The old-school Western RPG has had something of a resurgence over the last few years. Not that weíre falling over them now, but with the Shadowrun games, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity, weíre seeing about one a year. As much as Wasteland 2 had a weight on its shoulders so too does Torment: Tides of Numenera, acting as spiritual successor to Planetscape: Torment
I donít really have the space in this review to detail the plot of Torment: Tides of Numenera, but the brief outline is that someone figured out how to live forever, creating bodies to inhabit before jumping to the next one and abandoning the Ďcastoffí body to live on. These castoffs are often revered or loathed for their creators actions, you are one of these castoffs. Your ability to manipulate the ĎTidesí has drawn the attention of a creature called The Sorrow, it hunts you and you Ďfatherí through the physical and psychic worlds.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is dense with mechanics, but it starts to make sense as you progress. Initially the levelling up system, the cyphers (powerful items), and the stat pools are all a bit bewildering, but it does start to make sense. Torment: Tides of Numenera uses stat points for its various mechanics, in combat youíll use your pool of physical to increase the strength and chance of success for your attacks. If youíre trying to persuade someone in conversation youíll lose the indigo intelligence pool, the more points you spend the greater the chance of success. You need to be careful though, once these pools are spent theyíre gone until you refill them with items or rest
When I was planning the video review for Torment: Tides of Numenera I was struggling to pick a bit of gameplay that included combat. I was hours and hours in when I started to think about it and Iíd only had 1 fight, an easy one right at the start of the game. Iíd had opportunities for more, but Iíd managed to talk my way out of it, but itís not like I was tripping over offers. Truth is combat is often more trouble than itís worth, youíre not falling over health items, youíre often charged a small fortune to rest, and as well as eating all your health, chances are youíre going to burn all your stat points too.
Itís not that the combat is horrendously bad, but itís definitely the weakest part of the game, and itís difficult to spec for. This isnít Fallout, handing out a beating isnít often a solution, but even if it was the moveset isnít there to make it especially fun or interesting, you find yourself using the same moves, spending the same skill points because you donít really have a lot of options. Anyway, it took me a while to get it drilled in to my head, but itís really not what Torment: Tides of Numenera is about. While to claim that you never need to fight is maybe bending the truth, itís certainly not where the focus is. You can usually talk your way out of it, intimidate someone in to backing down, convincing them itís not in their best interest, or simply, just not taking on that side quest.
Youíll spend huge chunks of time in Torment: Tides of Numenera talking to people, reading their stories, learning about the world, its culture and its inhabitants. Thatís what the game is about, not endless combat. While some of the lore is, to me at least (sorry fans of Numenera), a bit nonsensical, some of the stories contained within are fantastic. The writing is uniformly superb, and itís hard to think of many games that can boast missions, and side missions, as interesting. A big part of it is that stories go beyond where youíd expect. In another game youíd be given a task, youíd go and find the thing, return, complete the quest. In Torment youíre given a task, have to speak to someone, do a task for them, they tell you to speak to someone else, at which point the narrative takes a turn, then you have to make a decision about how to act. Side quests and main missions are lengthy, you can spend hours making very little concrete progress, this is more of a plus than it sounds, so dense are they
The characters too are fantastically written, your character, the Last Castoff, is probably one of the weaker and least interesting youíll encounter. Your potential teammates all have distinct personalities, and while some of them are very typical, thereís some who reveal themselves to be more than they appear. They each have their own stories that play out as you progress through the game, again, some of them are great. I really like them as characters too, Erritis is definitely worth adding to your party, the heroic bastard. The NPCs and quest givers are generally fairly good too, thereís one or two where their characterisation means their message gets lost a bit, but given what weíre used to having a few misses is easily forgivable. Itís not all good news though, while the combat is a black mark against the game, itís worth mentioning the technical problems.
Without seeing the PC version for myself I canít say for sure that this isnít an engine issue. The game judders on PS4, thereís a framiness to the animations, itís not a fps issue as such, the game world seems to run at a higher framerate, it just isnít smooth. Thereís also a hitching that occurs sporadically. More than sporadically, itís not constant, and given the nature of the game itís not game-breaking, but it is regular. Itís probably most noticeable in the Sagus Cliffs area, itís not caused by having the view too zoomed out, itís not caused by too much going on on-screen, as it occurs in much smaller, quieter areas, and it occurs on both the Standard PS4 and the Playstation Pro. It may not be a huge problem, but itís enough to say that if you want Torment: Tides of Numenera and have access to a decent PC, thatís probably where you should play it.
Iíve had a few other bugs too, generally itís been small things like the health bars flickering, the sound disappearing for a bit, small things that donít really have any bearing on the game. I have though had items fail to appear in my inventory, itís only happened once, but given that you never really have an abundance of items it doesnít inspire confidence. Iíd have written it off as me imagining it, but I also had an issue where an item that should have allowed 5 uses vanished after one. It was a useful item too. Again, none of this really affected my enjoyment as such, but had I not noticed the missing items and saved, I may not have been able to finish a quest.
Iím not sure fixing those issues would all of a sudden turn Torment: Tides of Numenera into a classic, as good as the narratives can be there is something heavy going about the whole thing, or maybe thatís just personal taste. Still though, for the right person Torment: Tides of Numenera is going to be ideal, were the combat a little better Iíd say itíd be pretty much essential for fans of the genre, but either way I donít think it will disappoint too many people