Torment: Tides of Numenera feels like a classic RPG from the late 90s. It’s a literary game replete with descriptive text and weighty, philosophical themes. inExile’s latest, doesn’t trade in flashy graphics and gimmickry. No Torment; Tides of Numenera is a game of substance. A vast, open-ended isometric RPG that tells a twisting apocalyptic tale of absent gods and world eating monstrosities.
Players assume the role of ‘The Last Castoff’ The final discarded host of the Changing God, a man who found a way to cheat death by hopping from body to body growing incrementally stronger with each regeneration – as the last of a long line of Castoffs in The Ninth World, not only is the player character the unassuming youngest child in this dysfunctional family of demi-gods, but also the most powerful.
With great power, comes great irresponsibility. Well in this reviewer’s case anyway, others will have a very different approach to the game as Torment: Tides of Numenera’s allows players to use the Last Castoff’s power however they see fit. As a a character-driven RPG players are given a surprising amount of freedom (especially for this day and age) when it comes to creating their avatar and how they want to approach different situations and make their way through the Ninth World and all it has to offer. There are three ‘classes’ to choose from: Glaives (warriors), Nanos (mages), and Jacks (of all trades) while they initially seem quite basic, each class merely functions as a rough guideline for character progression more than a strict guideline.
What’s most impressive though is that it is possible to get through the entire game on wits alone. If a player puts enough points into conversational talents, their avatar will be able to talk their way out of any situation, no matter how dire. Sure, they could fight, but it isn’t half as fun. By creating a character that uses passive Willpower-based skills and abilities to their advantage, Torment is transformed from a traditional RPG, to an adventure game with extensive RPG elements and is all the better for it. There’s something about playing as a silver-tongued bastard, riding on the edge of their pants with a series of speech checks and misdirection that is simply thrilling. And a testament to Torments writing and depth that such a thing is possible while players could just as easily punch their problems away. It’s this open-endedness that makes Torment highly re-playable and incredibly captivating.
Like a traditional pen and paper RPG, skill checks make up a large part of Torment: Tides of Numenera. Regardless of how the player choses to tackle a situation, it’s inevitable that they’re going to have call upon their skill point pools to overcome challenges. Divided into Might, Speed, or Willpower each represents a different way to approach a situation, A player could smash down a door, or intimidate an enemy hiding behind it with enough Might points, or just as easily convince them to unlock it for them with enough Willpower.
Unlike most modern RPGs there is never only one solution to a problem. Even if players end up in Crisis (what Torment calls combat) fighting is never your only option. Throughout the twenty-thirty-hour campaign, there never comes a time where a player must kill an enemy to progress. Each Crisis encounter is just as much a turn-based puzzle as a fight and by paying close attention to their surroundings players can often find a more elegant solution to the situation than simply hacking away at whatever is in their way. Even battles against the game’s Big Bad, an eldritch nightmare known only as The Sorrow who relentlessly hunts the Changing God and his Castoffs, there were multiple pathways to success. If you are the kind of gamer that prefers to use brain over brawn, Torment excels at making oft over-looked non-violent playstyles feel not only viable, but worthwhile.
Having the ability to avoid most battles is handy too because combat is possibly Torment’s weakest element. Though the turn-based system is perfectly functional, with a whole host of skills and companions to help duke it out, it still feels awkward and unwieldly. It’s also fiendishly difficult. Even if a player decides to create a combat focused character, picking a fight in the earlier stages is likely to have their party surrounded and swiftly kicked to death in only a couple of turns. While later on many feel like far more trouble than they’re worth, especially since most can be avoided by players diffusing the situation by talking their way out of it.
Though the combat can be disappointing, Tides of Numenera more than makes up for its superb narrative and impressive world-building. Set a billion years into the future, the Ninth World is built on top of the remnants of countless fallen civilizations. a heady mix of futuristic architecture and geological formations stacked on top of the ruins of decaying cities and long dead kingdoms. The locales of the Ninth World that the Last Castoff and their party travel to are varied and memorable; from the desolate, windswept valley of the Dead heroes which is home to countless lot civilisations to the predatory living city known as The Bloom, a giant citadel of flesh that feeds off the negative thoughts and actions of its inhabitants
It’s clear that a considerable amount of care, love and attention has gone into bringing the world of Monte Cook’s RPG to life. This is shown in the fact that every inhabitant of the Ninth World, no matter how inconsequential to the over-arching plot they may seem, has a story to tell; some are heart-breaking, others humorous but every one of them is entertaining.
Torment’s narrative asks a simple question with far reaching consequences – what is a single life worth? Every action and conversation the last castoff has effects the world around them and the people within it. This is represented by the constantly shifting Tides: basically, the manifestation of natural forces, each of the five Tides reacts to your decisions, Whether the consequences of the last cast off’s actions are minor or far-reaching, their ability to manipulate the tides for their own gain is a large part of the overarching narrative, adding an extra sense of weight to every choice that the player makes. Though it never judges a player’s actions – whether they break up that slavery-ring or profit from it, the simply shift in on direction or another and life goes on regardless, the player simply has to live with the consequences and possible ramifications that may present themselves further along in their journey,
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a fantastic old school RPG, that happily recaptures a lot of what made its spiritual predecessor Planescape: Torment back did in 90s. AS such, It’s a game with a very specific demographic in mind. Old buggers that have fond memories of playing classic isometric RPGs like Planescape, Balders Gate and Fallout the first-time round. Younger gamers used to modern, more action orientated RPGs may be put off by its slow pace and literary qualities. For those willing to take the plunge, and don’t mind some heavy reading, Torment rewards players with a world to explore as vast, varied and complex as any modern RPG, possibly even more so. The Ninth World, built on countless dead civilisations is teeming life, history and twisted characters all with their own stories to tell and side quests to complete.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a nuanced and epic adventure that fans of old school isometric RPGs, dark fantasy and games with palpable consequences should definitely check out.