In 1999 Planescape Torment took critics by storms, with its story focused roleplaying creating an experience that was more about lore and dialogue than combat and action. This critical success didn’t translate to a commercial one, but the multiverse shenanigans of this Dungeon & Dragons based campaign still won over enough to become a cult classic. Torment: Tides of Numenera is a spiritual successor to Planescape and follows many of the original title’s queues, making it a title whose strengths lie in its storytelling.
For some, Torment: Tides of Numenera will be the ideal RPG experience. It harks back to the days of yore where isometric RPGs were king, where text dialogue was paired only with the odd grunt or one-liner of audio, where combat was unintuitive and harsh, and where handholding was strictly forbidden. And indeed, inXile have revived many of these traits in their game, the primary feature being the focus on storytelling and dialogue.
In Torment: Tides of Numenera combat is to be avoided. Instead, talking your way out of sticky situations, or cunningly manipulating situations through actions and items, is preferred. It’s about being smart, reading a situation carefully and making the right decisions to overcome it. And wonderfully, Torment: Tides of Numenera provides some excellent situations and methods for avoiding combat that are fun to explore.
This is largely thanks to some terrific writing. There’s real character behind the NPCs that makes them engaging to talk to. There are characters that make you laugh and cringe, as well as plenty you love, hate and even fear. The dialogue is thick with lore and intrigue as well as clues on how you can best interact with people. Reading it all and paying attention pays dividends when it comes to avoiding of combat. You can lie, compliment, sell-out and threaten your way out of many situations simply by replying correctly during dialogue with NPCs, playing off the strengths and weaknesses that you’ve perceived through conversations and lore you’ve picked up on your journey and during your interaction with said characters.
Moreover, there are often multiple non-violent ways out of a situation, and if things do go awry, even combat provides options. Environmental hazards can be triggered to damage enemies in combat, and items provides many neat and unique way to turn the tides if things get overwhelming. Additionally, after a show of strength, such as quickly striking down a foe in front of their party, you can sometimes talk your way out of the rest of the combat. It’s brilliantly designed with copious amounts of branching paths.
However, in order to perform some of the actions required to avoid combat, your character stats come into play, providing differing chances of success depending on them. You’re also restricted to how many actions you can perform each day by these stats. Resting for the night replenishes them but that’s not always an option. Fortunately, your party can also perform many of these actions, providing you with their unique skills and stat pools to utilise.
This does, however, sometimes mean you get stuck in a situation where you don’t have the required amount in a particular stat to continue, resulting in re-loading or leaving an area and then re-playing a section now you know what you’re up against. This can get frustrating, an unfortunately side effect of the breath of choice on offer, but largely this comes down to the combat’s fault.
Shorter engagements aren’t too bad, although there’s some confusion over why certain actions aren’t possible, but in longer engagements it’s all too easy to entirely spend you stat points trying to slice, dice, and magic your way through the many foes, leaving you with too few stat points to progress in the story afterwards. Additionally, the difficulty curve for combat is pretty harsh, stretching your abilities and item management skills considerably, and often catching you out with a very tricky encounter. Combat is best avoided at all costs.
Fortunately, as previously mentioned, Torment: Tides of Numenera is focused on storytelling and dialogue, so combat is rarely your only option. As a result, though, there’s a huge amount of reading. Characters occasionally have spoken sections but these are few and far between. Additionally, there’s a lot of introspection on your character’s part, communicated to you through text. This can make it feel a little lacklustre, with a flash back described in text rather than shown in images or fully animated, but it’s exceptionally well-written and paints a vivid picture in your mind regardless.
However, where the visual shine is in the stunningly crisp environments, which show off a wide variety of weird, mystical and technological wonders. The world you inhabit is a melding of multiple different worlds colliding within a dimension, and it looks fantastic. Character models and animations are less impressive, although enemy creatures are impressively otherworldly.
Unfortunately, we did encounter multiple FPS problems throughout the 30-40 hour story, as well as long load time between areas. Additionally, the occasional bug would cause characters to freeze or enemies to become friendly targets in combat, therefore making victory impossible. But this didn’t distract from the otherwise hugely intriguing lore and unique systems for avoiding combat. Certainly, titles such as these are an acquired taste, but this is one of the strongest recipes on the menu.
Thanks to Xbox and inXile Entertainment for supporting TiX