Review

Torment: Tides of Numenera Review

  • First Released Jan 26, 2016
    released
  • PS4
  • XONE
  • PC

Rollin’ 20s

Dungeons & Dragons has a long, storied history in gaming. The classic pen and paper game has had several successful digital counterparts,and its approach to role playing has influenced and been repackaged as everything from Final Fantasy to Skyrim. If you’re only familiar with modern role-playing games, you could be forgiven for assuming that they’re all about crafting and loot, leveling and growing stronger. In truth, D&D’s many progeny have simply sidestepped what makes role-playing games one of the most powerful, affecting genres.

Torment: Tides of Numenera seeks to take role-playing back to its roots. Gone are the bombastic power fantasies. Gone, too, are cluttered inventory screens and complex crafting. Instead, Torment is about you taking on the role of another. Reductive as that might sound, the distinction underscores what modern RPGs have been missing for so long--actual role-playing.

Set more than a billion years in the future, Torment blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy. While everything is ostensibly technological, it’s often so advanced that it might as well be magical. It’s against that backdrop that your character pops into existence. You’re thrust into the body of the Last Castoff, a husk of a person created by a god seeking a perfect vessel. You begin your new life falling from space, with only a few broken memories ripped from the god who made you.

Character creation comes as a series of scenarios that encourage you to choose not just who you are (i.e. your gender or class), but what kind of person you want to be. Your backstory is set, but you can choose how to respond and explore the alien world into which you’ve just been born. From the outset, Torment encourages you to internalize motivations for your character.

When you play an RPG, you’re shaping the experience as much as the game’s developers did. They’ve authored the text and crafted the structure, but from those pieces, you construct your own adventure. It’s a blessing, then, that Torment’s pieces are phenomenal. Its environments are rich and detailed, packed with strange creatures and wondrous animated effects. Surreal, atonal music billows from these far-future locales, setting an uneasy tone. Torment’s true strength, though, is its writing and the beautiful twists it brings to classic RPG concepts.

This approach to crafting role-playing games pays dividends--it leaves room for thought and reflection. While RPGs often tout that you can do just about anything to just about anyone, Torment tries to break down what your actions mean.

Each area introduces at least a dozen characters--each with their own stories and relationships. Torment encourages you to indulge your curiosity and talk to everyone you see. That can cause the game to drag in places, as you might find yourself pushing through a thousand lines of text before you move on. Aside from the few parts where the sheer amount of text can be a little overwhelming, florid descriptions pour onto your screen describing everything from the subtle body language of alien creatures to finer details of your surroundings. Torment’s rich prose hits wonderful highs. It’s easy to slip wholly into the game’s world, losing yourself amidst the strange, unknown features of Earth a billion years from now.

Torment captures the essence of huddling around a table with your friends playing a campaign. It may not be as free-form as a true tabletop RPG, but Torment manages a believable illusion of endless possibilities. It drops the maps and simple, one-step quests of contemporary RPGs. Exploring these lands is an active process: You ask questions, you piece the mysteries together, and you find your own, novel solutions. With such developed characters and dense worlds, you’ll often think you’ve missed something, but this actually works in Torment’s favor, as more often than not, you’ll be left thirsting for more.

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Even when you’re done with one small segment of the game, Torment begs you to wonder how things could have played out. That’s difficult for a scripted game, as it relies on blocking just enough from the audience that it inspires curiosity, while tilting the hand just often enough to show that what’s hidden is substantive. Torment walks that line perfectly, giving each scenario believably different outcomes with effects that can ripple throughout your playthrough. At the same time, these distinctions never feel arbitrary, you aren’t selecting between “the good option” and “the evil option.” Instead, your choices center around the tone and spirit of the character you want to play -- quests then are paths to your character’s development, not rote tasks with clean mechanical pay-offs like more money or better gear.

This approach to crafting role-playing games pays dividends--it leaves room for thought and reflection. While RPGs often tout that you can do just about anything to just about anyone, Torment tries to break down what your actions mean. At one point, you’ll have the opportunity to resolve a fracture in time. Working through it could be seen as an effort to heal and help, but you’re just as likely to cause a section of time to collapse, killing another character. Carelessness breeds instability--which, in turn, causes suffering. Similarly, kindness isn’t universally rewarded. Torment nudges you to think carefully about how you want to express yourself in this world.

Torment wants you to dig through its hamlets and delve into its dungeons on your own. It isn’t about cutting down waves of foes, it’s not about being the one true hero, and it’s not wish fulfillment. Narrative is an end in itself.

