Torment: Tides of Numenera is an unusual game. Indeed, oddity is pretty much the central core of the game; to really appreciate the game you’re going to have to approach it in a different way to most other games out there.
On the surface a turn-based third-person isometric role plying game in the traditional form of past classics like Baldur’s Gate and recent luminaries like Pillars of Eternity; Torment: Tides of Numenera defies many expectations once you’re elbow deep in its gameplay.
The game is based on Monte Cook’s tabletop pen and paper RPG system Numenera, so has a solid and tested set of mechanics on which to build. The player is able to build a character with a surprising amount of flexibility from the deceptively simple appearing character build system. Pick from warrior, rogue or mage classes (Glaive, Jack or Nano in the game’s parlance) and you’re then tasked with picking a descriptor for your chosen character. Will you be a clever Nano, an energetic Glaive or possibly and forceful Jack? This is a fairly intuitive way of picking how your basic traits and stats will be set out and its done through a clever conceit, with the player answering a number of moral/situational questions in the opening scenes, which are used to recommend character layouts based on the answer. It harks back to some of the classic RPGs of yesteryear like the Ultima series and you can’t do that enough in my opinion, so the game was off to a good start from the off for me.
Once you’re into the game proper, you quickly realise that the focus of the game is quite unlike others out there. Rather than focussing primarily on combat, Torment: Tides of Numenera eschews the usual arms race for a more cerebral approach. Sure, you can try and blunt force your way through the game, but its easily the least satisfying and most one-dimensional way to do it. The parent tabletop system is heavily geared towards exploration and character interactions; facets most video games tend to relegate to afterthoughts or side-features; but Torment: Tides of Numenera embraces this part of the system wholeheartedly. The game is really focussed on its narrative; presenting players with interweaving stories and motives through which to pick and sort to make their way to their ultimate goal; to understand the origin of their character and confront their creator.
The game is set on a future version of earth where civilisation has been wiped out, risen and wiped out several times. The current civilisation has built up on the ruins of the preceding civilisations and make use of the remaining artefacts and oddities left over from these preceding cultures. While they may not understand these technologies, they use them for whatever they can, with often extremely odd results. The game is heavily influenced on using these items, referred to as cyphers, oddities and artefacts, if the player chooses to make use of them. It makes for a pretty surreal world; a blend of the familiar and the surreal with a great deal to be discovered about almost every facet of the world. From the very start of the game you are confronted with the bizarre and baffling and it can make for a compelling journey of discovery.
The central mechanic is based on the premise of assigning points to three different attributes: speed, might and intellect. These become stat point pools from which the character can spend points to expend effort towards completing tasks. For example, if you wanted to pick a lock, you would attempt to do so by spending speed points towards it. For each point you spend, you have a higher chance of completing the task, but once used those points are gone until you rest to replenish them, so a balancing act is required to manage these pools and not run out. You can purchase upgrades at level up to increase your stat pools or acquire Edge in a specific pool which amounts for a free point towards each use of that particular pool. It’s a neat and effective system that allows you to create a focused character while retaining some flexibility in performing tasks outside your usual skill set.
In addition, the points system helps story progression as you have to rest to refill the stat pools, but doing so progresses time in the game which can have consequences for storylines; searching for a killer on the loose? What happens if you wait too long? Quite a compelling mechanic I’m sure you’ll agree.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game with quite a bit of pedigree behind it. From the stable of the hugely popular Planescape: Torment, possessing the engine of Pillars of Eternity and boasting the gameplay mechanics of the well-regarded Numenera, the game is from good stock and it shows. It’s a solid and gripping outing that will keep players of a certain taste occupied for a long, long time.
However, the game is definitely an acquired taste. If you’re a fan of the traditional gun-toter RPG, you might not find the more cerebral and storyline based gameplay works for you. The game has a slower pace and is probably more akin to a point and click adventure than a typical RPG. It has a great deal of character and is one of the most creative stories you’re likely to encounter but the sheer volume of high-concept and out-there fluff text will put off a lot of players. That’s no criticism of the players or the game, it’s just the nature of a game of this type.
However, if a quirky, immersive sci-fi fantasy RPG with a skew towards settling things without reaching for a weapon appeals, Torment: Tides of Numenera might just prove to be the oddity that captures your imagination and takes you on quite the journey.
And what else would you expect from a game that is at pains in every loading screen to assert that the results of failing a task are often more interesting that succeeding?
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org