Torment: Tides of Numenera Review

Ever since the launch of Kickstarter back in 2009, independent games developers have found it much easier to source the money needed to create their projects. Titles such as Darkest Dungeon, RimWorld and the incredible Shovel Knight have all been released thanks to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding outlets. It is not a complete whitewash of success, though, and some releases which should really never have seen the light of day have made their way onto our screens thanks to crowdfunding (you know which ones I am referring to). However, when the developers of the much loved RPG from the late 90s, Planescape: Torment, announced they were looking for funding for a spiritual successor (the developers could not make a proper sequel as they could not obtain the writes to the Planescape license), Kickstarters (more catchy than backers, I think) threw money at the idea when crowdfunding began on March the 6th, 2009. So popular was the idea that it reached its $900,000 target in six hours and then secured over $1 million in seven hours (a then record for Kickstarter). In total, and with several high-profile backers such as Minecraft creator Markus Persson, $4,188,927 had been raised, and Torment: Tides of Numenera was officially born.

Torment: Tides of Numenera takes place in the world of its namesake, Numenera, which is a tabletop role-playing game created by Monte Cook (of Dungeons & Dragons fame), which itself was also crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Numenera is set on Earth one billion years into the future, with the world now being referred to as ‘ The Ninth World’. Now, I am not a tabletop gamer unless you count Monopoly, so before booting Torment: Tides of Numenera, I didn’t really have a detailed knowledge of the world, and I assumed that Numenera was a fictional planet, but no, it is Earth. Due to many global conflicts, the human race now lives in a medieval-like existence, with humanity living in scaled down colonies. Surrounding these settlements are various fragments of a forgotten past, technology from when mankind didn’t live like it was the 11th century. Mostly, they are broken, but there are some that work and are revered to be magical, and these strange remnants are known as Numenera (there it is!!). You play as a character known as the Last Castoff, and like the vast majority of RPGs, you can choose the sex and type of character you want to be, but with a limited selection of just three choices. You have the choice between a Glaive which is the warrior class, a Jack which is the thief style with a mixture of stealth and medium to light-handed weapon use, and Nano which is a mage. You can then choose which area to further customise your character in which will affect the combat style or help you master a skill.

The Last Castoff is one of many hosts for a being known as the Changing God. This entity found a way long ago to transfer his consciousness into different bodies, effectively making him immortal. Once the Changing God leaves one of these vessels, they do not die and they awake with no memory of the time they were a host to the Changing God. All good, right? Well, apart from the poor guys who wake up with no memory (sounds a bit like my early 20s), it must be fantastic to find the key to immortality; however, the Changing God’s actions have caught the attention of someone, or something, quite nasty: The Sorrow. This entity is chasing down the Changing God, and also you, The Last Castoff. The only way to stop him? Track down your former overlord and other castoffs before The Sorrow puts an end to you and the Changing God. There is a lot to take in from Torment: Tides of Numenera; there is just so much to the story, and thankfully the story is interesting. I was desperate to find out more about this ancient being who can transfer from body to body and the other castoffs.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is an RPG with a strong story-based approach which, in layman’s terms, means there is a lot of reading. There are a few dialogue sequences here and there, but predominantly this is a text-based storytelling adventure. Each new NPC you come across will have a plethora of things to say to you, and also mixed amongst the speech will be descriptions of the NPC, such as the way they are looking at you, the clothing they are wearing and possibly your opinion of them, which in turn can help influence your responses. Generally, the text dialogue is engaging and will make you want to carry on reading what the NPCs have to say and keep asking them questions, whether it be about a quest you are currently involved in, questions about the world itself or just a general chit chat. There were some occasions where I did find the writing to be a bit tiresome and found myself skip-reading, which turned out to be a big, big mistake. One minute you are skimming through the text, not really paying attention, and then when you click/press to get to the next bit of dialogue, you’re met with an important decision you need to make based on the text you should have been reading, doh! Luckily, I made this mistake early on and the consequences were not significant, and I didn’t make the same mistake again. If you feel yourself beginning to become a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of text you need to read and understand, then I implore you, don’t skip, just take a break away from any screen completely. Go make a cup of tea, get a snack, look out a window, listen to a favourite song, then after five minutes or so, come back. This is something I did a lot throughout my playthrough, and it helped immensely. Developer inXile Entertainment have written captivating, informative dialogue, it deserves to be read and not just discarded.