Here, pulling any one thread without understanding its connective tissue is the greatest sin. And this allows Torment to explore broader questions in ways that are human and relatable. You might be dealing with a woman who’s split between several dimensions or an all-consuming, amorphic maw that streaks across the landscape, but this is dressing for the more fundamental reflections on what it feels like to have your mind spread too thin and how people grapple with slow-moving disasters.

While the bulk of your time with Torment will, no doubt, be spent navigating dialogue trees, that’s not all there is here. You’ll also have three pools of points that you can pull from to perform extraordinary feats--might, speed, and intellect. The size of each can vary, so you could have nine points of speed to cash in and only three of might, but they’re all spent in similar ways. For example, if you come across a boulder that blocks your path, you might be able to shift it. You can attempt this without help, leaving the outcome largely to chance, or you can spend a few points of might to dramatically increases your odds--possibly even guaranteeing success.

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This comes at a cost, though. Each of your point pools are difficult to replenish, so extraordinary exertion can leave you too weak or cognitively taxed to do much. You’re never powerless, though, and Torment goes out of its way to make every outcome interesting. Much like its almost infinitely sprawling tabletop inspirations, Torment flips the idea of failure on its head. Should you ever "fail", you might meet someone new or discover a secret you wouldn’t have caught if you had succeeded in the initial task. Everything you do and don't do in Torment is rewarded with more world-building prose and intrigue.

Torment wants you to dig through its hamlets and delve into its dungeons on your own. It isn’t about cutting down waves of foes, it’s not about being the one true hero, and it’s not wish fulfillment. Narrative is an end in itself. Story is the everything, and the play that backs that story, while minimal, gives the experience a weight that’s too often lost in other games. Torment defines itself as codified opposition to current trends, but that’s also not all it is. Using pools of points to set limits on its players and driving player expression through curiosity are novel additions to one of gaming’s oldest genres.

Taken together, Torment is far more than just a phenomenal role-playing game. It’s a challenge to restore the depth and nuance for which the genre was once known.

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The Good
Stellar writing
Excellent world building
Depth of branching paths allows unique characters to have unique experiences
Complex narrative deals with big questions in novel ways
The Bad
Quantity of required reading means pacing can sometimes slow dramatically
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Dan Starkey loves two genres above all others: strategy games and RPGs. He’s been an avid fan of everything from pen-and-paper classics all the way up to Fallout 4, but modern RPGs have left him wanting--that is, until Torment. He spent 40 hours over a week and a half diving into Earth’s far-flung future with review code provided by the publisher.
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dead888

Reading through a well written text is one thing, reading through huge amounts of infodump is another thing. The folks at InXile apparently can't tell the difference...

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Lawgun

One of the worst games I ever played. Fighting system is ridiculous, dialogues and characters are awful. Big amount of uninteresting information - it's just worthless since it hasn't a link to multi-universe conception. Also this garbage is pretend that it's second Planescape Torment what is laughable.

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dead888

@lawgun: I agree, the combat system in Planescape worked better and that thing was flawed to begin with. Torment: Tides of Numenera tries too hard to be like the Planescape: Torment but it fails to deliver an original experience.

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henrythefifth

I love quirky fantasy literature, and deep RPGs. But this game just rubs me the wrong way. Most of the narrative and dialogue just leaves me bored by it's dullness, or annoyed by it's vague, obscure nature. Too often the game tries to mystify you by talking total gibberish, not only with dialogue, but also with item descriptions. Sure, it's mystical curio, nice, but is it a quest item or can I sell it? That's the kind of info I'd love to have.

Also, the overly complex mechanics are rather pointless. The game would be lot better if they had streamlined the mechanics into something that actually works.

And lastly, the game is very stingy with XP, making you constantly annoyed as you are rewarded with only few points of XP for what felt like hours of reading through dull text screens.

5/10 is my score for this, and that high only because I used to love Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games. And I'd rather play those old classics than spend another hour with Torment.

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Foxhound1982

I got this game after reading this review alone, ordinarilly i would have overlooked it.

Im 12 hours in and i have to say, kudos to the reviewer!

This is the most addictive game i've played for years, yes it is dialogue heavy but the story, script and characters are so engaging it will quickly suck you in.

It has also introduced me to one of my favourite characters in gaming recently, namely "Irritis".

Expect to be quietly exploring the world only for Irritis to blurt out something random, and amusing now and then, much to the annoyance of the other members of your party! He is such a brilliant character.

Now go buy this game, then after, to Quote Irritis "Smash me in the face with some healing" !!

