I’ve been playing a lot of Torment: Tides of Numenera for the last few days. “Torment” they said, “an isometric, old school rpg!” and I came running. First of all, it takes guts to make a game and name it Torment so brazenly. We’ve seen some spritual successors or long lost brothers and adopted children of Baldur’s Gate saga for example. And most of them just couldn’t live up to the name. I’m not saying they were bad games, on the contrary, I really loved some of them. Take Pillars of Eternity for instance! That was a great game and a good RPG in my opinion but it was too short and was lacking enough number of side quests under it’s belt to carry the name of Baldur’s Gate. And then there is Dragon Age… Even though it wasn’t the game that was promised, I enjoyed it while it lasted. (Say “Except DA2!” Say it!) So, can Tides of Numenera be the next Torment?
Considering the parts I’ve played, I’ll say: Yes. It definitely has the potential.
Mysterious immortal main character? Check.
Arguing about philosophy with random strangers in a bar? Yup.
Solving problems with looooong conversations instead of fighting your way out? Also Check.
The system rewarding the learning more than hitting people with sticks? Yes, that’s how Numenera works anyway.
Talking about how Numenera works… Numenera is actually the name of the system and the setting’s is the Ninth World. According to the story, 8 different civilizations were born, developed and disappeared for unknown reasons. The world we are in now is the Ninth World established on top of the remnants of those previous worlds. Partly fantasy, partly sci-fi… To be honest, I loved the concept and I think it is really harmonious with the spirit of Torment. Planescape: Torment took place in Sigil, also a mysterious city in the crossroads of many universes we didn’t even know, where anything was possible. I mean you were able to create -or summon- a being by talking too much about it. Those things always kept us thinking, investigating, wondering. Similarly, Tides of Numenera presents us with the mysteries of all the worlds before the current one, which we know nothing about, except for the artifacts around. I’m sure no Torment fan will fail to see the similarities of the stories or miss the references.[pullquote]”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
-Arthur C. Clarke[/pullquote]
Ninth World is a little bit different than the sword & magic setttings we are used to. Don’t worry, we still have the blades and sticks, and we still do something that looks like magic. …which are our “abilities“. I haven’t seen it in-game but since I know the Numenera rule books, I can tell you that these abilities and the magical items called “cyphers” are actually fragments of the advanced technologies of the previous worlds. This also helps Numenera to explain some things that classic settings fail to do. Everybody have such nice teeth, how did you learn about oral hygiene? Of course the old civilizations! And how come do you have an advanced drainage system? It was always there, we just built the city over it. Makes sense, right? Of course, not all the remains from the past are that useful or understandable. As we see in the game, there are lots of machines around that we have no clue over their purpose, or meaningless things floating over all the time. They even put some bricks around one to make it look like art and not a weird alien thing! Thankfully, as a child of the Changing God, we have some ideas about what is what.[accordion] [accordion-group title=”Little spoiler about the main character. Click if you want to read”]Yes, we are a child of the Changing God. It’s a concept very much like our main character, the Nameless One, from Planescape: Torment. He changes bodies to reach immortality -I’m not sure yet if he is creating those bodies or just “borrowing” them from people though- but here is the difference: When he leaves a body, he also leaves a part of consciousness in there: With his own mind, but also with some memories from it’s creator. This is the situation we find ourselves in at the beginning of the game.[/accordion-group] [/accordion]
The choices we make at the beginning of the game as we try to understand who we are and what we are doing here shape our character. And our choices are definitely much more complex than the classic good-bad axis. The game itself is not defining us in a good-bad axis. Instead, we get attuned to “tides” which define our character’s strong traits, like a legacy; something that other people remember you by. And these tides are defined by a color system. Blue for wisdom and enlightenment, red for passion and action, indigo for justice and greater good, gold for empathy and sacrifice, and lastly silver for power and fame. Your attunement with the tides changes by your actions and reactions. By what you do and what you say… not in accordance with your reasoning. If you are trying to change the world for good and thinking that gaining more power is the key, your color is silver. Same as the power hungry dictator you have nothing else in common. Because your reasons behind the scene don’t mean a lot to the other people, do they? They only see the actions you take.
