring the world, talking to everyone I could and see how they react when I tried to deceive them. Sometimes it worked out extremely well, while other times I wish I didn’t push them in such a way. 

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As I mentioned earlier, at the start of the game I felt so confused, so utterly alienated from the rest of the world. However, as I learned more about the lore, met the inhabitants of the Ninth World, I not only found my place the strange world, but carved my name into it through my actions. Not once so far have I felt that one of my actions where “wrong” or that I needed to load a savegame and that’s the beautify of Torment: Tides of Numenera’s system. Even performing an action others might not, for example moving closer to a ghostly woman while I could have tried to resist by using Might, felt right in that moment. The woman killed me, but instead of having to reload, I reappeared in the constructs of my mind and found my way back out. There are no wrong choices, which means you can play exactly the way you want to, without limitations, or rather, none that I could find in about 10 hours of play.

I am completely amazed at how deep of a story and personality characters I came across are; and even my companions had their own questlines, complexed personalities and motives. Some of them don’t get along with each other, to the point where they refused to be in a party with me at the same time. You can talk to your companions, gain their trust and later, you can use them to further your agenda, whatever you want to do, the choice is up to you. I haven’t played a game, ever, that offers the player so much choice. Coupled with the Tides system, which I can best describe as a system of morality and ideals, the complexity and flexibility of Torment: Tides of Numenera is mindbogglingly vast. 

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So, we both agree that Torment might not be the game that all RPG lovers can relate to, but it takes us back to the classic days of hardcore decision making, and tactical turn based combat. I will definitely be heading back into the game when I get a chance, to complete a new playthrough with a completely different class and approach to the game, and see how it turns out. 

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