Well, it only took me one year and seven months to get around to this one, even though I was an early backer on KickStarter. THESE THINGS HAPPEN! Anyway, Tides of Numenera is the spiritual successor to the mighty Planescape: Torment, a game so good that it would seem nearly impossible to live up to. So…does it?
Well, not quite, but it does come remarkably close. It definitely has the same feel about it, with a delightfully twisted world full of beautiful locations and memorably bizarre characters. The Every place you visit has some kind of surreal and visually impressive sights to see, and there’s always an intricate backstory behind each one. The NPCs filling each area are much the same, always having a complex tragedy to tell you. They might be possessed or cursed by a mysterious artifact or be an inhuman construct from another dimension. It’s always something with these people!
What a beautifully detailed world it is too. Not only are the environments all amazing looking, but they’re packed with so many nice little details like the fancy animations of the many surreal architecture and artifacts you’ll encounter. The sound and music are also excellent, both also feeling comfortably similar to Planescape: Torment in tone. Together they make for a world that feels really alive and filled with wonder as you wander around looking for quests, items, and maybe even a little bit of enhancement surgery!
Naturally, you’ll have to make a lot of interesting moral choices along the way if you want to deal with all the situations you stumble onto, and the game can be pretty different depending on how you react to things. If you act more aggressively you’re going to have a tough time of things because you’ll get into a lot more fights and will have trouble in situations that involve intellect and diplomacy. If you go for a more intelligence or speed-based build you’ll be able to talk your way out of many situations and have an easier time dealing with certain complex situations later on, but then you won’t get to see nearly as much action.
I guess you can probably meet somewhere in the middle too and just be an intellectual that sometimes attacks people just because, but it’s hard to know if you might need a person intact for something later or not. I wish that I had been a little more aggressive though, as there turned out to be very little combat during most of my playthrough since I was too busy persuading and bamboozling everyone. That’s really my only complaint, that there aren’t anywhere near as many dungeon-type areas with unavoidable fights here as there were in the original.
The combat was pretty enjoyable the few times I got to actually do it at least. It’s a pretty standard turn-based system other than the way skill pools work. Instead of having things like MP you just have intellect, strength, and speed pools which are the same number as your base stat numbers and don’t regenerate after combat. You’ll have to rest or use some potions to fill them back up and places to rest aren’t always available or affordable so you’ll have to choose your actions carefully, especially since you’ll need to be using these same pools to accomplish dialogue feats and other special non-combat actions. Don’t worry if that sounds too severe though, you can still perform basic attacks in combat even if all your pools hit zero so you’re not totally screwed, it’s just going to be a bit tougher. (Protip: make finding a place to rest and performing a task for that place so you can get a free pass your first priority in any new area)
So how about the story? Well, it’s pretty great. Like much of this game, it feels like a familiar echo of the original, putting you in the place of The Last Castoff who finds himself a newly born consciousness in an unfamiliar body, which you’re told was originally created and driven by a mysterious being known as The Changing God. After he finished whatever his business was with your genetically crafted body he discarded it and you spontaneously came to life, a process that he has apparently repeated countless times, leaving race of immortal psionically-powered beings behind in his wake. Doesn’t sound so bad so far, but you’re also all being hunted down by an even more mysterious creature called The Sorrow, that seems to be unstoppable and bent on eliminating all the castoffs.
So off you go to uncover the secrets of your creator and your nemesis, and maybe help, exploit, or kill a whole lot of people along the way. The writing is outstanding all around, and it kind of has to be considering the game almost feels like like an interactive novel most of the time (you better REALLY like reading if you’re gonna play this one).
Also worth mentioning is the length. While there’s a lot to do in the game, it’s still relatively short for a CRPG of this type, coming in at a mere 25 hours or so even if you do everything there is to do. On one hand I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to visit more cool locations, especially when the game mentions all these other different places that you never actually get to see, but on the other hand I was kind of glad that it didn’t turn out to be yet another 60-100 hour affair, because there are still so damn many other games that need playing.
So in the end, it’s all very close to re-capturing the feel of Planescape: Torment. While there are some flaws such as companion characters and endings that feel a little half-baked, overall the world and its bizarre sci-fi/mystical tone are beautifully crafted and the writing that holds it all together is very impressive. It doesn’t dethrone its predecessor, but it is a surprisingly worthy successor to the Torment name.