[Note]: This review is now greatly outdated, so instead I would recommend you head over to my final, release version review instead. It should give you the best and most accurate overview of what Torment: Tides of Numenera is really all about.

The last time I played Torment was back in January, and even though it showed great potential it wasn't something I felt comfortable recommending, mostly because it was both unfinished and unpolished. Many months and updates have come and gone since that review, however, and I'm happy to say that the Torment of today is a greatly improved version of the rough demo I experienced so long ago.

Its still unpolished, there's no doubt about that, but most of the missing content has been filled in, the stuttering has been taken care of, and the extremely bare-bones UI has been granted a couple of meals, though its still quite undernourished. It might not be complete just yet, but this version of Torment is the closest the game has ever been to its final form, and as such I have decided to revisit it and see what exactly got improved, and what still requires work.

Before we begin, allow me to just say that I am basing all of my opinions on the first 5-6 hours. While I am definitely excited to play Tides of Numenera, on account of Planescape: Torment being one of my favorite games of all time, I want to have a mostly "pure" experience once I finally get my hands on the fully finished, bug-free version. This does mean I might miss out on some issues that occur only in the late game, but I've gone to great lengths in order to experience everything Torment has to offer, so I do believe I can still offer a comprehensive review.

Video version of this review (16 minutes)

With that introduction out of the way let's jump straight into Torment... and its introduction. I didn't really touch upon this during my previous review, but Torment's old tutorial was a bit of a mess, both in terms of storytelling and teaching. If you took the time and effort to read through all of the dialogue, dialogue that directly shaped your character, it would've taken you around 30 minutes to get through all of it. Besides being absurdly long for a tutorial, it also bombarded you with so many seemingly important lore details I actually had to whip out a pen and paper in order to keep track of what's going on. The culmination of this entire mess was a section that was supposed to teach you about turn-based combat and present you with your main antagonist, but it was so sloppy and confusing I somehow left knowing less than when I came in.

Thankfully, the tutorial present today shares very little with its predecessor. Its short, its concise, and it actually teaches you most of the skills you will need to use throughout your journey. Best of all, the antagonist is introduced in a much more menacing way, and with some far reaching consequences that left me intrigued from the very start. Unfortunately, the section that's supposed to teach you combat mechanics is still as dead simple as it gets, and it doesn't really cover spells, item effects, or even buffs and debuffs. I can understand the idea of leaving some things for the players to discover themselves, but those things should never be the basic gameplay mechanics!

Torment: Tides of Numenera - The Sorrow your main antagonist

Now that's how you make an entrance!

While the tutorial won't teach you much about combat, it will give you a good idea of what exactly your character is capable of. When I first tried Torment, many months ago, the character creation screen was instantly followed by a gargantuan wall of text, the equivalent of an entire A4 sheet of paper filled to the brim with all of the things you needed to know before getting started. As you can imagine, that is not the most ideal way of introducing players to a game, so its a good thing that it has been completely replaced.

The new character creation system is just as complex as the previous one, but it spreads out all of that complexity over multiple pages, so its always easy to keep an eye on what exactly you're doing. On the first page you will be adjusting your general specialization, on the second your stats, on the third your spells, and so forth. The UI is quite clearly still underdeveloped as its surprisingly hard to read all of the details on your spells and abilities, but for the most part its easy to navigate the various stat screens and create the exact character you want. In my case, I chose to go with a technologically adept mage that mostly focused around knowledge-based skills and Intellect, and throughout my entire playthrough I can't say I was ever disappointed with my choices.

Torment: Tides of Numenera features a detailed character creator

Its a bit on the ugly side, but all of the necessary information is presented well

The reason my character ended up working out perfectly is because every encounter has multiple solutions, with the less direct ones usually requiring you to either complete some secondary objective, or to just be skilled enough to bypass the problem entirely. Peaceful solutions might not always work out, and you will have to fight from time to time, but if you're observant enough you'll find a way to avoid almost every single encounter, and that is something I greatly appreciate seeing in my RPGs! Nothing feels better or more fulfilling than skipping what is obviously a tough fight through a combination of clever item use, good communication skills, and a whole array of side-objectives that further flesh out the story.

