Early Access review for Torment: Tides of Numenera

[Note]: This review is now greatly outdated, so I welcome you to check out my final, release version one instead. It should give you the most accurate representation of Torment's current state.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is a spiritual successor to possibly one of the best RPGs ever made, Planescape: Torment, and much like its predecessor focuses on compelling storytelling, interesting characters and plenty of different ways to solve any problem you might encounter.

Before I begin with my overview its important to note that this is the first playable iteration of the beta (version 0.0.0) and many things are either unfinished, unpolished or both so don't judge Torment too harshly for its flaws as its still under heavy development.


With that said let's start from the very beginning, the introduction and character creation. Much like Planescape, Tides of Numenera throws you head first in to the world (quite literally in this case) with very little explanation of who or what you are and what exactly you were doing before you lost your memory and started falling to the ground from near-orbit.

After a brief tutorial filled with some great voice acting and writing in general you will be able to customize your character by "remembering" who you were before the whole ordeal. What this means is that your choices throughout the intro section will be what determines your final class and stats.

The problem here is that Torment uses a lot of words and strange terms like "descriptor" to explain what is in essence the classic DND character creation process where you chose your class, stats, perks and spells.

Its a well done system that's easy to understand once you figure this fact out but Torment seems to go out of its way to confuse new players by dropping a massive wall of text on them the moment they begin. Its obviously a placeholder for the beta test but it really isn't needed and just serves to make the whole process appear more complicated than it really is.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has interesting character creation systems

These types of interactive stories are one of the ways you customize your character

I personally went with a smart mouthed rogueish type of a character as my intention in these old school RPGs is to be the most annoying person in the world and hit everyone I meet with a barrage of questions about anything and everything. Given how these sort of characters work in older RPGs I fully expected I'd be somewhat gimped in combat due to my focus on talking but as it turns out almost everything is useful when a battle breaks out.

The actual combat, i.e. the act of smacking each other on the head with clubs is more or less unchanged from other similar RPGs though it does have one significant difference. You can chose to overexert yourself while doing an activity involving speed, intelligence or might which will give you a greater chance to hit or to perform whatever feat you were trying to do at a cost of points that only replenish after you take a good long rest.

What this means in gameplay terms is that you can give yourself an advantage in combat, dialogue or even when operating items but you can only do it so many times per day before you become too exhausted. It sounds simple but the system is so well done you're constantly going to be second guessing yourself whether its worth it to use a couple of points from your might pool to guarantee that hit now or save it for a potentially tougher encounter later or for when you need to do some heavy lifting.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has good graphics for an old school RPG

You'll need to exert plenty of willpower to not jump in to a fountain that cool

Besides simply shooting, burning and stabbing other people in combat there are plenty of old artifacts, or numenera as they are called, that you can use to turn tide tides, hopefully in your favor. Even simple background objects can sometimes be interacted with, and if you're knowledgeable enough activated in a way that hampers your enemies.

One of the first such artifacts you will be able to exploit are orbs that seemingly contain memories of some long forgotten race which if overloaded result in everyone nearby becoming sick and dazed as the wave of memories passes through them. You can then capitalize on your opponents weakness and confusion with some easy hits to the back.

Or better yet, why even fight at all? You can be like me and simply weasel your way out of fights or just be intimidating enough that the other party doesn't want to come anywhere near you. And even if you fail your initial dialogue checks you can try it again even in the middle of combat.

Trying to initiate a conversation during a battle will eat up your turn but if you can sense some sort of weakness among your foes you can use that as an excellent argument to break off the fight allowing everyone to leave before things got too out of hand. I don't think I've ever seen a game before Torment that allowed you to do this so color me impressed.

Overall the fighting system is solid and involves plenty of decision making on your part but its a bit basic right now, mostly because its all low level combat and as such all of the flashy spells and abilities are simply out of reach. It also suffers from some performance issues which are especially noticeable when you have multiple enemies taking turns one after another which can result in the game freezing for a second or two.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has a heavy focus on dialogue and choices

That didn't go quite as planned...

But fighting, especially in an RPG like Torment, is not everything. It is the story, the characters and the setting that are of the most interest and I'm happy to tell you that Torment knocks it out of the park in this regard.

I won't discuss the story in depth due to spoilers but I will say that there is plenty of it, even in this limited beta, and that its extremely well written. I have spent a good couple of hours simply talking to various people of Sagus, the first city you encounter, and while on the surface these characters might not look interesting each and every single one of them had a deep and intriguing tale to tell if you could coerce them to sharing it.

Without spoiling much here's a couple of examples of what I mean:

- I found a cannibalistic cult that lives in the depths of Sagus and rather than the usual RPG business of simply exterminating them Torment actually managed to convince me to not just leave them alone but to concede that they might have a good point

- There is a "man" clad in heavy armor and completely frozen in time in one of the corners of the public plaza. He was a general of the army that once almost wiped Sagus off the map and as punishment he now begrudgingly stands there forever as an information terminal.

- I have also met a trio of sentient robots from a bygone era whose god had abandoned them thus leaving them forever stuck amongst humans. I didn't think I could ever care about a robot's existential problems but Torment proved me wrong.

These are just three small encounters that are completely unrelated to the main story but due to the extremely well written dialogue so compelling that I spent the majority of my playthrough simply talking and immersing myself in to the world. So if you do decide to play Torment heed my advice and spend a bit of time chatting up the locals, you won't regret it.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has some amazing characters

I didn't expect I'd ever feel this sad about a motionless robot...

If all of this has you interested in Torment let me just repeat once again that it is still very much so in beta. The graphics, while a massive improvement over Wasteland 2, are not finished and you will find plenty of low resolution textures on background objects. The UI is a complete placeholder right now and is best described as hot garbage with almost every menu besides the dialogue one freezing the game for 5 seconds as well as generally missing keybindings and options.

The same goes with the actual game itself, even though Sagus and its surrounding areas are mostly finished you'll still frequently encounter a text message telling you what is supposed to happen there because that scene never got finished. If you decide you want to get involved with Torment this early in development make sure you are prepared to withstand some bugs and missing features and most importantly offer feedback.

Final Thoughts

Torment: Tides of Numenera is right now most definitely clunky and unfinished but if you can get past that it has some of the best writing, characters and setting I have seen in a very long time and I play a lot of RPGs.

Once finished I can easily see it surpassing even Planescape: Torment but currently it still has a long way to go so if you do decide to jump in either do it for the story or because you want to help the game during its development by offering feedback. Just don't buy Torment right now expecting a fully finished game because it simply isn't.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is currently in Early Access.