The Bloom’s maws can open portals to other realities in “Torment: Tides of Numenera.” (Techland Publishing)

When you first step into the crazy world of Torment: Tides of Numenera, it can seem daunting, overwhelming, and to be quite honest, intimidating. As a complete newcomer to the world of Numenera and having never played Planescape, I was dreading an over-complicated, information overload tutorial that I had no hopes of remembering. Thankfully, the extremely kind folks at inXile had taken complete noobs like me into account and created one of the best tutorials I have come across, and it actually ties in incredibly well with the story. You are only given enough information required to complete a certain stage, which will make your initial journey into this huge and sometimes complicated world a lot easier to grasp. Along with learning about the mechanics of the world, you will also learn a little information about Numenera itself. The Last Castoff has no memory when you initially take control of him/her, so of course, you won’t remember or know much about the world.

Another great initiative from the guys at inXile was avoiding a long-drawn-out opening cutscene or pages upon pages of text to explain the world. Instead, you will learn from talking to various NPCs, which could be simple things like learning what a specific artefact does to the political history of a certain area. This way of learning about the world truly makes you feel like this is your own adventure, that you really are learning about everything in your own way, and it will completely immerse you into this world.

Ask anyone to name important aspects of a successful RPG and most will say an interesting story, an engaging world to explore and a competent combat system. Torment: Tides of Numenera certainly has the former of the two, and the combat system does allow you to take a different approach from the usual wipe out everyone you see routine. The combat system will be familiar to most RPG fans, and when the time comes to kick ass and take names, you will enter the ‘crisis initiated’ screen, where at the start it looks like the familiar turn-based combat screen. Each member of yours and the opposing party will take their turn to either move or attack, the usual setup, but there is another option here apart from the usual ‘attack’ or ‘use item’ options, and that is to converse with your adversary. This can either happen right at the start of the crisis, so you could avoid combat altogether, or midway through where either your enemy or your own party look to be facing certain death. This will only be successful if a character has strong persuasion or intimidation skills, so asking an armour-clad warrior to try and persuade an attacking group to stop will likely lead to your demise, which actually is not always a bad thing.

Death in Torment: Tides of Numenera is not the end of the game frustration like it is in many games; I’m looking at you, Dark Souls! If you do fall in battle, then The Last Castoff will be transported to the Labyrinth, which is a maze-like section deep within your mind. Here you can learn new information to help get further in battle and also increase your XP to unlock new abilities, so the next time you engage in some fisticuffs, you will be more prepared. Another interesting mechanic to help during combat comes in the form of ‘cyphers’. These are items that can only be used once but will greatly help in a difficult battle. Their effects range from summoning alien creatures to help with the battle to draining the life out of an enemy. There are also character class-specific cyphers which you can use when taking control of your party members. Cyphers are vital tools when faced with a difficult battle, and you will find them scattered around the world, but their one time only use is not the only downside to these tools: They can be deadly. If you carry too many Cyphers, then they will affect your combat stats and you will come down with a ‘sickness’, and there is also the chance that they might actually explode. It is important to increase your Cypher limit whenever you can, they are vital for difficult battles but need to be managed correctly.

While exploring the vast world in Torment: Tides of Numenera, there was a significant hindrance, a powerful enemy that can make or break a video game. I am, of course, referring to the dreaded drop in frame-rate. Generally, in non-populated, small areas such as the mind Labyrinth, the frame-rate is good and you will only notice it drop occasionally. However, when you arrive at the many towns and settlements in Torment: Tides of Numenera, the frame-rate is painstakingly slow. The screen will constantly judder as you try and make your way around a town, and it was extremely off-putting to the point where I began to get so fed up that I would leave and explore an unpopulated area. It is a huge shame because it is in the settlements where you learn all about the world. Luckily, there are towns where all the NPCs are relatively close together, so you only have to suffer through the frame-rate for a moment, but when they are more spaced out, it is horrible.

The Last Castoff is, as we’ve covered, essentially a brand new person. You would then assume that you could customise your character to look however you would like, unfortunately, you cannot. After you have chosen the sex of your character and the class you wish to be, etc., that is it. Where Torment: Tides of Numenera is a top-down RPG, it isn’t the biggest problem, but with a game that has worked so hard in creating an attachment between you and the Last Castoff, the lack of customisation is somewhat surprising and rather disappointing. I wasn’t expecting deep customization like you would find in Skyrim, but the option to customise my avatar would have been welcomed.

Developers: inXile Entertainment

Publishers: Techland Publishing

Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC

Release Date: 28th February 2017

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