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Torment: An Early Peek

by Emma Yorke (Aubrielle), 2016-01-26

Author's Note: I've done my best to keep as many spoilers out of this article as possible.  I can promise that there are no major spoilers ahead - only very minor ones about general concepts you will see in the game's introduction.  You can progress safely without worry that I'll spoil the story for you.  Though, if you prefer no spoilers at all, you may not wish to read. -A

It's a place of enchantment, this place that InXile has woven for us.  But it's not a place of enchantment in the same way as the worlds of Quest For Glory I or Lords of Magic or many other adventures from years past.  That naive joy seems to be gone from the world of popular games.  No, the world of Torment: Tides of Numenera is somewhat darker.  Not grim, though, not so much as strange and dangerous with a strong current of wonder and just a hint of hopeless loneliness.

I got the privilege of playing the closed backer beta of the much-anticipated upcoming RPG; it's arguably the most anticipated title of 2016 in RPG circles.  Naturally, so many of us are curious about the world where we'll be spending much of our time in days to come.

This Torment is set in a very different place than the smash RPG hit of 1999 that shares its name.  Planescape: Torment, quite possibly the most acclaimed RPG of all time, was set in Sigil, an incomprehensibly large city that served as a hub joining all the planes of existence.  Set in a Dungeons and Dragons universe, it used the AD&D ruleset as well (second edition Dungeons & Dragons), just like its cousin, Baldur's Gate.  This new Torment takes place on Earth, a billion years in the future.  The planet is unrecognizable.  Countless civilizations have risen and fallen on our planet in that unimaginable span of time, and technologies beyond comprehension have been unleashed on its surface.  What we might call nanotechnology is at the core of the game's magic system, though the "nano" mentioned in the game is a substance much like the fabled Dust of the Endless universe.  Wielded by the right mage, its power is immense.

The game is still relatively early in development, so I won't bore you with descriptions of flaws or bugs, except to say that I'd only just gotten into the "real world" (the world outside of character creation) when the game's next steps didn't load.  It had effectively died on me, and since I'd failed to save (go me!), I'd lost about two hours of progress and was in no mood to retrace my steps.  But I'll tell you about what I saw, and what you're likely to see upon release.

The game is incredibly text-heavy.  Torment is no place for those who don't enjoy reading; this is a universe of the mind, and words are the vehicle through which you will traverse this world.  It's probably the most text-heavy game I've played in a long time; it reminds me more of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, or one of those old text-based games, than a typical RPG.  But the writing is excellent; there's absolutely no room for complaint in the game's wordcrafting.  It's the best writing I've seen since Pillars of Eternity, and both games share a talent for describing the indescribable.  But, using the current build of this game for comparison, I would say that Pillars lets you act more.  Torment makes you read more, and while I loved the writing, my eyes started to ache long before I was through.  It made me appreciate the minimalism of a game like Sunless Sea, with its combination of brilliance and brevity.  It also gave me a craving to go back and play Pillars; it's very similar to Torment in a lot of ways.

You might be wondering how this new installment compares to its namesake, Planescape: TormentP:T might have started out with a lengthy dialogue (with a talking skull), but that felt far more like starting a fresh game of any of the old Infinity Engine games - you got through it after a minute or two, and your quest began.  I felt like the new Torment was far less interactive, at least in the sense that all you were doing was going through a sort of dream state, doing little more than making dialogue choices that moved the narrative along in a slower way.  I didn't do a word count to compare the two or anything, but I felt myself reading way more in Torment than I did in Planescape, possibly because Planescape's dialogue seemed to move faster.  Maybe more was going on, I don't know.  But I felt the keen urge to hurry the game along this time around, hoping to get to the more active parts.

At present, the extent to which you actively customize your character is limited to choosing your character's gender.  This was one option I was happy to see, and I was also happy to see that all it did was decide my avatar; it didn't affect the story in the least.  As for the rest of your character - class, skills, and all the rest - that's decided by the choices you make in dialogue and the memories you choose for your character.  When you did this thing that you're remembering, did you use speed, strength, or wit?  Did you face down your foes, or did you try to strike a compromise?  There's a gazillion of these choices, and when you're done and ready to advance past the beginning, the game presents you with your character screen for the first time, giving you one last chance to change your character's class or skill set before moving on into the game proper.  This differs from Planescape in one crucial way: in Planescape, you made your character in the beginning.  In this installment, your character comes to life based on your decisions in the dialogue.

The world of Numenera is strange beyond description.

Right now, the game only has one combat scene in the beginning area, and it doesn't hold your hand.  You're told what to do in dialogue with another character, but you're expected to know what he means and do it on your own.  If you mess up, things can go wrong.  Whether InXile adds more help and structure, turning it into something closer to a tutorial, is yet to be seen.  We're also promised that fighting won't necessarily be what this game revolves around; many situations can be resolved by your character's guile or other means.  A fight is called a "Crisis", and if that first one was any indication, it definitely feels like a crisis.  I'm personally excited at the idea that I'll be able to actually avoid fighting, that my character's smooth-talking skills can get me out of battles.  It seems that so few RPG's actually deliver on their promise to let you do this, so I'm cautiously hopeful that InXile will give that to us.

As for the actual fights, they're turn-based, and at the present, they feel a little clunky (though this could change).  I know this will be good news to those of you that hated the combat in Pillars of Eternity, especially those that considered it too fast.

After the beginning area, you're thrust into another long memory, and you progress through it by reading its description and making choices.  Again, another text-based adventure.  How much of Torment will be text-based adventures is beyond my ability to guess right now, though I'm hoping that it will be slightly less than what I've played through in the current build.  I love to read, but...I like to play, too, and I did far more reading than playing.  If these text-based choices are crucial to the game's ability to shape the narrative around you, then I hope InXile does a better job of spacing them out.  Otherwise, a lot of players (if they're like me) will have to stop and take long breaks to rest their eyes, even before they reach the real beginning of the game.

Torment does a wonderful job of bringing the strange, distant world of Numenera to life through masterfully crafted writing and narrative.  Though, if the developers don't space the game's mountains of text out some more, many players will find getting through the game's intro to be a feat of endurance at best.  For other players looking for a more interactive experience (or those with really weak eyes), Torment's lengthy (or grueling) introduction could be insurmountable.

Regardless, if Torment is an exercise in patience, it is one that I have no doubt will pay off.  The world of Numenera is far too rich to pass up, and InXile's rendition of it is far too good.

Box Art

Information about

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Developer: InXile Entertainment

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Technofantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 40-60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2017-02-28
· Publisher: InXile Entertainment

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