You wake up in strange chamber, surrounded by strange machines and people. You have no memories of your life but you seem to have many others. You are the last castoff, and this is your story in Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Release Date: Mar 2017
Played Main Story
Purchase At: Steam
Torment: Tides of Numenera takes place in the setting of Monte Cook’s award winning Numenera RPG. There have been eight worlds before your own, the Ninth, each world comprising the rise of a civilisation from stone age to space travel, singularity transcendence or even interdimensional and reality mastery. But they inevitably came and went, leaving remnants behind, be it technology or structures, but very little else.
In the Ninth World, people live in a pseudo-medieval society, only with ancient advanced technology, aka Numenera, all around them. Wielders of Numenera, are seen as sorcerers, particularly those called Nanos, because, after all, any technology advanced enough could be considered magic, right?
This is the world where your character, The Last Castoff is born into. You start your existence falling from the moon and crashing into a strange lab with something called The Resonance Chamber in the middle. As you lay motionless after this deadly fall, you piece together your fragmented mind and choose a path, be it Nano, Glaive or Jack, the character archetypes of the Numenera RPG. It’s an interesting way of putting together the character creation and tutorial parts of the game, making them feel as an organic part of the overall story.
As you awake, your body regenerating from the impossibly large damage of falling through the atmosphere and crashing through a metal structure, a voice tells you to seek out those who can help you repair the Resonance Chamber, as this will make you whole and help you survive the Sorrow, a destructive entity that forced its way into your mental landscape, a place called The Labyrinth and which is pretty much a mind palace.
That quest is the driving force for the plot, which is much shorter than I expected, having finished the game in about 12 hours, including most of the side-quests I found in my path. I liked the story even though in the end it devolves into a 3-door scenario. The story has a few nice twists, but the pacing is horrendous.
I’ve played RPGs for a good chunk of time now, and I’ve met a few types of GMs doing so, and I know when the storyteller is stalling, when they’re padding their story by gating the big reveal and conclusion behind more quests, complicating simple matters and that’s just how Torment feels. Every time I need to meet someone—which is the main thing you’ll do, a quest to find X NPC—I’ll have to jump through a series of hoops, and it’s not like I’ll get important information out of that NPC that will move things along.
No, it’s not until the end when the game fills in all the blanks with text-based exposition. Before that, the NPC you find will send you on a quest to find the next NPC in the chain, as if putting off the storytelling, lest you realise how short and simple the story really is.
Part of the problem is that there is tremendous information on secondary plot elements that really don’t make it into the main story in any significant way. One such case is the Eternal War between castoffs, some of them following their father, the Changing God and others opposing him. You get recruiters for the sides and even must mediate between two Castoff’s to keep the peace, but that’s about as much as you get from that story element despite the attention it receives. Feels pointless to be honest. Why not focus on making the main story as engaging as possible?
I can’t say I liked any of the characters in the story, as their characterisation seems to focus on the various shades of complete bastard. My companions were the nicest, though at times they annoyed me and their personalities and concepts weren’t interesting enough to make me talk to them more often and get to know them. Who knows, maybe if I had done that, the game wouldn’t have felt so short.
Speaking of talking, I loved that I could think and talk my way through almost every encounter. I played a Nano, and focused on improving his mental and social skills, so I could disable and scavenge for artefact Numenera from technology and communicate with others and defuse situations. That was my player concept, he was a mediator and that’s what I did and I loved it, bypassing combat many times just with the right word or quick action.
And it’s a good thing you have that in place, because the combat in Torment: Tides of Numenera can be one of the most infuriating and frustrating things in the world. The combat system itself is fine, and it’s easy to learn and master. The problem lies in fights often having too many enemies against your rather squishy characters, and each of those packing too strong a punch. When it came to using my skills and abilities in conversations, Torment: Tides of Numenera made me feel stronger with each “level” increase, but I can’t say the same for the combat.
Every instance I found myself drawing weapons, I felt weaker, because the enemies just swarmed, flanked and butchered my party while my own attacks became increasingly weaker by comparison. Sure, you never really die—save for a couple of occasions—only waking up in the Labyrinth and capable of returning to your party, which will have fled to a safe place, but it makes combat encounters an exercise in frustration and drain all fun from playing Torment: Tides of Numenera.
And it’s strange considering that no matter the encounter type, the same rules govern them, a risk/reward system where you spend points from your main attribute pools to improve your chances of success at a task and sometimes even adding special effects—such as increased damage to the—not that Torment: Tides of Numenera does much of a job in helping you understand these buffs.
But nothing made me lose the will to continue playing more than the regular crashes. I can only be thankful for the robust autosave features, because Torment: Tides of Numenera crahed every so often and most regularly at crucial times in each quest. From winning a hard fight to succeeding at a very difficult task with a low % of success, a crash made me worry I’d lose everything I’d done in the game, but there was an autosave there waiting for me the next time around. Still, it did nothing for my growing frustration.
Music is great, with good environmental and background themes for the different locales, though it’s the visual design of these places that really takes the price. They range from glorious to disturbing but they are undeniably striking. I loved the first city you come across, a perfect mix of medieval housing and market stalls combined with impossibly advanced technology around them, some of it in use by the locals and some left alone in ignorance to their true power. The Bloom is curious and borderline disgusting, and I would have loved to see the thing from the outside, but no such luck.
Torment: Tides of Numenera’s strengths lie in its wonderful setting and beautiful visuals, but it desperately needed some quality assurance before release and help in the pacing of its storytelling, to make the campaign much more entertaining and engaging.
3.5/5 – Good