You, the player, are cast into a seeming darkness with no memory of anything before this moment. You’re plummeting to Earth. You grasp at any piece of information or memory–or even air–as you reel at terminal velocity to your inevitable doom. You hit the bottom of the darkness, but you’re not dead. There, you escape with a physically intangible ally who knows more about you than you do. You’re told that you are unique in that you are not unique. You are what is called a Castoff. You, physically, were once the God that has been reigning over the world for centuries. Bored of your form, the God casted you off, and like all other Castoffs before you, you become your own person left to live the life of a Castoff.
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Talk about a send off.
Very little of Torment Tides of Numenera is actually voiced, instead devoting its time to a formula more akin to that of a tabletop RPG. There’s an all-encompassing motivation throughout the game where you try to find the God who cast you off with the help of a team that has historically sought out Castoffs like you over the centuries in the hope they can stop the God from his wicked ways. However, there’s not much focus on it outside of what you, the player, come across along the way. Indeed, you’ll get there eventually, but it’s up to you to feel your way to it by interacting with everything, speaking with everyone, and exploring every place you find. Ultimately, the more you learn about yourself and your past, the more you will discover about the God you seek. This allows you to make the experience your own, in that exploration, decisions, and effort put forth are entirely up to you. Torment is really what you make of it.
The heart and soul of Torment Tides of Numenera is its level of immersion. Not all NPCs have a backstory or a line of dialogue waiting to be coerced out of them, but there are tons of people, places, and things to interact with. In doing so, valuable information, experience, and even items can be unearthed for use in some form or another. Oftentimes, information isn’t always pertinent to the task at hand–which isn’t always clear itself–but this makes every possible chance to learn something new valuable to your overall progression in some form or another. Some things are just silly nonsense that pools into what makes the world tick, some things are charming, and some things are downright hysterical. As I mentioned earlier, there is little voice acting in Torment, which means that the bread and butter of the game, the lines and lines of dialogue and syntax, need to be engaging, and this is the case most of the time. Sure, a few conversations here and there aren’t astounding or even interesting, but they rarely ever last long.
The charm of this game lies in its ability to intricately convey a science fiction world, and it does so through lines and lines of text. Don’t try to convince yourself otherwise that this is a standard RPG that you’ll find on console. There is very little action, and the simple combat sequences sprinkled throughout the game do not hold much to them at all. Torment thrives on clever, well-constructed ideas all put together into one narrative.
The game itself, from a performance standpoint, does very little to favor the wonderful final product. Load times are terribly long, and overall performance is janky. While walking in basic zones–even low-populated areas–there’s frame popping and input delay. Then interacting with the map as a whole has its own annoying nuances. Since the camera is an angled overview perspective, a lot of obstacles can obstruct your path without feeling like they should. Things like stairs or doorways if placed incorrectly can make traversing them more cumbersome than basic stairs or doorways should be. To help with searching the surroundings, R1 and L1 cycle between interaction points within range of your character, and pressing X while one of those is targeted will make your character move right to it; this can make getting past those poorly-designed stairs or portals much easier. Gameplay itself, or rather the act of moving your character from place to place, is the frustrating part of Torment, which is a real shame, even if there’s very little risk with these hiccups and delays; even combat remains ultimately unfazed, as it’s turn-based as well. In its baser form, movement acts as a means to get from point A to point B at the ease of the player, but the way that Torment treats this part of the game makes one realize what can and cannot be taken for granted in interactive media.
My time with combat is where I’m jaded. Most of the time, combat can be avoided with the correct dialogue choice, which is for the best. A lot of time is wasted each turn, in particular when enemies take their turns, as they fumble around before they attack. The best recommendation I can make for playing Torment is one that detracts from the scope of the game itself: Don’t avoid combat, or at the very least make sure to pad your combat stats along the way. Many interactions and dialogue choices grant free points in other stats that benefit your ability to interact with the world, such as when trying to persuade or intimidate. Thus, when combat is avoided outright, your character is akin to the likes of a normal child fighting brutes. The stat side of things makes Torment very customizable, but with the sheer berth of this game, there’s enough room for balancing without compensating freedom.
All signs point to Torment: Tides of Numenera being a game with a healthy amount of support and content in its future, so with a little extra help, Torment will have the technical foundation that it deserves. Equally so, the narrative focus it takes is monumental, exploring tons of ideas and concepts both socially and politically. This is the formula for great science fiction, and with some technical enhancements, Torment has the potential to change the RPG scene for the better.