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advocacy

Better than Mass Effect Andromeda. 'Nuf said.

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zura_janai

This game got x1.5 times the score of mass effect 4. Intresting..

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PeterBoksic

this is a game that should be on my phone. would buy instantly. on my tv. no.

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TitoBXNY

This game is really about dialogue trees and reading. If you dislike reading, don't bother. It's basically and interactive novel. If you do like reading and have patience, then you are in for one of the best experiences in quite a while.

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gab8

Not a bad game, but as with Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny, reading that amount of lines can become a headache quite quickly.

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jobs

@gab8: I take it you dont read books that often.

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gab8

"reading that amount of lines can become a headache quite quickly."

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wrednajasobaka

It's a great game but not for everyone. I played about 18 hours so far and I think I had maybe 2 fights. You don't get any experience points for fighting and most of the times you can avoid it.

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dolfan62

this is nothing like diablo. it's a turn based rpg. i can't stand them. entirely too drawn out.

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ecs33

@dolfan62: I wouldn't classify Diablo as an old school RPG :). I'm with you - Diablo was my first ARPG as a kid. Baldurs Gate and games like that were a bit before my time. But Diablo is somewhat advanced compared to the really old school RPG's.

I played a few hours of Pillars of Eternity. Good game but man I just couldn't stay interested to play the whole thing.

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timthegem

"...the majority of your time will be spent navigating dialogue trees..."

Well hot diggity dog! I love me some Neverwinter Nights '17!

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Antarte

It's incredible how much can achieve a game when devs are focused in excellence, playability, plot, environment, immersion... instead marketing and casualization to sell as many copies as possible...

I'm sick of those incredibly good looking games that seem a "tech demo", because they have exactly 1 way to play, straight forward, QTE + cinematics, and that's all, in few exceptions there are games in which you can design your character and explore... but most of the times are better for modding.

But in these kind of RPGs you feel the compromise since the character creation, you can't play this straight forward spamming the attack button, you have to use your brains sometimes...

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BigGamerDude

why did you not mention the combat much?

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CyberEarth

@biggamerdude: There's barely any combat. Combat is NOT the main focus of this game. In fact, (I think) every fight can be avoided.

In modern classification, this game would be considered more of a visual novel.

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Mogan

@biggamerdude: Not that much to mention. : \

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BigGamerDude

@Mogan: oh I see.

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bat725

Hey, look! A triple-A game for XB1. Hopefully, this will ease their...torment!

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NinjaGaz

I'll be honest... I didn't read the review nor have I played the game.

I just think there is something very dodgy about the number of indie games that score 9/10. I just can't believe they are all that good. Sure, there are some great indie games out there that I've put more than 50 hours into, but I can't help think that Gamespot gives bonus points for being an indie.

At the end of the day, you just can't trust their reviews.

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ecs33

@NinjaGaz: I think we shouldn't compare Indie and AAA titles. Obviously a 9/10 Indie title may not have the production value of a 6/10 AAA. These games should be compared to other games in their class, budget, and price.

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wrednajasobaka

@NinjaGaz:

I play these indie games and yes, they are that good.

But I suspect that once again this is like this discussion, what is better a tractor or Ferrari? Since most people prefer Ferrari they are disappointed when tractor gets good reviews.

You are all intelligent beings (gamers) and you need to be able to understand when good review is for type of game you wouldn't like. Of course, reading review would help.

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Antarte

@NinjaGaz: It's curious how often people take "indie games" that lasts more than 100 hours, as a garage experiment without value, thinking that Triple A are "real games", while (most of the time) they feel more like a "tech demo" in the best scenario, and "interactive movies" in the worst.

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ecs33

@Antarte: Ya, I agree with you. Although sometimes we get a AAA that knocks our socks off.

I'm playing Rust right now, not sure if that is Indie or AAA but it's a ton of fun. Those with the least money absolutely have to make up for that with creativity.

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TraySmooth

@NinjaGaz: Maybe they are more straight forward fun to play? Not every game must be a 100 hour immersive masterpiece. I used to play Final Fight and like it A LOT back in the day. That said, this game is not indie, not in the sense you are implying.

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sonicare

@NinjaGaz: i was checking reviews on steam and they were decidely more negative.

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NinjaGaz

@sonicare: Steam reviews are probably the best place to see how good a game is. Although they can be heavily influenced in the short term when the developer does something bad for the game, e.g. Ark charging for a DLC when the game is still in early access.

Even then, it's still often useful information to know.

