Games News

Torment: Tides of Numenera review

YouTube
Torment: Tides of Numenera YouTube
Torment: Tides of Numenera

It's never wise to judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, especially when that fish is actually a video game in disguise

Describing what Torment: Tides of Numenera is, without venturing deep into spoiler territory, will be hard - considering that almost everything about Numenera is subservient to its story, setting and characters and the little surprises and ohhh moments that make them as rich as they are. With that little disclaimer out of the way, I will aim to tell you what the new Torment is while revealing as little as possible about its actual contents. Bare with me, I know what I’m doing here.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

Torment: Tides of Numenera comes packaged with a built in invitation for comparing it to Planescape: Torment. Just like its spiritual ancestor Numenera feels a little clunky, unpolished and rough around the edges compared to its RPG contemporaries. But what it lacks in gloss and smoothness it more than makes up in unwavering subservience to story and setting supremacy.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

This is most easily illustrated in the way inXile approached designing items, and more specifically a group of items called oddities. These trinkets are the rough equivalent of throw-away items like gems in other RPGs. Their most prominent function is mostly their value in currency, since rarely anything can be done with them save for selling them to the nearest merchant, with the exception of a few times when they are treated as quest items. In contrast, every one of Numenera's oddities, of which there is a substantial number, comes with a little description that gives the world they are found in an additional bit of verisimilitude. A mirror that reflects the face of the father of whoever is looking at it, a fountain dwelling pink fish that requires no sustenance and babbles in an incomprehensible language or a ball that adapts in size to the holder’s palm and becomes heavier when you try to throw it. At times, oddities can be interacted with as well, through the game's favourite mechanic element, its dialogue screens.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

It's hard to go five minutes in Numenera without getting caught up in some sort of dialogue based interaction. The world’s interactivity is often expressed by way of branching dialogue options, be they narrative or descriptive. Characters will share their life stories and deepest secrets at the slightest provocation. Sometimes this leaves the impression that your character is the world’s largest shoulder to cry on but the sheer quality of the writing on display dwarfs any complaints regarding its application. Skills are constantly checked in conversations through an effort system that allows the player to spend from a regenerating pool of three different stats in order to increase their chances of success. Failure to pass said skill checks can have interesting results, but is a rare occurrence because of the way Numenera gives you too many stats to spend across four party members and too many obvious possible exploits for the system. This becomes a rather minor nuisance if the player decides to roleplay more and lays off of save-scumming or resting every five minutes to refill their stat pools.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

The player’s character's stats, minimalistically systemised through might, speed and intellect play a major role in combat situations, which Numenera calls 'crises'. Much like in Planescape, Numenera's combat might be its weakest element. The game is somewhat disinterested in its combat component, and these can usually be skipped or somehow bypassed through alternative options, but this creates an entirely different problem. Once the player blunders into a fight he might find himself unprepared and unfamiliar with the combat system, due to a lack of practice and opportunity to engage with Numenera’s handling of small scale battles. It is even possible to accumulate too many items and options for resolving these crises, and once shit hits the fan you are sitting there with so many unused tools at your disposal that it can be a tad overwhelming across four party members.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

All available companions can be recruited in the first hours of play. Their multi-layered personalities and interactions between each other and the player character are a subtle step forward from their infinity-era forefathers. Each one has their own agenda and reasons for tagging along, some of them more selfless than others and every one of them has a twist to their way of existing in Numenera's world that clearly sets them apart from what could be considered normal. Usually, that twist is an unpleasant one. It would suck being any one of these tormented characters, regardless of how powerful or interesting they might be.

The people you meet on your trek through Numenera are no longer governed by the old D&D alignment staple. Instead, a Tides system is in place, awarding the player color coded points towards five different ideas about the purpose of a life, which refreshingly aren't arranged along an imaginary good vs. evil dichotomy. These Tides are not governed by the character’s intentions, but by their actions. More of them can be dominant at the same time or depending on your play style - no single one might emerge as prominent.

inXile[undefined]Torment: Tides of Numenera

Your enjoyment of Torment: Tides of Numenera will be heavily dependent on your affections, or lack thereof, for the written word. While the gorgeous hand crafted visuals and brilliantly written branching narrative might be enough to convince a lot of players that Numenera is indeed a game and not just an interactive book, the lack of a satisfying combat experience will persuade others of the contrary. Its greatest achievement may be that it manages to outgrow Planescape's shadow by simply sidestepping it. Numenera doesn’t try to out-do its predecessors, it subtly maintains the spirit of Torment by doing its own thing without forgetting its roots.