TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA
Take your stutt ering first steps into the Ninth World
Here’s an intriguing RPG that does things very differently indeed. It’s the spiritual successor to a well-loved, 18-year-old PC game called Planescape: Torment. During the explosion of D&D-themed roleplaying games on PC, Planescape fostered a cult following because it did unexpected things with the genre. It was a roleplaying game where violence was optional, where you were asked to consider the ‘why’ of your actions alongside the ‘what’. It had real questions to ask about the value of life, and no easy answers.
That is the sort of game that Tides Of Numenera sets out to be. It’s set in the Ninth World, a vision of Earth one billion years in the future where a quasi-medieval society is powered by ancient technology. Nanomachines are as common as dust, biomechanical monstrosities stalk the wilderness, and tech adepts tap into ancient data networks to receive ‘visions’ of the past. In Sagus Cliffs, the city where the game begins, a mysterious archway may conceal a time machine, or a city administrative building might occupy the shell of an ancient starship.
You are the Last Castoff, a newcomer to the world whose life begins as they fall to their death from very, very, very high in the stratosphere. You’ve been sired by the Changing God, a body-swapping sorceror who takes new forms over time to prolong his life. Each time he moves on from a body, he leaves behind a consciousness to fill the gap: this is you. Despite your unusual origins, you’re not unique: the Changing God scatters his immortal children in his wake, and you’re quickly introduced to a society that knows more about your condition than you do. They’ve even got a cult in your honor.
There are downsides to immortality, chief among them the Sorrow—a transdimensional creature hunting you and your kind. Escaping the Sorrow is your primary goal, but your journeys in Sagus Cliffs and beyond are equally about the people you’ll meet along the way. Numenera’s gameworld isn’t large by RPG standards, but it is packed with side quests. The people you encounter and the ancient devices you tinker with are densely interconnected. Modern RPG questing sticks you on-rails with a few branches in the track. This isn’t like that: it’s impressive how well it responds to your initiative, how the story bends to accommodate your decisions across multiple narratives.
A skill-check system encourages improvisation. When you’ve got a challenge ahead, whether that’s fighting, persuading somebody, or hopping over a wall, you commit resources from might, speed, or intellect pools to increase the odds in your favor. These systems are employed consistently whether you’re exploring, engaging in a ‘crisis’—a combat encounter where fighting is always optional—or diving into a Mere, an illustrated text adventure.
Torment asks the player to do a lot of reading, and it won’t be for
“Xbox players deserve to enjoy Torment at its best, but that’s not an option right now”
everybody. As an RPG where combat is optional, it obviously places a lot less emphasis on collecting equipment and picking new moves for your character (though you can do these things). Yet if you resonate with ambitious sci-fi and you’re looking for something different from your next RPG, you’ll find something to fall in love with here—or you would, if the Xbox One version wasn’t so profoundly disappointing.
Against the Tides
Here’s the kicker: Everything we’ve just said about Torment is true if and when the game works properly. It works properly on PC right now, and it’s wonderful. But the Xbox One version is in a sorry state.
Despite the throwback look, performance problems nip at the game’s heels. We encountered stuttering and screen tear consistently while running around in the open-world, along with some extraordinarily long loading times given how small these zones tend to be (and how fast they load on PC). During turn-- based crisis sequences things got even worse, with animations dropping frames or simply not playing at all.
Menus are sluggish, with button presses sometimes taking up to a second to see a response. Even when things are working, movement carries a lot of inertia—you keep moving after you let go of the stick, which makes basic traversal feel frustrating and inexact. These are lethal issues, because Torment is designed to be a game you sink hours into. When moment-to-moment play is this frustrating, the experience is spoiled. Torment: Tides Of Numenera asks you to consider the value of a single life, a single lifetime. Yet these performance issues make you question the value of your time in a different way. It’s a huge shame: this is a special game, one easily deserving of an 8 or a 9 for its ambitious commitment to player freedom and its densely interwoven script. Xbox players deserve a chance to enjoy Torment at its best, but at the moment that’s not an option.
These are the sorts of problems that can be patched out, and perhaps they will be. If and when that happens, add a couple of digits to the score below and re-read the first half of this review. Until then, however, stay clear.
There’s a lot of reading to do, but the writing is excellent. left
Tired of traditional RPGs? We guarantee you’ve not seen a world like Numenera before. right
The world would look impressive too, if not for the juddering frame rate.