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Mogan

@sonicare: Yeah, they've been dropping slowly but steadily there. The average went from about 90% positive on the first day (when I'm sure everyone had played enough to know) to 70% now.

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BigGamerDude

@NinjaGaz: completely delusional.

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NinjaGaz

@biggamerdude: All of the replies to my post were fair opinions with a decent point - except yours. Do you always come bottom of the class?

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Mogan

@NinjaGaz: I don't see how trust has anything to do with it. I mean, I'm not coming here, looking at the score, and assuming it's some kind of objective truth. It's one dude's opinion; I don't need to trust it.

I'm reading the review for descriptions of how this game works, and then I'm deciding if that's something I might be interested in. It isn't important if I find this other guy's final verdict believable.

Also, we're talking about the spiritual successor to a very well regarded classic CRPG (which is a niche genre that's just recently started to come back to life), so it's not too crazy to think the reviewer was predisposed to like these kinds of games.

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Sobient

If you want D&D, combat, a solid story and LOOT, check out Pillars of Eternity.

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garfield

@sobient: Ironically, you lost me at 'loot'. Boy, I started to get tiered from excessive looting from D2 and it got a lot worse afterwards.

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ecs33

@garfield: D2 had the best loot system of all time, imo. There was nothing more fun than grinding Mephisto for the chances of him dropping a stormshield or some other godly rare item. I blame my sophomore year of highschool C average on that game, lol. And trading for SOJ's - ah the memories.

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CyberEarth

@ecs33: Your idea of a good looting system (and combat system) is to kill the same boss in the same battle arena that uses the same attacks forever?

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garfield

@ecs33: D2 devalued regular items, made them ignorable junk. D1 was not like that - you will find and use good regular items, even more so with the oils from the Hellfire Exp. And the blue items were not that many, making them much more exiting to find. Games suffer from this syndrome to this day - one tier of items as literally junk.

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ecs33

@garfield: Certain items were devalued. D2 was best before patch 1.11 came out (the uber runewords like enigma, etc). Items like Vampgaze, Shaftstop, Winforce, Stormshield, and other rare uniques were highly sought after for a number of different builds. This was around 2002-2003, and for its time there certainly was nothing like that! It was a blast gearing your character with a bunch of DR equipment and then slaughtering people in PVP. Perhaps it was nostalgia or it just being my first loot grinding experience but nothing has matched that for me, not even Path of Exile or any modern game that tries to reproduce it.

D1 was sweet..first ARPG I ever played. Problem with that game though was the online was basically open battle net. Ya, I know people duped SOJs in D2 but the hacking wasn't nearly as overt as it was in D1. To me D1 was more about the horror and atmosphere, less about the action and item loot. Just my perception.

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garfield

@ecs33: Yeah, I was stalking about SP exclusively.

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ecs33

@ecs33: Oh, and regarding D1 and godly blue items, one of D3's uniques is "obsidian ring of the zodiac", in homage to those days. I do remember that, though, and understand your point.

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sonicare

@sobient:i just did. Thanks for the info. Looks good!

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SquatEye

Even though I enjoyed this one, a 9 is plain bullsh...

Many promised parts were cut out, the so called combat system is a) slow b) boring; leveling up does not feel that you are getting stronger, and if you distribute your points well, there's no challenge you can't do, even at the start; and the game itself is short. Graphics are not the most important thing in the genre, but comparing it to other games its just a "meh, okay". It isn't a perfect interactive book either: if you are not a native speaker, its very challenging (not the lenght, the words they use), and it's easy to lose focus, which I never did before in games like this.

7 or 8 at best.

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guitarist1980

So much reading I spent 4 hours last night reading and reading not really understanding where to go and what to do. I got bombarded with side quests and the resource management system is really strange.. and I am not sure I like it.

Today I finally got moving forward through the game, it seems to be picking up a bit. I don't know if its going to keep me interested enough to finish this game. If you don't like reading do not bother with this game.

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streamline

@guitarist1980: I wasn't able to get myself to finish reading Gamespot's review, so maybe this game isn't for me either. :)

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Mogan

It's not the amount of reading, it's the lack of much else to do.

Torment: Tides of Numenera More Info

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  • First Released Jan 26, 2016
    released
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 3 more
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Torment: Tides of Numenera is a single-player role-playing game set in Monte Cook's tabletop role-playing game that continues the thematic legacy of Planetscape: Torment by having to face complex and nuanced morality decisions.
    7.8
    Average Rating44 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    InXile Entertainment
    Published by:
    Techland
    Genre(s):
    Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence