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Torment: Tides of Numenera

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Techland
Developer: InXile
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2017


PC Review - 'Torment: Tides of Numenera'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 1, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Torment: Tides of Numenera is a single-player role-playing game, set in the world of Monte Cook’s tabletop RPG game, that explores deep, personal themes.

Planescape: Torment is a great example of a Western RPG with a well-written and engaging story about identity, role and immortality. Torment: Tides of Numenera isn't a sequel but is rather an attempt at a spiritual successor. It follows similar themes and ideas, and it has more than a few references to the classic. It's a good game in many ways, but it's not free of flaws.

You awaken in Tides as you're literally falling from the sky. After a horrifying accident, you awaken with nothing to your name but a tattoo. You quickly find out that you're a castoff of the Changing God, a deity that inhabits bodies and casts them off for new ones. This particular castoff is different from the hundreds of castoffs that have come before. You must discover why you're being hunted by a creature called the Sorrow, who wants to end your newfound existence.

Tides has an incredibly interesting world. The titular numenera are the relics of lost civilizations and can range from magic swords to alien spacecraft. As a result, the setting is an eclectic mishmash of all sorts of cultures and creatures. It can perhaps rely too heavily on traditional sword-and-sorcery at times, but it has enough diversity and details. I enjoyed walking around the world and discovering the people who inhabited it. The main plot is strong but comes to a somewhat rushed conclusion. Although some characters can be bland, they're generally fun and exciting enough to carry the game.

If Tides has a core problem, it loves to tell you about things that aren't very important. On the one hand, this is a dream for those of us who love worldbuilding. The game goes into absurd amounts of detail that make the world feel like a living and breathing entity. The downside is that the game goes into absurd amount of details about a fanciful world, and it isn't great about emphasizing what is important or merely window dressing. It also isn't wonderful about giving you ways to review information you've gathered. Early on, you'll be swamped with so many factions, ideas, names and terms that it's overwhelming.

The themes of identity and morality run throughout Tides, and it constantly reflects upon itself. Sometimes, it feels too similar to Planescape. It's clear it wants to tackle the same themes as its predecessor, and that can feel like it's walking in well-trodden footsteps instead. It's difficult to fault a game for being too close to the original when it's trying to be a spiritual successor.

Tides waxes nostalgic about old-school WRPGs, so it's also pretty heavy on the RPG elements in skills. You build your character from one of three classes — Glaive, Jack or Nano — which roughly amount to Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. Glaives are physical powerhouses, Jacks are jack-of-all-trades (of course), and Nanos manipulate the magics of the setting. You're not locked into anything. A Glaive can still talk, a Nano can still stab, and a Jack can still fight, but specialization is good. You're initially competent in a handful of skills and develop them over time. There isn't a Wasteland-style excess of skills, so you have a handful of relevant skills that feel important to the experience.

Effort is the name of the game in Tides. You have three effort bars that roughly amount to Strength, Skill and Smarts and are effectively MP bars — with a twist. Every action in the game uses one of them. You can stick with the default and not spend anything, or you can increase your odds of success in any given action. This can include being sneaky, talking your way out of trouble, or fighting an enemy in combat. You have a limited pool of these points, which can only be restored by resting, using rare items, or getting lucky with a critical. Initially, you can only spend two points at a time, but you can spend more as the game progresses.

Tides uses a turn-based combat system. You have up to four party members, and you and the enemy take turns moving around the environment. Combat is also Effort-based, with a variety of moves being available to your party members. You can spend the various types of energy to enhance your moves or increase their odds of success. Beyond that, it's a standard RPG combat system on the PC. You have a lot of available moves that allow you to position or reposition enemies. Each party member has a different talent, whether it's dimensional displacement, brutal swordplay or mind control. You can even intimidate or persuade people in combat.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of combat is the Cipher system. Ciphers are magical artifacts that are limited in use but have incredibly powerful effects. They are also corruptive, and you can hold a limited number before they have a negative effect on your characters. You can either use the special items or leave them behind. The old RPG quandary of "What if I need it later?" is in full effect, and it can feel unsatisfying even if it's important to victory.

The combat is by far the weakest part of Tides. There are many ways to skip combat, but despite having two combat-oriented classes, there were very few times I'd actually want to battle. Since it's so easy to avoid combat, you never really learn the mechanics. Although the game tries to come up with ways to make fights more interesting, they're usually not fun. Enemy numbers tend to be high, which makes fights feel slow while you wait for each and every character to act.

There's an absurd amount to do in Tides. You'll probably spend about 30 hours on the main quest, and there are plenty of side-quests and missions. There's no way to see everything in a single playthrough because some options are mutually exclusive. Helping one group can tick off another or give you a solution that means you don't need their help. If you're the kind of person who loves to poke around, take your time, and see everything the game has to offer, you can easily spend another dozen hours reading through the mountains of worldbuilding and text available in the game.

Tides is a game with strong visual design but not strong visuals. The environments are colorful, varied and interesting, but much of the detail doesn't come out well. Sometimes, the environments are muddled and character models are so small that it can be difficult to get a clear idea of what you're looking at.

The game depends on its text to do most of the heavy lifting, which can occasionally feel like a drag. There's voice acting, but it's rare and disproportionately scattered. Some characters have boatloads, and others are almost entirely relegated to text. The voice acting is rather good, but it feels like there could've been more or it could've been more evenly distributed.

All in all, Torment: Tides of Numenera is an enjoyable nostalgic trip into the strongest days of PC RPGs. It's well-written, engaging and interesting, if occasionally bogged down in its own setting. Both reactive and exciting, it makes the simple act of talking to characters or exploring areas feel rewarding and exciting. Only some lackluster combat drags down the experience, and that's easily avoidable. Those looking for a successor to Planescape: Torment should find a lot to enjoy here, but this offering does not eclipse the original. It's an enjoyable game, both as a spiritual successor and on its own merits, and that's all you can really ask.

Score: 8.0/10

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