I would be happy with just this alone, but Torment takes things a bit further with the Effort system. If you've ever played any of the oldschool RPGs, or even Fallout: New Vegas, you know full well how much it sucks being locked into combat just because you were a single, damnable skill point away from passing a skill-check. In Torment, you can actually avoid this issue entirely, and this is done through the aforementioned Effort system.

If you encounter a challenge that is far too much for your skills to handle, you can expend some points from your Effort pool in order to boost your chances. Each of your primary stats (Strength, Speed, and Intelligence) has their own specific pool and the points reset once you take a well-earned rest, so even though you can beat some nearly-impossible skill-checks, you can't do it very often, and this is where things get tricky! Do you risk 70% odds in order to preserve your Effort pool, or do you invest a couple of points in order to ensure your task gets completed properly? Whatever choice you make you're most likely going to feel the consequences somewhere down the line, so unless you constantly save and reload you will create a slightly unique experience every time you go through a certain part of the game.

Naturally, there are ways to augment your chances through various talent choices, and you can occasionally even refund all of the points you spent on a challenge, so don't stress too much about your Effort pools. They are mostly there to help you out, rather than to punish you for exploring and attempting to experience as much of the content as possible.

Torment: Tides of Numenera allows you to expend effort for better success chances

Expending a bit of my Intellect pool in order to ensure a successful Persuasion attempt

Many things have changed throughout the development of Torment, but the story has received almost no sweeping changes, mostly because it really didn't need any. Even in the earliest version of Torment, the one with broken combat and numerous pieces of missing content, the story was fully fleshed out and ready for the player's eager eyes.

If you've ever played Planescape: Torment then Tides of Numenera will instantly feel familiar to you in regards to the overarching story, simply because it follows the exact same concept. You are a nameless character that holds within him (or her) the memories of countless other lives, yet you cannot recall anything but the faintest glimpse of those that came before you. As with Planescape, you are hunted by a mysterious entity that seems deeply linked with who and what you are, but what it is and why exactly it hunts you, nobody can tell. Things get a lot more interesting as you progress further through the story, and don't worry, it doesn't simply rehash the Planescape formula, it instead uses it as a foundation to build something new and fresh.

Since I can't go into detail given that I want to avoid any potential spoilers, I will instead tell you of a few early game moments that resonated strongly with me. The first one is a chance encounter with a bunch of cannibals deep below the city of Sagus, an event that other games would usually resolve with combat, but in Torment it starts and ends with a lovely little chat. As it turns out, these folks aren't eating dead bodies simply because they are disgusting savages, but rather because they want to preserve the memories of the deceased. You would think a simple pen and paper would be enough, but according to them the only thing that awaits you in the afterlife is the queen of death and her untold number of children, all more than eager to feast on the souls of those that get flung into her realm.

It could all be mere superstition, an excuse to indulge in some truly gruesome feasts, but due to events that I won't discuss the whole story gets a disturbing air of truth about it. I'm still not sure whether I believe them, but these types of existential questions weren't the sort of thing I expected to get from a cannibalistic cult, not by a long shot.

Torment: Tides of Numenera hosts a cannibalistic cult in the depths of Sagus

Since you always regenerate, you can let them eat you for a rather large sack of coins

The second little story I wanted to share concerns an inconspicuous character at the corner of the public plaza. Chances are, most of you are going to completely ignore him given how plain he looks and how well he fits the background, and that would be a massive shame given that he is one of the more... unique inhabitants of the city. He is simply known as Genocide, and was once a great warlord that conquered countless nations at the behest of his god, but was eventually captured and put into a permanent statis as a punishment for his transgressions. You would expect that this turn of events would result in him being the most broken and depressed man alive, but as it turns out, he is completely content with the current situation. Those that imprisoned him are now dead, those that fought against him are now dead, and those that once mocked his imprisonment are also now dead. He remains alone, the one true victor of that forgotten conflict, and he will remain until eternity's wheels grind down to a halt, or the statis that holds him eventually loses its power.

Since he is practically ancient and has observed the course of history throughout his eternal vigil, its quite interesting to get his viewpoints on various topics. Most importantly, he can help you remember things from your past lives, because as it turns out, one of your past selves was present during that climactic battle, though I won't tell you more than this. Besides his lore significance, the reason I love him so much is the simple fact that he is a random character huddled in a faraway corner of a busy public plaza, not something you are drawn to with quest markers or elaborate cutscenes. He's just a small little bonus for those that love to explore and immerse themselves into the world.

There are plenty of other characters and events like this, many of them even more intriguing, and while I would love to tell you all about them it would be outright terrible from me to just ruin the surprise. To put it simply, the story in Torment is gripping, well written, and full of unique characters that will remain in your mind well after you're done with the game itself. I still haven't completed the entire campaign, so take the following statement with a few granules of salt, but I do believe Tides of Numenera has a story that is just as good, or perhaps even better than Planescape: Torment, and that is not an easy feat to accomplish!

"The Genocide" character from Torment: Tides of Numenera

I wasn't joking when I said he's hard to notice

Now that I've lulled Torment into a false sense of security with plenty of praise for the story, its time to sharpen the axe and get hacking away at the combat system. To put it bluntly (heh...), its about as terrible as that sorry excuse for a pun! Do note, however, that I am basing this opinion on some fairly low level content given that I've only played around 5-6 hours, so things might get better as more skills become available, but from what I've experienced the combat is buggy, slow, unintuitive, and the attacks lack any sort of weight behind them.

Let's start with perhaps the biggest problem - none of the attacks feel impactful. InExile's previous game, Wasteland 2, had a rather basic combat system as well, but the guns always felt powerful when you fired them which helped make each blow feel satisfying. The battles in Torment, on the other hand, feel like a bunch of people standing in a circle and rhythmically slapping each other with previously dulled wet noodles. The melee attacks don't feel meaty, the spells don't have bombastic effects or sounds, and the ranged weapons are so quiet I'm often left wondering what exactly the enemy even used to hit me.

The second, and equally aggravating problem, is the general clunkiness present throughout the entirety of combat. Its hard to tell which character currently has their turn, or how far you can move before you run out of movement points, and sometimes passing the turn takes so long you might click "Pass Turn" again and accidentally skip another one of your characters! It also doesn't help that this is by far the buggiest part of Torment, with a wide variety of issues that tend to result in your characters being incapable of attacking. For example, if you try to talk to some enemies during combat you will get stuck with the "Can't click this" mouse pointer which won't resolve itself under any circumstance, and to which the only fix is a complete reload.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has some issues with combat

The dreaded red circle of doom!

While the combat leaves much to be desired, its not actually that big of a deal, believe it or not. The reason I say this is because Torment is primarily a story focused game, and if you want to get the most out the story and its characters you will probably spend a lot of time talking to people, which coincidentally is an excellent way of defusing combat situations into a friendly chat and a pint at the local wizard pub.

Don't get me wrong, however, I do think the combat needs to be improved, and drastically, before I consider Torment ready for release, but it is an Early Access title and as such these issues are to be expected. Thankfully, they are also not hard to correct, because the combat could easily be improved through the addition of better effects (both graphical and audio), as well as a bit of general polishing, all things that tend to come last in terms of game development. So here's to hoping that Torment manages to fix all of this by release and create a truly all-encompassing RPG, one that caters to all types of players.

Closing Thoughts

Torment: Tides of Numenera is a faithful homage to one of the greatest RPGs of all time - Planescape: Torment. Much like its predecessor it features a brilliant story filled with unexpected twists, fascinating characters, and a world that seems to defy any laws of logic or common sense, with the end result being a truly engrossing experience. I enjoyed Torment when it was bare-bones and buggy, I enjoyed it now in its somewhat complete state, and I can almost guarantee I will enjoy it doubly so once its finally finished.

This brings me to perhaps the most important sentence in this entire review: Torment might seem to be fully finished right now, but there are still plenty of issues and quirks that need to be patched up before its ready for a proper release. In other words, if you're not OK with bugs and lacking gameplay features then stay away from Torment for the next couple of months, but if you don't mind these flaws then by all means, jump in and enjoy one of the finest RPGs I've played in recent years.

Torment: Tides of Numenera's Soujourner of Worlds