Entering a new world when playing a game can be an intimidating experience. There are lots of things to remember - characters, places, abilities - what does it all mean? Some players thrive on delving into the depth and richness of fully embodying a character, getting inside their mind and behaving as they would behave, even imagining they were there themselves.
Something has to be said for the sheer imagination and richness of the world that’s created.
Aside from choosing your gender, aesthetic customisation is non-existent, as the emphasis here is around the character you build, rather than their appearance. That said, you will find some familiar elements if you’ve played other, more mainstream RPGs. There’s a spin on Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade system, albeit far more abstract, as certain dialogue choices raise ‘tides’ of certain colours to denote certain types of behaviour. Equally, fans of Dungeons and Dragons, or even Choose Your Own Adventure books, will draw parallels as their character begins to really take shape.
You won’t be alone on your quest - which isn’t to save the world, but more to understand it, and yourself - as you’re quickly joined by a pair of companions who seem completely at odds with one another. Unfortunately, all too quickly you’re asked to choose between the two as their ideologies begin to clash, sadly before you’ve had a real chance to get to know them (especially while you’re still getting to grips with fistfuls of terminology which the game, admittedly, does a good job of naturally introducing quite gradually, but still relentlessly at first).
The reassuring voiceover doesn’t stick around either, as after the initial introduction you’re left to fend for yourself aside from the odd introductory blurb when meeting new characters, or a stray line or two if you leave your party idle too long. It’s a missed opportunity as the initial presentation sets up a certain expectation, a feeling similar to the likes of Bastion or even Borderlands in the realms of reassuring narrators, but all too quickly you’re left alone to what is a fairly quiet game.
It might work for some, but more often than not the harsh clash of starting a conversation or investigating an object cuts through the quiet like a longsword. The fairly minimalist score doesn’t do much to help dispel the atmosphere either, whilst the very occasional ambient sound effect creeps in to complete a setting.
Despite this, something has to be said for the sheer imagination and richness of the world that’s created. Set a billion years in the future, your character explores the Ninth World - supposedly the ninth time the Earth has reached its cultural and technological peak - which has an almost steampunk-like quality and would be at home in an anime or sci-fi dystopian universe. Cities hovering in mid air and airships are commonplace, juxtaposed by more traditional, medieval weapons and sensibilities.
Combat in Torment throws the party into crisis mode, where turn-based battle, the careful use of abilities, flanking and more find their place, but, to be honest, these instances are few and far between - especially if you’re playing the game like it feels it’s intended to be played. Many confrontations which show all the signs of descending into a bloodbath quickly present you with an alternative, in some cases even if you fail your effort rolls (the percentage-based approaches to challenges which stem from Might, Speed and Intellect).
The drawback of this is that any loot you do pick up feels somewhat superfluous, as more often than not your quests involve walking around and talking, rather than making use of your items or skills. Of course, this is part of the intent, as the game encourages you to lose yourself in the tapestry it’s spun for you, and, generally speaking, it succeeds. There are some puzzles and more taxing challenges, which require a bit of real-world memory and lateral thinking to work through, but the generous journal entries will help you stay on track if you do get lost or derailed along the way.
The game encourages you to lose yourself in the tapestry it’s spun for you, and, generally speaking, it succeeds.
There’s a bravery in coming out with a CRPG like Torment in this in this day and age. Conventional wisdom tells us that no one has any time, nobody cares and fails to appreciate both the value and the price of everything. And yet, here’s a title asking you to switch off and step into its own brand of adventure, and at its retail price point it does so in direct competition with some of the most memorable RPGs of recent years.
If you have the time and inclination to devote yourself to Torment: Tides of Numenera, with your imagination as well as your watch, then you won’t be disappointed as there’s an incredible amount of talent and passion packed into every encounter. For many that won’t be enough, and this weird-sounding, obscure game will pass them by, but those about to play through Skyrim for the sixth time with a fancy new mod would do well to look up from the established standard and see what else is out there. They might be pleasantly surprised by what they find.