Torment: Tides of Numenera is an isometric story-focused RPG and a spiritual successor to one of the best games that have ever graced the genre - Planescape: Torment. Much like its predecessor Tides of Numenera features a vast amount of interesting characters, tough decisions, compelling stories, enough lore to fill out at least a couple of books, and as is tradition, completely unremarkable combat.
After spending well over a year in Early Access Tides of Numenera has now finally arrived in full. So if you're wondering whether it was worth the wait, and if its even remotely as enticing as Planescape: Torment, allow me to share my thoughts on everything I've experienced throughout my playthrough. And don't worry about spoilers as I've made sure to only use examples from the first couple of hours.
Video version of this review (10 minutes)
If you've ever tried Planescape: Torment you're probably aware that there was an "optimal" way to play it. Unless you focused around Wisdom and Intelligence your character would simply be too dimwitted to uncover some of the more arcane secrets hidden throughout the world. In theory it makes sense, and its easy to understand why the developers did this, but in practice it essentially punished anyone who didn't spend 15 minutes on the Wiki before starting their playthrough.
This is thankfully not the case in Tides of Numenera. It doesn't matter if you choose a mage, a warrior, or a jack of all trades, you will be able to experience all of the story regardless of your class. Each of the three archetypes has their strengths and weaknesses, so don't expect your warrior (or Glaive as they are called) to instantly be skilled at esoteric arts, but you can definitely pursue that path should you desire to. And if you ever find yourself right at the edge of success, you can always expend a couple of points from your effort pool in order to pass some of the trickier skill checks. You can only do this so many times before you need to rest and 'refuel', but its still an amazing feature as it completely sidesteps the eternal problem of classic RPGs - conversation options being grayed out because you're missing a couple of skill points. But no matter how much you try, and no matter how skilled your character becomes, it is important to note that you will never master everything!
There's only so many skills your character can be proficient at
Here is where your companions come into play. Not only are they a source of amusing banter and a great help during combat, but they can also lend their skills to you. So if your character has the charisma of a disfigured brick, don't worry, you can let your companions do all of the actual talking and still make a pacifist run if you so wish. What this means is that you are free to create whatever character you want, because as you long as you run with a balanced party you will always have plenty of options available to you.
It also helps that each of your companions has something intriguing about them, so it never feels bad swapping between them in order to solve a difficult quest. Callistege tore open the fabric of reality one too many times and now constantly has to argue with an infinite numbers of her alternate selves; Rhin is a seemingly meek young child who claims she can speak to gods... which come in the shape of mundane rocks; Erritis on first glance appears to be the biggest and most suicidal idiot that has ever graced the Ninth World, and the list goes on. Each one brings with them a variety of useful skills and abilities, but more importantly, each one brings with them a fascinating story that slowly unravels itself as you get to know them better. So even if you dislike a character at first, I would still recommend you give them a chance because you might just be surprised with the results!
There's never a boring day with Erritis around... but I'm still not sure if that's a good thing
As you might expect from Planescape: Torment's successor the same applies to the story at large, and if you put in a bit of time you will find yourself richly rewarded. It all begins with you being 'born' a couple of kilometers in the air, and then plummeting straight down before you've even gotten your bearings. Since the tragic tale of the 10-second-man wouldn't be a very exciting story, you do end up surviving the fatal crash nearly unscathed. As you'll quickly learn this is because you're a Castoff - a vessel once inhabited by The Changing God in his endless pursuit for immortality. Besides being nigh indestructible and far more skilled than the average human, you also posses the memories of a thousand lifetimes within the labyrinthine maze of your mind. The parallels to Planescape: Torment are obvious, and I am very glad to say that Tides of Numenera is just as intriguing, and just as well written as its predecessor.
But its not just the main story that is well written, it is nearly all of them! The world in Tides of Numenera is filled to the brim with interesting characters you can endlessly annoy with overly personal questions about their lives and problems. Even completely irrelevant NPCs, ones that serve no role in the main story, have a ridiculous amount of dialogue you can plunge into. And that is exactly what I did, only to later find that seven hours have past and I still haven't done the first step of the main storyline! Don't take that as a complaint from me, however, because those seven hours were spent completely immersed into Tides of Numenera's universe, constantly learning more about the Ninth World and its inhabitants.
