Take your stutt er­ing first steps into the Ninth World

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CONTENTS - Chris Thursten

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

far 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.

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