Since the beta takes place in the first chapter of the game, and I didn’t had a chance to see what other players are doing, I’m not sure if the game will have all these personalized experience promised in the Kickstarter campaign. But what they say is that some npcs -knowingly or unknowingly- can act in compliance with your strongest tides or use them against you. For example, if you are known for your selflessness, you can be exploited for your trait. Or someone who knows that you put the greater good before everything can manipulate you for their own purposes. If they can make it, it could be an incredibly personalised experience with a lot of replayability. And since the dialog options are not screaming “Power! Unlimited poweeeeer!” or including a huge silver button on the side, I can already see myself thinking in the dialog screens for a long time, trying to decide what to do.
What have I done in the game up to this point? I failed to catch a serial killer. I think I missed a clue somewhere, I don’t know. And I thought I shouldn’t be accusing people without enough evidence… Hey, this is not Hollywood; you totally can accuse innocent people and get away with it! The killer escaped and some people died. I hope they were not very important people. I almost got into a fight with a creature, which could be seen only if you drank a certain cocktail at the bar; but I couldn’t because the game crashed (shit happens in beta). But if I could, I would definitely get a good beating. So, thanks buggy beta. Later I tried to talk my way out of the situation and I managed it. The people I was going to get beaten with treat me with huge respect now. They claimed there will be no trash mobs and uninteresting fights. And they apparently kept that promise. This one was one of the four fights I got myself into and one of them was not actually a fight. More like running around, escaping while we were attuning with the tides at the beginning of the game. After that one, I got into a fight with some scavengers because I failed with a bluff check. But I don’t regret it, that was definetly a good fight. Interacting with the objects in the environment in a turn-based fight was something I didn’t see before. I turned a poison spray to the enemies with a might check. When their leader died, one of them ran away and the other one attacked us with more enthusiasm.
Then I spoke to a guy in a bar and told him not to blame himself, and he decided that he was flawless in every way and went to force his ideas on his society. I think I created a tyrant in a far away galaxy. I communicated with some aliens using drawings. I had the impression that if I was successful with the intelligence check, I would remember their language but that didn’t happen for me. I convinced another group of creatures that humans are indeed a sentient race. I’m a paragon of diplomacy and my indigo tide would probably be the highest if the tides were working in beta.
I realized I forgot to mention the npcs. At the beginning of the game, you meet two of them: Aligern and Callistege. And at the first moment, you realize that they can’t get along very well for a long time. Or a short time. Anyway, there are some groups in this world like the factions in the Planescape: Torment. One of them is Order of Truth, and then there is the Changing God cult. One of our companions is a member of the Order of Truth, and wants us to go there for answers. The other one claims that they are charlatans and we should go see the cultists of the Changing God. And we are left with a choice. I have chosen Aligern, our paranoid Nano. By the way, nano is a class name here. There are three classes, and if I have to project them to the classes we are familiar with: Nano is like a wizard, Glaive is more like fighter and Jack is something between the two. Of course, I had to choose nano for my character.
Going back to the npcs (and also I want to ask the developers why they chose this portrait for me… Whyyy?), Aligern and Callistege made me nostalgic about Baldur’s Gate by arguing with each other in the middle of the fight. Hey, people are dying here. Though their stories aren’t revealed yet, I have a feeling about Aligern’s paranoia and distrust for Order of Truth is not ungrounded. I have very high hopes for the character stories in this game. Especially when you consider that the character writers have Patrick Rothfuss -who wrote the Name of the Wind, a novel series which are awesome, I must say- and Chris Avellone -whose achievements are too much to mention here– among them. I hope the character interactions in the game are just as awesome as the ones between those two because it’s one of the most important aspects of an RPG to me. Except the interactions between the characters, I’ve also encountered a companion arguing with me over a decision I made in one of the quests. It happened once, but we are still at the very beginning of the game.
I played the game for two days, rarely leaving the desk for food and sleep. I apologize from the cats and the human for usurping their throne of gaming. If the game didn’t say “Hey, it’s over, move on,” I would be still playing. We have a game in our hands that lives up to the name “Torment”, and if they can complete this mysterious atmosphere with a satisfying story, this may well be the RPG we’ve been waiting for.