Even the very first area you enter has tons of people to pester with endless questions
While I can't talk about the main storyline without potentially ruining it for you, I can give you a glimpse of why I love the storytelling in Tides of Numenera so much. For example, deep in the underbelly of Sagus, the first quest hub, there resides a small cannibalistic cult. In most other games you would barge in there with swords and fireballs swinging and just cleave through all of them, but in Tides of Numenera you're going to be hard pressed to not agree with them. They aren't bloodthirsty savages, but rather historians that want to preserve the knowledge and essence of those that have passed on.
Despite all of this you would still think the city would send in the guards the moment they learned about their existence, but no, the cultists actually serve as a sort of detective force. As it turns out, being able get information out of dead bodies is an excellent way of solving crime, especially when there are no witnesses besides the victim itself. Its bizarre, its disgusting, its morbid, but I can't help but agree that what they do is truly useful. These types of encounters serve almost no purpose to the main story, but due to all of the extremely well written dialogue they are so compelling I simply couldn't stop myself from chatting up every single person I met. So if you decide to play Tides of Numenera, heed my advice and spend a bit of time exploring every nook and cranny - you won't regret it!
Despite how creepy he is, Imbitu has been nothing but polite and helpful to me
Much like its predecessor Tides of Numenera has plenty of ways to get your characters into a fight, and much like its predecessor its also one of the most uninspired parts of the game. Its not as unplayably bad as it was throughout Early Access, but the combat is still clunky and lacking in some of the depth you might expect from an isometric RPG. It also doesn't help that the graphics are fairly basic in general, and while you can easily ignore their flaws in favor of story, things become a bit more problematic when the only thing you see is bland attack animation after bland attack animation. The one area the combat does excel in, however, is in the ability to mess around with the environment in order to achieve an edge over your opponents. You can rig derelict machines to explode in the enemy's faces, you can activate ancient relics in order to protect your allies, or if you just want to get it over with you can clobber your enemies with a stick made out of hands. But perhaps most interestingly of all, you can actually talk to your enemies in the middle of combat and potentially convince them to cease hostilities!
Given how the combat is mostly boring this is the option I ended up resorting to each time I got dragged into a fight. As such, I have literally had five 'proper' combat encounters throughout the entirety of Tides of Numenera, and all five times I ended up in trouble because of saying something colossally stupid to the wrong person. If I could go back in time I can almost guarantee I would be able to get out of those fights as well, and this is perhaps my favorite aspect of Tides of Numenera. You have an almost unbelievable amount of freedom when it comes to dealing with obstacles, and if you are so inclined you could beat the entire game without ever harming another living being! Its not often that you can roleplay the whole spectrum between a saint and a completely bloodthirsty maniac, so to have these types of options available to the player is a great way to get them invested into the world and their character... because at the end of the day it really is your character!
You can fight the giant demon squid, or you can be smart and avoid this whole mess before it even becomes a problem
Torment: Tides of Numenera is without a doubt one of the best RPGs I've played in recent years. It is nowhere near perfect, and the combat is straight up boring, but its story and characters were so compelling to me that I simply couldn't stop once I got invested. No matter where I went, and no matter who I talked to, there was always some new and bizarre revelation to discover. The gameplay mechanics themselves may be bland, but the world and its characters feel truly alive, and in my eyes that's all that matters for a story focused RPG.
If you're a fan of Planescape: Torment or similar RPGs that have sacrificed gameplay for story, odds are you'll enjoy Tides of Numenera as well. On the other hand, if you love Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny because of their combat mechanics and intricate skill combos, then I'm not really sure if Tides of Numenera will offer you the experience you seek. Chances are you already know if you like this sort of RPG, but if you have even an inkling of interest I fully recommend you give Tides of Numenera a spin.
This isn't even in the top 10 list of strangest things I ran across